Once you have finished sixth form or college you may be considering applying to university. This is a really exciting time and may even involve moving away from home and living alone for the first time.
It's important to think ahead to make sure that you choose the right course, the right university and most importantly to make sure that everything is in place and ready for your first day. This means you can start your course without having to worry about any issues to do with your equipment and support needs and concentrate on making friends and settling in. One student explains what he considered before going to university:
“[they] had a good disability department, one of the best that I have seen, from my experience so far it’s been absolutely brilliant...they really do seem to know what they are doing, so that’s good. And I had a friend who is also visually impaired who came up here and had a really positive time with the disability department and the course. Also I like the course structure that you have to pick three courses in your first two years, I think that’s quite good, because it means that you can chop and change and switch.”
When considering applying to university, think about the following things:
Discuss course options
Discuss possible course options with your careers adviser, subject teachers/ lecturers, support staff and parents. If you have a particular career in mind, find out what the learning objectives are, what work experience is required and anything else you'll have to do to get the right qualification for your chosen career. If you are unsure of what you want to do as a career but are interested in a specific subject, you can talk through your chosen area of interest and find out what careers this could lead to. Also think about structure and materials too as some courses require lab work, or rely on visual analysis. Don't be put off by any assumptions about your impairment though – most subjects and professions can be made accessible with the appropriate support, and the Equality Act gives universities and potential employers a duty to make 'reasonable adjustments' to make sure anyone with a disability is not at a disadvantage.
Look at the university website
Every university has its own website. This will give you information about their courses, social activities and halls of residence. There will be specific pages which tell you about the extra support and types of assistive technology and access software available within the library.
Think about location and size of the university
You may also want to think about the size and location of the university as these may have important implications for how you get about. For example, whether it is a city or a campus university. In city universities the buildings may be in various locations spread around the city, which could involve quite a lot of travel. Campus universities are more contained, with the university buildings all on one site, although you will still have to get across the campus to travel between buildings and as students have told us, some campus universities can still present challenges to mobility:
“It’s quite an old university so it’s quite difficult sometimes, because it’s old buildings and it’s not always logically designed, so it’s a bit difficult...”
Each has its advantages and disadvantages. For further information see the Life at university and negotiating support sections.
,Another thing to think about when choosing a university is the size and type of institution.The size of teaching groups will vary across course types, and across institutions. Lecture sizes can range from classroom settings which seat smaller groups to very large lecture rooms which seat up to 300 students. The course prospectus will normally indicate the number of places available which will give some indication.
Arrange a visit or attend an open day
There will be open days advertised on the university websites. Students in the past have found this a good opportunity to meet with staff from the disability support office:
“I managed to arrange a meeting with the disability department beforehand, and that’s how I knew they were so good”
Talk about your needs
Contact the disability/ student support service directly as you might be able to go and meet them at the same time. Meeting the staff in advance allows you the chance to ask questions about the types of support you'll be able to access and arrange a tour of the campus and accommodation. It's important that you know exactly who is responsible for providing your support, for example who within your subject department will be producing your materials in large print and organising your extra time for exams.
Check out this useful document about what to ask the disability coordinators and advisers at any course providers you're interested in applying to.
If you are unable to attend an open day, you can still contact the disability support team at the university and make an appointment to discuss your requirements at university.
The UCAS application process
Visit the UCAS website - it offers lots of information on courses, open day events, entry requirements as well as application information and deadlines. The website has a BrowseAloud function as well as other accessibility features to support your reading. If you have difficulties in accessing any parts of the website, contact the UCAS customer services on the UCAS Accessibility page.
Declaring your vision impairment on the UCAS form
When you apply through UCAS, you can declare that you have a disability on your application form. For example, if you have been receiving support for your vision impairment at school or college you would declare using descriptor 58, ‘Blind or a serious visual impairment uncorrected by glasses’. By doing this it means your chosen course provider can start to put the right support in place for you well in advance of your arrival. This can include extra equipment, a scribe or support worker and adaptations to living arrangements. Any information you provide is confidential and won’t be passed on without your permission.
Students who have previously gone through the UCAS application process found that this was the key way in which the university disability support offices identified that they may potentially need some support arrangements (even if this was simply extra time for examinations). Some disability support offices send out questionnaires for prospective students to complete, whilst others contact students to set up meetings at open days or following interviews. It will vary from university to university, but evidence has shown that it will be beneficial for you to declare your visual impairment at this stage of the process.
If you’d rather not disclose at this stage, you can always tell your chosen course providers about your situation once you’re been accepted – after you get your welcome email – but check what support they have on offer first and be prepared that there may be delays in getting your support in place at the start of your studies.
It’s important to note that whilst this information will be made available to the university’s disability support office, it is likely that it won’t be made available to your chosen department until your place on the course is confirmed and a learning support agreement is in place.
Tuition fees and the available financial support are likely to influence which university you select. Universities can charge up to £9,000 per year in tuition fees. You can cover the cost of your tuition through a student loan, which you only start to pay back when you are earning over £21,000 a year.
It’s worth remembering that you’ll repay the same each month regardless of whether tuition fees are £6,000 or £9,000. However universities which are charging more than £6,000, have to put in place measures to support students whose parents’/ own income is below a certain amount.
Bursaries, scholarships and awards
Students in higher education can apply for money directly from their university or college on top of any other student finance.
Each university or college has their own rules about bursaries, scholarships and awards for example who qualifies, how much you can get an how to apply. Bursaries are like grants and don’t have to be paid back. You get your bursary directly from your university or college. Talk to your student support service to find out what’s available.
Disability or Student support service
At university, the responsibility is on you to make sure that you are receiving the help you need. However, all universities have a disability co-ordinator or student support team. This team can help with any issues or concerns you may have about university and it's a good idea to meet with them before or when you begin your course.
“They are already considering having as many lectures in the same building as possible, for my sake. The tutors, and my disability officer, she is really good...I think that they are very much willing to work with me, to give the support I need”. Sarah.
They will be able to talk about the support available at university, and can help you with applying for Disabled Students Allowance (DSA)
. It is recommended that you apply for DSA as soon as possible, so that your support provision is in place by the time you start.
Find out what other students got up to at Freshers’ on our student life
Know your rights
At university, the responsibility is on you to make sure that you receive the help you need. However, all institutions have a duty to ensure you are not disadvantaged as a student because of your sight loss. Make sure you know about your rights in education
Under the Equality Act (2010) all education providers are required to ensure that disabled people's access requirements are met. Ideally, the person to contact should be named in their literature or on their website. You should speak to this person and find out what support you can expect. Also under the Equality Act (2010) colleges and Higher Education institutions are required to provide publicity and all other materials in a range of accessible formats (large print, Braille, etc) so you should ask for these in the format you prefer. These institutions have an 'anticipatory' duty under the legislation and they should be able to provide materials in an appropriate format without difficulty. You should find out what the college or university provides in terms of other facilities such as computers with screen reading and/or magnification software. The environment should also be accessible and you should be able to get around safely.
Choosing the right course for you is a very important decision; you’ll be investing a lot of time and money and it can be difficult to change if you’re not satisfied. Knowing your rights
under consumer law will help make sure you get all the information you need and are treated fairly during your studies.
Another pathway which you may want to consider is taking a gap year before going to university. There are many options that you could consider for a gap year. In the past other students have gone traveling, got some work experience, volunteered abroad in a school or taken a language course in a different country. Those who have chosen to take gap years have typically spoken about very positively about their experience:
“…had a fantastic, fantastic gap year. I had three jobs at the end of it practically. Non-paid, all voluntary and all music related and enjoyable, and it was the best decision I ever made”
If you do decide to take a gap year, it may be possible to apply for university and then defer your place until the next academic year. This would be something that you would need to discuss with the admissions tutor on your chosen course. If you do go abroad, don’t forget to keep on top of your application for Disabled Students Allowance (DSA)
and to make contact with the disability support office.
Callum, visited South America whilst at University - read more about his experiences and challenges:
For more information about gap years visit the Disabled Gap Years website and read about other young people who, despite serious physical, sensory and mental disabilities, undertook challenging gap year projects.