Students with physical or mental health conditions and learning differences

Every year, over 60,000 students with physical and/or mental health conditions and learning differences apply through UCAS to study at a university or college in the UK, and access a range of support to help them succeed with their studies, day-to-day activities, travel, and lifestyle.

Guidance for students with disabilities

If you have a disability, our guide will help you make sure you have all the support you need for your course.

Don’t forget to tell the university or college about any impairment or condition on your UCAS application – this helps them to put the support in place ready for your arrival. 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.


Do your research

Research is vital to making your choices, and there is lots to think about. The COVID-19 pandemic means universities and colleges are potentially still putting extra measures in place to ensure the health and safety of students and staff. They recognise some students will be shielding and may have reservations and questions about the decision to go to university or college. See below for some considerations to take into account when thinking about your options.

Never be put off by any assumptions about your impairment as most courses (and professions) can be made accessible with the appropriate support – the Equality Act 2010 gives employers a duty to make 'reasonable adjustments' to make sure disabled people aren't at a disadvantage. Read more about what the Equality Act 2010 means for disabled students on the Disability Rights UK website.

There are some important differences in the support you get at school or college, and what you might be able to expect in higher education. The National Association of Disability Practitioners (NADP) has created a guide to help you understand more about the differences in the language and terminology used, and the support you may be able to receive.


Guidance for students with disabilities BSL video

If you have a disability, this signed video guide will help you make sure you have all the support you need for your course.

The university website

In most instances, the provider’s website will be your starting point. Here, you will be able to easily find information and advice for disabled students, and those with mental health conditions, long-term illnesses, and learning differences (including neurodiversity). This may include information about learning and assessment methods, support provided, and the contact details of the disability, mental health, and/or wellbeing support teams.

If you are cannot find the information you need, contact student support services at the university, who will be able to help.


Advice from disability officers

Find out what disability officers at universities say about the support available, and why it's good to tell the universities you're applying to about any disabilities.

Talk to course providers

To help you reach your full potential, most universities and colleges have disability support teams and mental health and wellbeing advisers. They are always happy to speak to applicants about support and answer any questions you may have – even if you choose not to apply there. This could include advice about funding (including the Disabled Students’ Allowance), and about academic and lifestyle support and facilities at that university. You will find the contact details of the student support teams on the university website.

If you’re not sure what to ask when speaking to the support team, we’ve put together a detailed checklist to help you get started – read our advice on speaking to student support services.

What to consider now

1. Academic support and learning facilities

  • Is there information about learning delivery and assessment methods – particularly as a result of changes made due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • How will social distancing affect your access to non-medical helpers (e.g. note takers, sign language interpreters)?
  • What accessible and inclusive online platforms are used to deliver online learning and assessment? Do all departments use the same technology?
  • How will the university ensure you can access all aspects of blended learning and assessment methods (i.e. face-to-face and virtual elements)?
  • Do they anticipate any impact on work placements or practical elements of the course due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • Check lecture halls, libraries, and living accommodation are all accessible and suited to your requirements – speak to the disability support team if you anticipate any challenges.

2. Accommodation and lifestyle

  • How will social distancing work on campus (e.g. in lecture theatres and classrooms)?
  • If a COVID-19 resurgence means the campus needs to close again, how will that affect accommodation costs?

It is a huge change and takes a lot of getting used to, but I now love living away from home and my new-found independence.

Catherine Alexander, studying BA (Hons) English at Lancaster University


Open days and visits

Open days are a valuable way to find out about a university or college first-hand – you can tour the facilities, speak to staff and current students, and really get a feel for whether you would like to study there. Lots of universities offer virtual open days too, so if you can’t visit in person, you don’t have to miss out.

What to consider now:

  • Is the university running virtual open days this year? If so, do they include information on accessibility and support?
  • If you do need to see the university facilities in person, check if you can arrange a visit. The disability support team will be able to advise and, if necessary, make arrangements.
  • Open days are a good opportunity to speak to current students about their experiences, but you don’t need to miss out if you can’t attend one in person – chat to students online at your university.

Visit the open days page (including virtual events)

Read our checklist for disabled students when preparing for open days and visits.

I think if you are deaf, you are much more in charge of yourself. You have to take the first steps and that can be pretty challenging because deafness no doubt causes a lack of confidence. But if you build the larger part of the bridge towards other students, work closely together with the people who want to help you, then it is worth it and I can absolutely recommend having the courage and taking the step towards university.

Fred Suter, studying BA (Hons) Modern Languages at University of Southampton


The UCAS application

The easiest way to let the university or college know about your support needs is to use the question on the UCAS application – this will ask you to select your impairment(s) or condition(s), and you can give more information in the free text box below if you wish. If you’d like to know more about sharing information about a condition or impairment in the application, read our FAQs page.

The information you give about an impairment or condition is only used by the student services team to arrange the support you may need before you arrive – this can also include help during the application journey (e.g. access for interviews, open days and auditions) – it is never used to make an academic judgement on your application.

We always recommend getting in touch with the university or college once you have accepted an offer to discuss the arrangements for your arrival and they will be happy to give you more information about the services and resources available, and answer any questions you may have.

If you decide not to share this information, that is fine – it is entirely your decision. If you change your mind, you can tell the university or college directly at any time but we recommend doing this sooner rather than later so there are no delays to getting the support ready for you.

It’s important to note that you are in full control of your support and if you decide you don’t need it, you don’t have to use it – but it’s a good idea to have it ready in place just in case your circumstances change, or you change your mind later on.

This is what typically happens after you submit your application: 

  1. The application is sent by secure transfer to the university or college admissions department. All health data is handled confidentially under UK-GDPR legislation. 
  2. Admissions staff assess the application based only on the applicant's academic aptitude and potential to succeed on the course. Information about an applicant’s health is kept confidential and only accessible to those who are responsible for organising support – it's not used to make an academic judgement.
  3. If the applicant is made an offer or invited to interview or audition, the information is transferred securely to the student support team where reasonable adjustments are organised as necessary. 
  4. Once an offer is accepted, the student support team may contact the applicant with information about the available support or to discuss the support available. This may include completing a questionnaire, a visit to the university or college to arrange support, or more information about applying for a DSA
  5. Before the student's arrival, the student support team may draft a support agreement outlining any reasonable adjustments and discuss this with the student – taking account of DSA recommendations where applicable. 
  6. Prior to starting the course, the student support team will discuss the distribution of any support document with the student. This will be securely shared on a strict 'need to know' basis. This may include academic staff, the personal tutor, the accommodation team, library staff, and exams officers as appropriate.
     

What are Disabled Students' Allowances?

Find out what Disabled Students' Allowances are, the help you might be able to get, and how to apply. Video provided by Student Finance England

Financial support

In addition to your student finance arrangements, you may also be eligible for a Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA) which helps cover some of the extra study-related costs you incur due to a physical or mental health condition, or learning difference. This is a non-repayable allowance which is in addition to other student finance.

Start applying for a DSA as soon as possible – you don’t need a confirmed university place to apply.

Visit the Diversity and Ability website for lots of straightforward advice on what DSA covers and how to apply.

Find out more about a Disabled Students' Allowance 

Depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for additional funding and support – find out more about scholarships, grants and bursaries.

Read the Disability Rights UK factsheet on funding higher education for disabled students.


Support with transition

A new start can make you feel excited and nervous – there’s a lot to think about.

Some universities and colleges offer summer schools and courses to help you manage the change, particularly if you are finding it challenging. For example, some summer schools are specifically designed to help students with anxiety or autistic spectrum conditions settle in.

It’s good to be prepared and know what to expect, so the Know Before You Go guide from Student Minds is a great resource to help you get ready for the change. You might also find their Transitions Guide useful to help you navigate university life.


Fitness to practice

In professions where you are responsible for the health and safety of other people, such as medicine or nursing, it is necessary that you meet ‘fitness to practise’ regulations. This means practitioners must demonstrate the skills and knowledge to carry out their duties safely and effectively. This is usually assessed through a questionnaire about your health, and an occupational health assessment may be required.

An impairment, mental health condition, learning difference or illness, is unlikely to affect your fitness to practise. Universities and employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to support disabled people under the Equality Act 2010.

Check the guidance about fitness to practise from your chosen professional course (e.g. social work, teaching, medicine, nursing) – your course provider will be able to help with this.


Support for disabled people taking apprenticeships

Being disabled shouldn’t limit your job or study choice, and apprenticeships can be a great route for you to get into your chosen career. Watch a case study, get advice on reasonable adjustments, funding, accessibility of apprenticeships, and more.

More on support for disabled people taking apprenticeships


Further information and support

Helpful blog articles

Hear more from students about their own experiences of going to university with a physical or mental health condition or learning difference, and from organisations offering expert advice.