Having an impairment, mental health condition or learning difference shouldn’t prevent you from pursuing your ambitions, although it might mean you have additional costs (e.g. to access specialised equipment).
In addition to student finance options, students in the UK can apply for a Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) to help cover some of these costs. However, there may be other financial support sources available.
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.
Scholarships, grants, and bursaries
It’s worth exploring what additional funding might be available from your university or college, such as scholarships, grants, or bursaries. Like a Disabled Students' Allowance, these don’t have to be repaid, so they won’t contribute to the overall cost of going to university.
These bursaries, grants or scholarships may be specifically available to disabled students, to help with general living and study expenses, to help you to achieve a particular goal, or to pursue certain activities. On the other hand, they may be completely unrelated to your impairment or condition – perhaps for specific subject areas, or related to an extracurricular activity you’re involved with, like music or sports, especially if you represent the uni.
You may need to meet certain eligibility criteria or complete an application form explaining why you are deserving of the extra funding so be sure to find out the details – include any application deadlines.
Any funding to help with an impairment or condition 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, it is always a good idea to check the criteria and conditions for specific scholarships, to be sure.
You can tell the uni about an impairment or condition on your UCAS application – this allows them to tell you about any support you might be eligible for, and they can put any adjustments in place ready for your arrival. This could mean extra funding, but it may extend to other benefits or resources you may not know about. Don’t worry – this information is not used to make a decision on your application, and it is only shared with those involved in supporting you or making the arrangements for your support.
Speak to the student support team to find out what support you might be eligible for – the disability support team or mental health adviser will be able to help. Read our guidance for speaking to the disability support team or mental health adviser.
If you are attending an open day don’t forget to ask what bursaries, grants, and scholarships are available. Read our checklist for disabled students preparing for open days and visits for more advice on what to look for.
Hardship and emergency funds
Universities and colleges set aside hardship funds for students who run into financial problems while studying, and anyone can apply for these. This may be referred to as ‘learner support’ for those aged 19+ and studying a further education course. Specific funds may be available to support disabled students where a DSA can’t help, or you may be given priority consideration to any financial support open to all students. These funds may be repayable, so check before you apply.
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, and every application will be judged on an individual basis.
Most undergraduates can apply for hardship funds, provided they’ve received the maximum statutory maintenance support they’re eligible for – including Disabled Students’ Allowances.
As part of your application, you will be asked to explain why you need additional funding and what other methods you have used to resolve your situation. You may also be asked to provide evidence to support your application, like bank statements.
If you’re successful, check if this funding comes with any conditions – especially if you’ve received it for a specific purpose, for example, you may be required to provide receipts as evidence of how you’ve spent the extra money.
As you are making your UCAS decisions, you may attend an open day, or be asked to attend an interview, audition or similar event as part of your application journey. For students who may struggle to meet the travel or accommodation costs associated with these events, the university or college may be able to help you with some of these costs – even if you haven’t made your decision yet.
This funding may fall under the university’s widening participation aims which help disadvantaged and under-represented students go to university, and there may even be specific funding for disabled applicants.
As the university or college won’t know much about you if you haven’t submitted your application yet, you may be asked to provide evidence of your circumstances (e.g. a doctor’s letter confirming your impairment or condition), and receipts or estimates of your travel/accommodation costs. Make sure you apply and get approval for this well ahead of your visit. Speak to the student support team for full details.
Charities and trusts that support and promote the rights of disabled people, or those with learning differences, long-term illnesses and mental health conditions may provide help to those who wish to access higher education.
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 specifically linked to your own impairment or condition, but it’s worth doing some research to find out more. Also, visit the following organisations’ websites to check if there is support for you:
- Scope is the disability equality charity in England and Wales.
- The Snowdon Trust offers a grant to help physically and sensory disabled people in higher and further education meet disability-related costs that are not covered by statutory funding (e.g. DSA) – read more about eligibility for the Snowdon Trust grant and how to apply.
- The Student Health Association offers a bursary to fund to help disabled students keep up with their studies – find out more and apply on its website.
- Turn2Us is a national charity that helps people in financial hardship – find out more about any grants you may be entitled to.
Don’t forget to check if there is an application deadline. Eligibility criteria and application procedures for any charitable grants or bursaries will vary between organisations, so read all the details before you apply – for example, you may have to explain how you intend to use these funds, provide evidence of the costs involved, or send a reference or supporting statement. Recipients may have to repay an award they’ve received if they use it for a purpose other than that specified in their application.
Employers and professional bodies
Some employers and professional bodies offer funding to students on certain courses or studying within a particular field. To help nurture young talent and promote diversity within their field or industry, there may also be specific support available to disabled students.
Speak to your course tutor to find out about any professional bodies associated with your course and do some research into key employers in this field of study.
- 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?
1. Start with a Disabled Students’ Allowance — a DSA is the main form of financial support for disabled students. Make sure you know what evidence you will need to apply, and get that ready. Apply as early as possible, preferably at the same time as you apply for student finance. If you plan to apply for other funding related to your condition or impairment, you may need to provide evidence that you applied for a DSA (e.g. your DSA assessment), so check in advance.
2. Check all eligibility criteria and application deadlines – for any funding you are thinking of applying for, get any required evidence ready and apply as early as you can.
3. Be transparent – you’re not legally obliged to disclose an impairment or condition to a university or college. However, this allows them to tell you about any funding and support you can access – this can make your transition to higher education much easier, and help you achieve your potential when you are there.
You can share this information on your UCAS application. This is not used to make a decision on your application, and it is only shared with those involved in supporting you or making the arrangements for your support.
4. Know your expenses – having a firm grasp of your living and study costs – plus any extra costs as a result of your impairment or condition– will help when working out your budget, and help you identify where you may experience difficulties.
This will also help you when making an application for any grants or bursaries, as you may be asked to give exact or rough figures for expenses.