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5 Things I Wish I’d Known Starting College With Chronic Conditions

Updated: 7 days ago

Ruthy is a university student, blogger, and self-described geek girl living in the UK. She also suffers from multiple chronic conditions. It’s not easy to keep up with college when you’re feeling your best, let alone when your mind and body are feeling the effects of chronic illness! Here are five things Ruthy knows about succeeding in college despite challenges.

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For anyone, university is a hectic time of deadlines, social activities and hoping like heck what you’re doing is going to pay off with a job once you graduate. When you’re also dealing with disabilities, it’s another level of madness! I went to university suffering with seizures and chronic fatigue and completely unaware of any support. Here are 5 Things I wish I’d known when starting college as a student with chronic conditions.

1.Don’t be afraid to tell your professors!

I was really scared about sharing my health situation with my professors for fear of judgement or them not taking me seriously. Chances are, you’re going to miss some lectures due to your health and it’s much better that your professors, teachers, or module leaders are aware so they can help.

If your teachers are aware of your health, they can support your time away by offering additional materials for your self study, or may offer a form of catch-up class. It’s also helpful so they don’t think you’re just skiving class. I know some of my classes deducted a percentage per lesson for each week you weren’t present, so I needed an exception for that! You’ll likely need a medical certificate or doctor’s note to back you up so make sure you have that.

Making your teachers/professors aware of your conditions can also be helpful when dealing with symptoms. I had several seizures in my lessons or on the floor outside (ouch!) and because my professors were aware of my condition, they were able to help stop people from panicking.

2. It’s okay to change degree

This might sound like an odd tip but, for example, if you have a condition that impacts your ability to attend class, some subjects are harder to keep up with than others. Personally, I originally studied Japanese and Film Studies but due to my seizures was missing at least one lesson a week. The problem for me was that when I missed the language speaking seminars, there was simply no way to catch up! I needed a course which offered more online learning so that I could catch up more easily by myself. So I switched to an IT course, which worked out much better for me!

3. Explore government programs for disabled students

The awkward time I was on my uni’s adverts…

This is a bit dependent on what country you’re studying in, but in the UK, I was eligible for Disabled Student Allowance. DSA starts with an online application that includes proof of your condition(s), followed by an assessment during which you can discuss with a counselor what kinds of accommodations might help you at university.

Personally, I was given a disability mentor who was truly invaluable to my university experience, money towards a laptop, reimbursements for printer ink, and some of my textbooks were covered. The type of disability you have also affects your eligibility for certain kinds of help, for example, many programs also offers aids to help students with physical challenges. DSA also wrote to my university to confirm my conditions with the student support team so the uni could help me directly. It’s definitely worth pursuing!

4. Manage your time so you don’t burn out

So many deadlines!

When you first go to university you’ll be surrounded by social things, societies, possibly a side job, and a load of actual school work (of course!). It’s easy to get overwhelmed! Some of your friends may be able to do everything, or a least a lot more than you can. So try to think about what is actually feasible for you — how much can you commit to and follow through with in the long term, given your condition and also the need for at least a little bit of downtime?

I started off committing to a load of societies and got so worn out that it led to having more seizures. My main reasons for being at uni were to get my degree and learn to support myself, and I had to learn to prioritize these goals in terms of my time.

5. Contact your university’s student support services

This is the most vital tip of all! Each university has its own student support department. These guys are literally there to help you. From helping arrange counseling, to coursework extensions, to in-class modification, it’s so worth explaining your situation to Student Support. Don’t struggle alone!

I wasn’t aware that student support even existed for my first year of uni and had an awful time, missing classes, struggling with my seizures and fearing I was failing everything. Once I’d been to see student support (and had the external DSA assessment mentioned above), I was able to get the help I needed. They arranged for me to have unconditional coursework extensions for when I was ill, ongoing counseling, a separate room for taking my exams, and sent out an email to my module leaders each semester informing them of my situation.

I genuinely wouldn’t have gotten my degree without the help of my university’s Student Support. Don’t be scared or ashamed to reach out for help — you deserve it!

I hope these tips help you do better and feel better during your studies! And to anyone with health challenges wondering if going to college is possible for them, please know that with a little help, it really is. Whether in person or through distance learning, there are so many ways to make it work and still have a brilliant time learning!

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