Having a disability, special need, or learning condition shouldn’t prevent students from pursuing higher education, although it does bring its challenges – this includes additional study or living costs, like travel expenses and special equipment.
Most universities and colleges direct disabled students to the DSA, to cover any extra costs they may incur. However, it’s worth exploring what other funding they offer, like scholarships, grants, or bursaries. These don’t have to be repaid either, so they won’t contribute to the overall cost of going to university. You can ask about these at an open day.
You can indicate that you have a disability, mental health, or long term condition on your UCAS application — this won’t impact your chances of receiving an offer.
You don’t have to declare this here, but if a university or college knows about your situation from the beginning, they can be proactive with any relevant support or resources they offer – rather than you chasing them for this later, when you urgently need it.
This could mean extra funding, but it may extend to other benefits or resources you don’t know about. You’ll likely be allocated an adviser or coordinator, who’ll be your first port of call throughout your studies. They can also refer you to appropriate teams or services, to help you further.
How much money will you need to live on at your chosen university? Use our student budget calculator to get a rough picture of your living costs.
Universities and colleges may offer specific bursaries or grants to disabled students. These could be to help with general living and study expenses, or they could be tied to supporting you to achieve a particular goal, or pursue certain activities.
They may be subject-specific, or offered too off the back of an extracurricular activity you’re involved with, like music or sports – especially if you represent the university in this. One university offers a £1,000 bursary to student athletes with disabilities who represent them in the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) competition.
Eligibility and applying
Eligibility will depend on the purpose of the award, and you’ll normally have to meet the following criteria:
- you have a recognised disability that meets the university or college’s definition
- you qualify for home fee status and live in the UK
- you’ve accepted an offer for a qualifying full-time undergraduate course at that university – you may have to accept this as your firm choice too
- you meet the grade requirements and conditions that come with your offer
Household income may also be taken into account.
There is usually an application form to complete, where you explain why you’re deserving of the funding, or how it will benefit you, plus provide any necessary evidence.
Successful applicants may receive the amount stated, or an amount based on their specific needs.
Bursaries and grants you’re eligible for due to a disability, special need, or learning difficulty, shouldn’t interfere with any merit-based scholarships you’ve earned – for example, a scholarship for achieving strong academic grades, or having exceptional athletic or musical ability.
However, check the criteria and conditions for specific scholarships, to be sure.
Hardship and emergency funds
Universities and colleges set aside hardship funds for students who run into financial problems while studying, which anyone can apply for. This may be referred to as ‘learner support’ for those aged 19+ and studying a further education course.
There may be specific funds for disabled students, where funding like DSAs can’t help. One university offers a Disabled Students' Bursary Fund that provides one-off grants for ‘services or equipment’ that support students’ academic study, either directly or indirectly.
Any sort of emergency fund or short-term loan like this should be considered a last resort, when all other avenues of financial support have been exhausted. What’s available will vary, with every application judged on an individual basis.
If there aren’t specific funds for disabled students, they may still be prioritised for general funds available to all students, given that they’re a vulnerable group – similar to how care/foyer leaver, estranged students, and carers may receive special consideration.
Eligibility and applying
Most undergraduates can apply for hardship funds, provided they’ve received the maximum statutory maintenance support they’re eligible for – this includes the Disabled Students’ Allowances.
As part of your application, you must explain your financial detriment – providing evidence to support this, like bank statements – and how else you’ve tried to resolve it.
If you’re successful, check if this funding comes with any conditions – especially if you’ve received this for a specific purpose. You may be required to provide receipts as evidence of how you’ve spent this.
Even if you haven’t settled on your UCAS choices yet, a university or college may still be willing to assist you.
If you need to attend an open day, interview, or similar event as part of your application journey, find out if they reimburse reasonable travel or accommodation expenses for students and their families who might otherwise struggle with these – this is often available to disadvantaged students, who fall into groups that widening participation funding aims to help.
In fact, there may be specific funding for disabled applicants. One university offers up to £500 towards the cost of visiting them , as part of their pre-application bursary.
Alternatively, you may be offered free accommodation in halls should you need to stay overnight.
Eligibility and applying
Given that a university or college won’t know much about you if you haven’t submitted your application yet, expect to provide:
- evidence of your disability, such as a letter from a relevant individual like a doctor
- your (reasonable) travel and accommodation expenses – either estimates if you’ve yet to travel, or receipts from your journey to get your reimbursement
You may also need to verify your upcoming visit, or confirm your attendance at a previous event.
Make sure you apply and get approval for this well ahead of your visit.
Charities and trusts that support and promote the rights of those with a disability, or a mental health, or long term health condition, can help those in higher education in a number of ways.
This can be through bursaries and grants, as well as networking groups or communities, expert advice, and referral to further services.
You may be familiar with organisations linked to your own disability or condition, but it’s worth exploring what the following offer too:
- Scope – the disability equality charity in England and Wales. Try their grants checker tool to find local grants you’re eligible for, plus get advice on a range of topics.
- Snowdon Trust – a charity that assists physically and sensory disabled people to access vocational and academic courses, through grants. Eligible students can apply for a grant worth up to £3,000, to help with specific costs.
- Turn2Us – a national charity that helps people in financial hardship. Learn about and search for grants and benefits you’re entitled to.
- Student Health Association – a forum for those involved in higher education, or working in a general practice with a high student patient population, to discuss matters relevant to student healthcare. They have a fund to help full-time disabled students keep up with their course, with bursaries worth up to £500 available.
Employers and professional bodies may offer funding to disabled students, to help nurture young talent and promote diversity within their field or industry.
Eligibility and applying
This may vary from one provider to another, but will be similar to those above, i.e. you’re a full or part-time undergraduate student from the UK, with a recognised disability or condition.
For bursaries and grants, you may have to explain how you intend to use these funds, including providing evidence of the costs involved.
Some, like the Snowdon Trust, may ask for a reference or supporting statement.
Like with hardship funds above, recipients may have to repay an award they’ve received, if they use this for a purpose other than that which they specified in their application.
Awards may also be subject to academic performance.
- What funding do you offer disabled students? Are these available to all disabled students, or just those studying specific subjects?
- As well as appropriate evidence to demonstrate a disability, what eligibility criteria do students have to satisfy?
- Is household income a factor for eligibility for these types of funding?
- What hardship or emergency funds are there for disabled students? Are disabled students prioritised when it comes to hardship funds for all students?
- Will you reach out to disabled students to explain what funding they’re eligible for?
- What extra, non-financial benefits can students get alongside this funding?
- If a student is eligible for a disability-related bursary or grant, will that hurt their chances of applying for a separate scholarship or bursary – like a low income bursary, or an academic scholarship?
- Start with Disabled Students’ Allowances — DSAs are the main form of financial support for students with disabilities. Because the amount you receive is determined by individual need – rather than factors like household income – this should cover any extra costs that arise from your disability or condition.
- Meanwhile, some funding providers might ask for your DSA assessment as part of your supporting evidence, or may not consider your application if you haven’t sought this support.
Be transparent – you’re not legally obligated to disclose a disability, mental health condition, or long-term health condition to a university or college. But if you do, they can let you know about funding and special support you can access – this may sway your decision when you respond to offers.
Knowing this support exists can save you time and effort searching for funding elsewhere, as well as reassure you about your transition to student life, in general.
- Know your expenses – having a firm grasp of your living and study costs – plus any extra costs as a result of your condition– will help when working out your student budget, including which money holes you need to fill.
- Plus, a funding provider may want to know how you plan to use a grant or bursary they’re offering, when assessing your application – this might involve giving exact or rough figures for expenses.
- Knowing what these are can save a lot of time, especially if you’re applying to many bursaries and grants.