These pages are about higher education and epilepsy in the UK. If you are looking for information about higher education and epilepsy in another country, please contact your local epilepsy organisation.
In this section
If you are going into higher education, you will be studying for a qualification such as a degree, or a diploma/certificate of higher education. You will be doing this at a university or college. You can go into higher education at any age, but most people enter when they are around 18 years old.
There's a lot to consider if you're planning to go into higher education. As a student with epilepsy, you'll need to give plenty of thought about:
- where to study
- the support you may need while studying
- support with day-to-day living
- money and funding.
You will need to register with the campus medical services, or a local doctor’s practice. You might also like to book an appointment to talk to them about your epilepsy medicines and repeat prescriptions.
If your seizures are not fully controlled, you might want to talk to the teaching staff about what to do, and what not to do, if you have a seizure. You might also want to talk this over with some of your fellow students.
There are three possible areas of support. These are:
- exam support
- adjustments by the college
- Disabled Student’s Allowance
Access arrangements are put into place before the exam period starts. Your college must have proof that you have epilepsy before the exams start. They must also have details of how your epilepsy affects you. There is a deadline for applying for access arrangements, so speak with your exams officer as early as possible.Examples of access arrangements that could be available include the following:
- having supervised rest breaks during an exam
- having extra time in your exam, if you have absence seizures, or difficulties with memory and processing information
- having an exam supervisor sit with you, to identify seizures, and add extra time missed
- getting one-to-one support for practical exams
Epilepsy and assessment
If you have missed an exam because of a seizure or you think your performance in an exam or other piece of assessed work has been badly affected, this may be taken into account by the exam board. The exam board may, for example, award you an increase in marks. They may allow you to re-take a failed exam or assessment without penalty. Or they may excuse handing assessed work in late.
Practice varies between institutions and you should check the rules for your own institution. It will normally be your responsibility to inform the exam board that your performance has been affected, and to provide supporting evidence.
If you had support during exams at school or college, it is possible that this can continue. If you have not had support at school or college, you may still be eligible. Seek advice from the Disability Adviser at your college.
Adjustments by the college
If you need adjustments to be made, you should make an appointment with the Disability Adviser at the college. They will consider your needs and the adjustments that may be made for you. They might also be able to speak to your tutors and lecturers on your behalf, if necessary. Here are some examples of the types of adjustments the college may be able to put in place:
- finding you a room in halls of residence while you are on your course
- supplying notes or making sure you have a ‘catch-up session’ if you miss a lecture because of a seizure
- making sure any material they use is not going to trigger your seizures, if you have photosensitive epilepsy
- having handouts and discussion materials provided before a lecture, to help you become familiar with the content
- having lectures recorded, so that you can listen again after the lecture
- having tutors and lecturers provide you with written instructions and feedback
- giving you flexible deadlines to finish your work
- giving you extra time to copy information from the board
Disabled Students Allowance
All disabled students can apply for Disabled Student’s Allowance (DSA) . This is available through Student Finance England, the Students’ Awards Agency for Scotland, Student Finance Northern Ireland or Student Finance Wales. You need to send a letter from your consultant or family doctor. The letter should confirm your disability and how it will affect your ability to study. The allowance is not means tested and you do not have to pay it back. The funding is in place to make sure that disabled students are not disadvantaged during their studies.
The DSA will pay for a variety of things.
- Digital voice recorders
- Assistive software, such as text to speech software, voice recognition and mind-mapping software
- Seizure alarms
- Any specialist screens you need, if you have photosensitive epilepsy
- One-to-one study skills support if you have difficulty in understanding and remembering information
- A mentor
- Occasional assistance with study-related travel costs, such as taxi fares. If you have problems with memory or understanding information, your consultant or family doctor should mention this in your application letter for DSA.
College life can be very sociable – and busy. You will meet new friends and probably try out some different activities. Don’t let your epilepsy stop you joining in, but be aware of things that could make your seizures more likely. These are called seizure triggers. They are different for different people, but commonly include the following:
- too much alcohol
- taking recreational drugs
- lack of sleep or disturbed sleep patterns
- flashing or flickering lights for people with photosensitive epilepsy
- forgetting to take your epilepsy medicines.
For more information about going to college or university, visit the National Union of Students.
For more information on support, contact the Disabled Students Helpline
Website: Disability Rights UK
Phone: 0800 328 5050 open Tuesday and Thursday 11am-1pm.
Epilepsy Action would like to thank June Massey, Disability Adviser (SpLD), University of Cambridge, for checking this information.
June Massey has no conflict of interest.
This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.
- Updated October 2013To be reviewed October 2016