Pursuing a Higher Education Poses Unique Challenges for Those with Epilepsy

Making the transition from high school to college is challenging for any young adult. There are so many factors to take into account, not in just the college preparation process such as maintaining a certain grade point level, taking SATs and ACTs, but also in the selection process. Questions like, “Should I go away to college? Do I go to a large university or a smaller college? What do I want to major in? Can I afford college?” The list of questions is endless and often overwhelming. And if you are like thousands of other young adults living with epilepsy these questions are even more multi-layered and require unique consideration and planning.  

Dr. Janice Buelow, Assistant Professor of Nursing at Indiana University believes the key to unraveling the answers to these questions begins with a comprehensive look at the individual’s epilepsy. “ The first thing I would encourage a prospective college student with epilepsy to evaluate is how well-controlled their seizures are. If the seizures are not well controlled, then the student needs to evaluate how the seizures affect their daily life and how much assistance is required. The answers to these questions will help direct the decision about what kind of school to attend.  Some issues might depend on the size and location of the university.  Choosing a larger university also means longer distances between classes, making getting from one class to another more challenging. “If a student is on a larger campus and has seizures, they may be concerned about getting from one class to another - especially if the classes are geographically far from one another. Also, larger universities usually have larger class sizes, thus limiting the individualized attention a student may receive.  Another consideration might be the types of accommodations that are provided by the institutions.  If the student does have special needs they may need to be  proactive about getting their needs accommodated,” added Buelow.

“Finally, students should consider the medical care available in the community where the college is located.  Not all institutions are located near an epilepsy center. Potential students should consider this when choosing an institution,” cautions Buelow.

Going Away to College: Survival Tips for those with Epilepsy

The following are a few tips to consider while away at college:

  • Know where on or near campus to get epilepsy care should the need arise.

  • Take medication consistently each day as per your doctor’s orders.

  • Know how and where to refill your antiepileptic drug prescriptions while away from home should you need to.

  • Tell the appropriate people in your dorm as well as academic advisors and or professors in case a seizure should occur that requires medical attention.

  • Wear a medic-alert bracelet. Keep in mind there are some very stylish options :

  • Remember you are not alone especially at your university. There are others living with similar fears and epilepsy-related issues as you.  If there are no Epilepsy Foundation support groups why not start a group on campus? Or if you prefer to remain a little more anonymous you might even start an online forum or chat.

  • Should you also have any other special needs such as a learning disability be sure to tell the university ahead of time so that they can accommodate you; for example, if you have a learning disability and need to take a test without a time constraint.

New Environment, New Challenges
Going away to college presents young adults with increased freedom as well the challenges and stress that go along with this major life transition.  Every freshman believes they can “handle” all of the responsibilities of college life including being independent of their parents and their familiar surroundings. And yet, the pressures of college life can sometimes impair the judgment of very responsible people. In fact, any honest college alum will attest to the long hours of studying, pizza delivery at 3 a.m. and all the parties on and off campus they attended. The college environment is not exactly the perfect breeding ground for maintaining healthy eating, sleeping and lifestyle habits. And as every person with epilepsy knows, one of the keys to staving off seizures is getting a good night’s sleep, eating right, avoiding alcohol and taking their medication consistently. “It is only natural for any new college student to get swept up in the excitement of newly found independence, but it is vital for young adults with epilepsy embarking on their journey into higher education to know how to manage their epilepsy and to take ownership of their disorder,” said Buelow. She asserts that self-management can and should start earlier on in a young person’s life so when and if they go off to college or live independently from their parents that they are able to do so successfully. “Young people need to know they can take their medication without being reminded, that they know how to tell others around them about their seizures and have an emergency seizure plan in place. And within the college environment they need to know how to handle peer pressure so that they don’t increase their likelihood of having alcohol and or drug-induced seizures,” added Buelow.

College Stress Reduction Tips
Stress is a natural part of the human experience. Starting a new school, meeting new people, taking on a more challenging course load, adjusting to life away from home, managing finances and health - these are all common stressors college students face. However, there are ways to reduce the intensity of these stressors with two very important pieces of advice from Buelow, “Plan Ahead and Pace Yourself!” The following are just a few tips to help the college student with epilepsy:

  • A few days prior to the first day of classes, make sure you do a walk through so you know where your classes are and how much time you need to get around campus.

  • Set a schedule for yourself that includes taking medication, eating, studying, sleeping, socializing etc. Make sure the schedule works for you and is easy to follow.

  • Invest in a daily planner to keep track of your daily, weekly and monthly schedule.

  • Pace Yourself! Try to start off taking the minimum course load and remember some classes require more studying than others even though they have the same number of credit units.

  • Make sure your financial situation is defined before attending university including all financial aid, scholarships. If you do not have your own bank account or bank account arrangements with your family prior to going to school be sure to resolve this.

  • If you do need to get a job or do an internship while also taking classes you should limit your work to no more than 15 hours per week at least to start until you are more familiar with the demands of college if it is vital that you obtain a part-time position.

  • Have a plan in place in case you have a seizure or are having other problems. Make sure you have an emergency contact as well as emergency numbers  with you at all times and be sure to notify those who need to know about your seizure emergency plan such as roommates, classmates, professors, the college infirmary or health service, etc.

Helpful Resources
To read learn more about college and epilepsy please go to:

To educate others about seizure first-aid, download this helpful article:



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