Epilepsy and college or university

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Education is an important part of any child's life. Read about options for a child attending college or university while coping with epilepsy.

Key points

  • Prepare for the transition to college or university by ensuring your teen knows how to manage their epilepsy, creating a care plan with the epilepsy care team and learning what resources are available at school.
  • Resources available at college or university include a centre for students with disabilities, campus health services, National Educational Association of Disabled Students, ARCH, or a local epilepsy association office.

Education is an important part of life. If a person with epilepsy wishes to go to college or university and meets the entrance criteria, they should be given every encouragement and chance to succeed in this next phase of their life.

It can be difficult for parents to let go, especially if their child will be living away from home while studying. A young adult with epilepsy may also have some worries about whether they can manage on their own.

Preparing to go to college or university

There are several things teens and parents can do to help ensure a smooth transition to college or university.

Advice for parents:

  • You and your child should talk to the epilepsy care team while they are still in high school. Discuss what they want to do after school and what issues they may encounter regarding career planning, further studies, and suitable jobs. The team may refer you to a counsellor.
  • As with any teenager, teach your child independent living skills at home, including responsibility for taking their own medications, responsibility for scheduling clinic visits, practicing a healthy lifestyle, and some cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Similarly, encourage your child to develop good study habits and skills while they are still in high school.

Advice for teens:

  • Make sure you know all about your epilepsy condition, the care required, and the experts involved. You should have a good rapport with your epilepsy care team. You should know when and where to seek medical help.
  • Know about epilepsy associations and how they can help.
  • Most universities have an office or centre for students with disabilities. Contact and, if possible, visit the office at the university you want to attend to see what sort of information, advice, and support services they can offer.
  • Some colleges also offer programs that are specifically designed to help young adults who have physical or learning disabilities with career planning or employment training. They may help upgrade literacy, academic, or computer skills, or offer help with job skills.
  • Attend an orientation course offered by the university to new students. Many centres for students with disabilities offer a special transition course during the summer to new students with disabilities.
  • Contact the health centre at the university and make them aware of your condition, medications you are taking, and what help you may need from them while on campus. At the same time, you can find out what other services they offer.
  • If you need to see a neurologist while at university, ask the university’s health centre and your home epilepsy care team for advice and a referral. If possible, meet with the neurologist once beforehand to ensure they know you and are familiar with your condition. Get your home epilepsy care team to talk to them or send a letter and pass on a copy of all relevant information.
  • Before the college or university year starts, obtain a comprehensive letter(s) from one or more members of the epilepsy care team. For example, a letter with medical information about your seizures can be helpful in accessing a residence room closer to classes. A letter from a psychologist that outlines your learning profile and special needs may help you get more time to complete exams and papers.
  • Remember that your parents are still available to give you help and support if you need it.

At college or university

Starting college or university is stressful in many ways, even for students without chronic health conditions. Students may be living away from home for the first time, they may keep irregular hours and go short of sleep, alcohol is widely available, and students are expected to take much more responsibility for their own work than they were in high school. However, college or university is also a time when students gain confidence and independence as well as an education. With the help of some basic precautions, a student with epilepsy should be no exception.


If you are staying in a university residence, it is a good idea to tell the head of the residence about your condition and explain what to do if you have a seizure. You should also tell the floor don or Resident Assistant (usually an older student) any information that they will need to know. While you may not wish to tell the whole campus about your epilepsy, anyone who spends a lot of time with you alone, including roommates and friends, should know about your condition and how to deal with a seizure.

It is also a good idea to:

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle: get enough sleep and avoid alcohol, drugs, and other seizure triggers.
  • Keep in touch with the Centre for Students with Disabilities. You can use such centres not only for support but to become an advocate for students with epilepsy and other chronic conditions on campus.
  • Keep in touch with the campus health centre for check-ups, advice, information, and possible medical treatment.
  • Make regular clinic visits, either at home or with your "local" neurologist.


The learning environment at university is very different than in high school, and many students have some trouble making the transition. For this reason, student centres at many colleges and universities offer classes to help students improve their study skills, including planning, time management, note-taking, and essay-writing. Take advantage of these classes if you can.

If you have epilepsy, you may also have difficulty with memory, speed of processing information, or speed of motor function. It is important to have support from a recent neuropsychological or psychoeducational assessment that defines the specific deficits or problems and makes recommendations for dealing with them. For example, your neurologist or the epilepsy team, along with the psychological evaluation, can emphasize that you need extra time for exams; in some instances, you may need a "scribe" to record work or a tape recorder or laptop computer to record information in school.

Speak to your professors at the start of each semester and let them know about your condition. Most professors will be willing to make accommodations if they are told about your needs ahead of time; for example, extending a report deadline by a few days if you have a seizure.

Resources at college or university

Centre for students with disabilities

Many universities have a centre for students with disabilities. These include learning, physical, and other disabilities. Such centres can offer information, advice, and preparation to help the new student better cope with university life. They can help the student throughout their stay at university with academic and non-academic issues. They can help the student move out of the university environment and access employment opportunities.

Many centres have specialists on staff to help assess and evaluate students with disabilities and advise on special support needed.

Many centres offer a transition program to help new students with disabilities prepare for all aspects of university life. These programs are usually held over the summer and can include the chance to experience living away from home and in a campus environment. The programs are led by students, counsellors, health professionals, university administrators, and professors. Contact the centre for disabilities at your university early and ask about the transition programs they offer.

Campus health and mental health services

Most colleges and universities have health clinics where students can go for general health concerns. They usually offer some specialized services as well, and may be able to provide referrals to other specialists, such as neurologists.

Most colleges and universities also offer confidential counselling and help for students who are experiencing stress, depression, anxiety, and other emotional and personal problems.

National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS)

National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS) is a Canada-wide chain of offices at universities which offers information, newsletters, meetings, and conferences to assist students with disabilities who are attending a university or college. The aim of NEADS is to make university education more accessible on all levels to students with disabilities. NEADS is part of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities.


ARCH is a legal resource centre for people with disabilities in Ontario. They provide advice, referrals, and legal representation to ensure the equality of people with disabilities. They also have a library and resource centre.

Check to see if a similar legal resource centre exists in your area.

The "local" epilepsy association office

Find the nearest epilepsy association office to the university and find out what services they offer. Your home epilepsy care team, the university health centre, or the university’s centre for students with disabilities may be able to help you with their contact information. You may wish to join a support group to discuss issues or meet others with the same condition, attend lectures, drop in to get information, or "sign" up for the group's regular newsletter.

Last updated: February 4th 2010