Long term health conditions


Here, young people talk about what it is like for someone with a chronic (long-term) condition to be a university student. Among other things they explain what help and support is available.

Young people said going to university was a big change in their lives. With the exception of one young woman who had to leave due to illness, university had a positive impact on their lives, most notably in boosting their confidence. In general the institution and the tutors were described as 'brilliant' because they were willing to accommodate their needs and help them with their academic work. For instance one woman with ME/CFS, who initially enrolled as a full timer, was offered the opportunity to go back part-time instead. Young people at University told us that it's important to get a note from the doctor if you are not feeling well especially if it means that you can't hand work in on time. Their tutors emailed or taped lectures for them if they were ill or gave extra time to complete essays or other coursework. 

Not surprisingly some young people said that their experience of living with their condition had shaped their interests and career paths. One young woman said that her cystic fibrosis had encouraged her interest in biology.

Talking about the support that is available to university students with long-term conditions, people recommend getting in touch with the university disability officer or team. They said that the Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) is available for students with health conditions and helps pay for the extra costs of studying that are connected to the disability. Anyone can apply for DSA if their condition affects their ability to study. This grant can help pay for specialist equipment (like computer software), non-medical helpers (such as a note-taker or reader), extra travel costs (because of your disability) and other costs such as photocopying or printer cartridges. Young people told us that the DSA varies depending on your condition, mobility level and care problems. 

A young woman who did qualify felt that there was a stigma attached to DSA and didn't see herself as having a disability. Another young woman said that it is important for young people with long-term conditions to ask for support, to tell others what they need and added 'it's just about swallowing your pride a bit and asking for the help'. One woman with scoliosis said that you don't have to apply for the DSA at the start of your course.

You may also find the National Union of Student (NUS) a useful source of advice.

Student life
Young people who go to University may find themselves responsible for managing their condition on their own for the first time. This is because they may be living on their own in student accommodation, away from everyday family support. At university, they will have to take their medication, decide when and what to eat, and make decisions about drinking alcohol and going out with friends. In addition, some have to do regular exercise or physiotherapy. 

Young people often said they'd had a great time at University and some said that they 'partied hard'. Others learned by experience that too much of a social life was bad for their health. One young woman with cystic fibrosis found it hard to balance all aspects of her life at university and felt quite run down at times. Now she is in her second year and appreciates the need to eat a proper diet (that for her means lots of calories), the need to sleep more, exercise everyday and not to go out every evening with her friends. Young people who had to work part time to earn money, while studying at the same time, had little time or energy left over for a social life. One young woman said that while at university she didn't go out very often because she would feel 'terrible' the next day. Another avoided Freshers' Week to prevent getting a cold or any other infection.

Some young people made the decision to apply to universities that were in their home city or were not too far from their family home. They were worried about moving far from their family and other support networks. Others said that they went home regularly, particularly if they were feeling run down and in need of a good rest. 

Young people sometimes worried about telling their flat mates and fellow students about their medical condition. Usually they realised that their condition was not an issue for other students - as one young man put it 'they have accepted me for who I am'. A young woman with epilepsy said that she came to accept her condition around the time she was at university and was able to talk to her friends, family and doctors about it. Another student, with chronic eczema, said that she's met other students with medical conditions and thinks that young people at university are less judgemental and more supportive than teenagers at school. While recovering, one young woman with ME, couldn't face the prospect of studying full time or being around people her own age. She decided to do her degree part-time and enrolled in an evening class with mature or retired students.

Last reviewed July 2017.

Last updated February 2012.


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