By Dominik Zawartko
Policy and Advocacy Associate
National Headache Foundation

Sudden changes in routine and living conditions can be a tough adjustment for anyone to make. For students living with migraine, the transition from high school to college can be one that presents unique challenges. Being prepared before moving out to school is a critical part of making the adjustment as stress-free as possible.

For those that have sought accommodations through their school in the past or created a treatment plan with their doctor, you are a step ahead of the curve. The reality is that many students living with headache and migraine (1) fail to seek a proper diagnosis and (2) are not aware of the accommodations they can receive through school to ensure academic success. Students with migraine should be afforded the same opportunities as those without. Here are some tips on what you can do to be prepared.

The first step is to visit your primary care physician before leaving for school. Make sure you are comfortable with where you are at with your treatment and create a plan for how you will self-treat while you are away. Chances are, you won’t be able to see your PCP at a moment’s notice, so make sure to schedule visits when/if you are home for school breaks. It is also important to find a doctor or healthcare facility at your school that you can visit regularly and as needed. Be sure to have up-to-date notes on what medications you are taking, if any. And always be cognizant of your emergency contacts, including roommates and RA’s. Finally, be sure to have the proper documentation from your doctor regarding your migraine/headache.

Living with migraine is a massive challenge on its own. Couple that with a hectic college schedule, heightened social experiences, and stressful course loads (to name a few), it’s no wonder why many students with migraine have difficulty maintaining academic stability. Having a debilitating migraine attack and having to show up for your 8:30 a.m. lecture can be a tough act to juggle, which is why students need to know about reasonable accommodations through their school. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, or ADA, prohibits discrimination based on disability and extends to sectors such as transportation, employment, and in this case, education. While this act is meant to be overarching, 504 Accommodations apply directly to educational institutions. With migraine being considered one of the conditions protected by these statutes, students can be afforded reasonable accommodations to help them succeed in school. Reasonable accommodations can include, but are not limited to:

  • Extended time to complete exams
  • Access to a quiet testing space
  • Ability to privately take medication during class
  • Excused absences due to migraine attacks
  • Ability to retrieve notes from absences
  • Ability to wear sunglasses, headphones, or earplugs during class

Finally, the last step is to create a plan of action to ensure your needs are being met and acknowledged by the institution. To get started, visit your school’s administrative offices, and notify them of your situation. All schools will have a department that deals with student accessibility. There are often many names for these departments: Office of Student Accommodations, Office of Student Accessibility, and Student Affairs. Find out where you can find help at your school, and then begin creating a plan with each one of your professors. With paperwork from the Accessibility/Disability office, your professor will be more than willing to help accommodate you in any reasonable way you need. Furthermore, make sure to notify a counselor or your student advisor of your accommodations, they can monitor your performance in school and help you if anything becomes an issue. By taking all these steps and staying on top of migraine/headache, students can ensure that their transition into college is a smooth one.