As a college student, you have a lot on your mind—classes, assignments, exams, internships, sports, a social life, a job, and sleep (maybe). Campus culture is one of productivity and burnout, and it is often the first time you learn the societal virtue of “hustle.” It is a time of dreams, planning, and budding careers. Becoming pregnant in college is not usually part of that plan.
In those first few moments, it may seem like a choice between dropping out of school or terminating your pregnancy. But those aren’t your only two choices. In fact, you have a world of opportunity ahead of you and protections already in place to embrace motherhood and your degree.
Here are seven surprising facts you probably didn’t know about being pregnant in college.
Fact #1: A federal law called Title IX protects pregnant and parenting students from discrimination.
The National Women’s Law Center states, “Title IX is a law that bans sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funds. Title IX makes it illegal to exclude students who may be, are, or have been pregnant from an educational program.”
If you find yourself unexpectedly pregnant at school, you have every right to continue your education and continue your pregnancy—by law. So start researching Title IX basics now. The more you know about your rights, the more equipped you’ll be to stand up for yourself and your child should you face discrimination in school.
There’s a very good chance that your college, especially a public state university, is completely covered by Title IX. And even if your college has requested certain Title IX exemptions, they are often not completely exempt. To learn more about which campuses are covered by Title IX, see here. At the end of the article, you can find a list of universities exempt from Title IX pregnant and parenting provisions.
Fact #2: Your teachers must excuse absences and help you make up any missed assignments or exams due to pregnancy or childbirth.
Under Title IX, pregnancy is treated like any other temporary medical condition. This means that if you have to miss school for medical reasons related to your pregnancy, your teachers must excuse your absences and allow you to make up missed assignments and exams.
It means you must be restored to your former academic status before you went on medical leave. The school can only require a doctor’s note from you if they also require it from students with other temporary medical conditions. It doesn’t matter if your teacher questions the policy or if their syllabus indicates that a certain number of absences causes you to fail the course.
On the other hand, your school cannot force or pressure you to take time off if you don’t want to either. A violation of any of these protections is grounds for discrimination, and you can begin documenting incidents before filing a formal complaint (more on that later). So work hard to ace that honors course, and keep aiming high!
Fact #3: Your school must allow you to keep participating in extracurricular activities, including sports, while pregnant.
Think you might have to drop out of that club or that you’ll be kicked off the sports team? Think again. Being asked to drop out of an extracurricular activity because of pregnancy is a Title IX violation.
Your coach can’t remove you from the team due to pregnancy either, even if they claim they have deemed it “unsafe” for you to play. That decision must rest with your OBGYN, not the school. In short, pregnant student-athletes must be treated like other athletes with temporary disabilities. This means the school can request a medical clearance from your doctor to allow you to continue participating in your sport, but only if they require that from other athletes with temporary disabilities. Your coach must be willing to modify workouts and training as your pregnancy progresses to keep you and your baby safe—just like they would for a temporarily injured athlete.
The NCAA has an extensive toolkit and proposed procedures for supporting pregnant student-athletes, including policies that state athletes “must be offered reinstatement to the same position after pregnancy as they held before the onset of pregnancy.” Consider sharing it with your school’s athletics department or coach. You can also find more summarized information on pregnant athletes and Title IX here.
Fact #4: You cannot lose a university-sponsored scholarship, including athletic scholarships, because of your pregnancy.
The NCAA states that “once an athletics award has been made (typically for one-year) it cannot be withdrawn due to pregnancy, suspected pregnancy, parenthood, or termination of pregnancy. As long as a student-athlete remains in good standing academically and does not withdraw voluntarily, a pregnant student-athlete’s scholarship is protected from being reduced or withdrawn.”
You cannot lose your scholarship, athletic or merit-based, just because you are pregnant. In fact, the NCAA also states, “Federal law requires us to grant you as much leave as is medically necessary and to renew your scholarship under certain circumstances. You should also know that NCAA bylaws allow a female student-athlete to apply for an additional year of eligibility if her athletic career is interrupted by pregnancy.”
And your four-year academic scholarship the university awarded you when you applied for school? You get to keep that as well, provided you don’t drop out!
Fact #5: You’re allowed to continue living in your dorm while pregnant.
Believe it or not, you can remain in your current housing situation while pregnant. In fact, students who have been kicked out of their dorms due to pregnancy have fought back against their schools and won, changing problematic and illegal policies in the process. Although schools may require that you find alternative housing once your baby is born (some campuses even have housing for parenting students!), they cannot kick you out of your dorm room because of your pregnancy. If this occurs, it’s time to contact your Title IX coordinator.
Fact #6: There’s probably a “Title IX coordinator” on your campus to answer your questions and help you file possible complaints.
Under Title IX, your school must have an appointed faculty member who manages Title IX questions and complaints. This person is usually called a “Title IX coordinator,” but may be under another title. The Pregnant Scholar writes, “Your school is required to clearly identify who the coordinator is, how they can be contacted, how to file a complaint, and the process the school follows to resolve complaints.”
If you don’t know the policies specific to your school regarding pregnancy, whether your campus is exempt from certain Title IX protections, or you suspect that you have grounds to file a complaint, your Title IX coordinator should be able to help you. You have the right to continue your education and strive for your dreams.
Sometimes a school may not have a Title IX coordinator because of exemptions (although most private schools receive some federal funds and must have one). Try contacting your dean of students and asking if your campus has a Title coordinator. Or you can always bypass that avenue and file a complaint directly with the US Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights.
If you think you have experienced discrimination for any of the reasons listed above, or others, start documenting the incidents and file a complaint within 180 days. Here is a helpful guide for filing a Title IX complaint.
Fact #7: Over a quarter (26%) of all undergraduate students are raising children in the United States.
And there are over 2 million single student mothers balancing college and parenthood, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. You are not alone. There are so many inspiring stories of pregnant and parenting students successfully graduating from college, giving birth to their children, beginning fulfilling careers, and living full, crazy, happy lives. Want to meet other women who know what it’s like to be unexpectedly pregnant on campus? Check out their amazing stories here.
It’s true that your path, while pregnant and a student, may be filled with more fears and uncertainty than you expected to encounter. But maybe the unexpected joy and courage motherhood brings will make you stronger because the unplanned could be better than anything you ever planned. Maybe it’s even something to be incredibly proud of.
Many mothers cite their children as the motivation that helped them finish school and earn their degree. So, there is hope. We believe in your strength to do both—to fearlessly embrace your education and your family. We believe your story could be the inspiration another woman needs to overcome her obstacles and achieve her dreams. So be that inspiration. And go get your bright future.
Tammy Abernethy shares the secret to providing empowering support to women facing unplanned pregnancies.
Mom and college graduate Katie Forbes teaches us how to empower pregnant and parenting students to achieve their academic dreams.
Veronika Didusenko is known around the globe as a model and advocate for women’s rights. She is also the 22-year-old mother of a five-year-old son. Her mantra is bold but simple: “Having children is not a verdict.”