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deciding to go to university

Thinking about applying to university? Information to help you decide whether university is a practical option and guidance about the support that universities should give.

The university have been really good as well, helped me with everything I needed.

Is university an option?

For most young people going to university, there are lots of things to think about:

  • Do I want to study for another three years (or more!)?
  • What do I want to study?
  • Where do I want to go in the country?
  • Which universities do the course I want to go on?
  • Should I live at home (if the university is nearby) or go into student accommodation or a shared house?
  • How will I fund my course and studies?

If you are a young person with epilepsy, you have all these things to think about, with the added complication of epilepsy.

Perhaps the first thing to consider is whether you want to carry on with further education. This will probably depend on your experiences with learning at school. For some young people with epilepsy, their epilepsy makes it harder to get on at school. Both epilepsy and treatment for epilepsy can affect concentration and memory.

Epilepsy might also mean you have had to take time off school. It might have affected how you did in tests and exams. Or maybe your epilepsy didn’t get in the way of school, and you were able to carry on with your school work the same as everyone else in your group.

So, whether you want to study at university will depend on your epilepsy and your experiences at school. But having epilepsy doesn’t mean that you can’t go to university if you want to.

Be realistic

When thinking about going to university, it helps to be realistic. And again, this depends on you and on your epilepsy.

If you are having lots of seizures or taking medication, either of which can affect your concentration and learning, then an academic course with lots of coursework and exams may be a challenge. But if your seizures are well controlled, then having epilepsy may not impact on your learning at all.

And don’t forget: if your epilepsy is not controlled at the moment, or you have been diagnosed recently, things may change. Your seizures might become better controlled and your epilepsy may start to have less impact on you.

Here are some things to think about. It helps to focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t do, but it is also important to be realistic and honest with yourself.

  • What subjects do you like and what are you interested in?
  • What subjects are you good at?
  • What do you want to do after university? What job would suit you and fit into your lifestyle?
  • How do you learn and work best? Are you better at more academic or more vocational subjects? Are you better at coursework or exams?
  • Which universities run the courses you are interested in? Where are they based?
  • How are the courses run – are they mainly lectures or private study? Do they include practical work or placements?
  • Would you suit a standard degree course or a foundation degree (which combines academic study and work-based learning, run jointly by universities and employers)? Visit GOV.UK (opens new window) for more information.
  • What is your epilepsy like? What seizures do you have and how often? What happens to you during your seizures? How do you feel afterwards?
  • Have you found that your seizures or medication affect your learning and studying?
  • How do you think your epilepsy and managing it would affect, or be affected by, the courses you are interested in?
  • Where would you live? If the university is near your home town, would you live at home? If it is further away, would you live in halls of residence or a shared house?
  • What would help you to manage your epilepsy alongside your learning and your university experience?

What does the law say?

The Equality Act 2010 (opens new window) exists to protect the rights of individuals, and to make sure that people with a disability have the same rights as people without a disability. This applies in many situations, from employment to transport, from property to education.

The Act means that an education provider (such as a school, college or university) must not discriminate against someone with a disability, and that it has to support people with disabilities within education.

This means that a university:

  • cannot discriminate, harass or victimise a student with a disability in deciding who can enrol on a course, agreeing the terms that it offers at enrolment, or refusing an applicant’s enrolment
  • must not discriminate against someone who has enrolled in what it provides or offers to provide
  • has a duty to make reasonable adjustments for a student with a disability.

The Act also means that you have the right to expect education providers to give you help and support. This might make university a realistic option for you.

Does this mean I am ‘disabled’?

I felt that I wasn't … the same student that I had been… And I question to this day how much of that was more of the balance between the psychological blow of finding I'm an epileptic, disabled, as it's only until recently that I've come to terms with these as terms that are applied to me.

Being ‘disabled’ is often seen as really negative: it focuses on what you can’t do rather than on what you can do. Some people feel it is a label that defines who they are: a ‘disabled person’ rather than a person who happens to have a disability. And some people do not feel that their epilepsy is a disability or that they are disabled by it.

But it is worth knowing what ‘disabled’ means in the law, and how considering epilepsy as a disability may mean you can expect support at university.

Under the Equality Act 2010, a person is considered to have a disability if they have ‘a physical or mental impairment’ that has ‘a substantial and long-term adverse effect’ on their ‘ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’. Here, a physical or mental impairment includes medical conditions such as epilepsy. ‘Substantial’ means not trivial or minor, and ‘long-term’ means for at least 12 months. Day-to-day activities includes things like getting around, and being able to remember and concentrate, and to get on with a ‘normal’ life.

So, looking at epilepsy and how it can affect an individual, we can see that it can be considered a disability.

If you accept your epilepsy as a disability, this means you have the right to be protected against discrimination, and the right to expect support and help from the university.

Disability discrimination is when someone treats a person with a disability less well because of their disability.

Universities have obligations to support and help people with disabilities so that they get the same access to courses and they get help to complete them. But you can only expect this support and help if the university knows that you have a disability – if you don’t tell them, they cannot be expected to know, and they cannot be expected to help you.

There is a lot of support available for students with all sorts of conditions, but often young people don’t want to make a fuss or be different from anyone else and so don’t seek the help that could make a big difference to their studies and quality of life. Students who have invisible conditions such as epilepsy or diabetes are often reluctant to apply for the disability student allowance because they do not class themselves as disabled – and fair enough. They are leading full and active lives. But their epilepsy or their medication can impact on their cognitive abilities and consequently their studies. Memory and concentration are often affected and these are key in any university degree.
Mary Bown Senior Adviser, Disability Advisory Service, Imperial College, London

To find out more about the Equality Act, and how this may affect you, visit the website (opens new window).

What should I do if I decide I want to go to university?

If you have decided that university is right for you, you need to find out more about applying. You can find out about different courses and how to apply to university on the UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) website (opens new window). It’s a good idea to contact each university that you are thinking of applying to, before you apply, to find out what support they can offer you.

Next steps are to think about where and how. See the practicalities of going to university.

Epilepsy Society is grateful to YouthHealthTalk and the young people featured on its website, for allowing us to use their quotes.


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