Here you’ll find the answers to the most frequently asked questions around support for disabled students while studying at university or college.
Identifying a disability, learning difficulty, or mental illness
Applying to university or college
If I declare I’m a disabled student on my UCAS application, will this affect the decision a university or college makes?
Universities and colleges make offers based on each applicant’s ability to meet the entry requirements, their enthusiasm for the subject area, their reference, whether it’s the right course and provider them, and ultimately, whether they can succeed on the course they have applied for. It would be unlawful for universities and colleges to refuse you a place or treat you less favourably because of your disability – they have been covered by the Disability Discrimination Act since 2001, and the Equality Act since 2010.
Universities and colleges have well developed systems and procedures for admitting disabled students and making sure they progress in their studies. They have lots of experience supporting students with additional needs, and putting the appropriate support in place for all students. They therefore want and need to understand the additional support you’ll need, and it helps them if you provide information about any disability, health condition, or learning support needs as early as possible in the application stage, so they can make sure everything’s in place and that you’ll have the best start.
Remember, it is optional to give details on your UCAS application, and you can choose to provide this information later if you prefer.
Disability Rights UK discuss this question and offer insight about being open about disabilities in their guide Into Higher Education, and this useful guide to disclosure from AHEAD may help you too.
Should I use my personal statement or interview to disclose information about my disability?
Both are ideal opportunities to describe your disability or health condition in a positive way. You can mention your impairment in your personal statement should you choose to do so, and you may want to explain how it shows evidence of character and achievement. When writing your personal statement, think about the skills, qualities, and motivation that have helped you succeed so far, and link these experiences to the course or subject area you’re interested in. Consider how your disability has given you insight, or developed aspects of your character which make you stand out from other applicants. The personal details section on your UCAS application also gives you the option of choosing a disability category, and describing any additional study support needs.
Universities will welcome early notification because it helps them ensure everything can be in place for you when you start your studies.
Remember, disclosing information about your disability in this way is entirely your choice, and you are not expected to talk about it if you don't want to.
I can’t make the date for one of my university open days. What can I do?
If there’s not another one planned, you can contact the disability adviser at the university or college to ask about arranging an informal visit.
Remember, you can arrange parking or any additional support you’ll need when you get there, and ask if you can meet other disabled students who may have had similar experiences. Another option is to ask the university or college to reply to some specific questions which you could send via email.
Alternatively, you could ask the university/college if they have a virtual tour or if you could attend a virtual open day. Disabled Go provides useful information about many UK universities and colleges, with a short description of their disability support services, and an overview of accessibility of their facilities and buildings.
I am applying for a professional course and I have to pass a ‘fitness to practise’ test. Is my disability likely to prevent me from following this career?
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 is sometimes required.
However, a disability or mental health condition is unlikely to affect your 'fitness to practise'. Universities and colleges – as well as employers – have a duty to make all reasonable adjustments to support disabled students and employees under the Equality Act 2010.
If you would like to know more about the 'fitness to practise' guidance, take a look at the guidance from your professional course (e.g. social work, teaching, medicine, nursing). The General Medical Council also provides clear guidance on their website. They also publish guidance about supporting disabled students, and also specific guidance for students with mental health conditions.
Another term you may hear is ‘competence standards’, which is different to ‘fitness to practice’. Some professional courses require students to meet 'an academic, medical, or other standard applied for the purposes of determining whether or not a person has a particular level of competence or ability' (as defined by the Equality Act 2010). These standards are designed to ensure students are clear about the demands and expectations of the course, but reasonable adjustments will be made to ensure disabled students have an equal opportunity to meet the standards.
If I go through Clearing, how will I know which university or college will be able to cater for my needs?
Universities and colleges are experienced in supporting students with a wide range of disabilities. However, if you have complex specialist needs, going through Clearing may result in a slight delay in getting all the support and adjustments you need arranged for the start of term. So, when you begin deciding where to study, it’s worth having a contingency plan. Before exam results day, list suitable alternative providers you are confident can support you, so you’ll be fully prepared either way.
Does my school teacher have to mention my disability in their reference?
No, and they can only do so with your permission. It’s a good idea to discuss this with whoever is writing your reference, just to make sure they’re clear about this.
I’ve been invited to an interview but I need specialist arrangements (e.g. a BSL interpreter, or additional assessment time). What should I do?
If you need any type of support for your interview, contact the university or college in advance to arrange this. The disability adviser is a great first point of contact, and will arrange access to the necessary support you need at your interview.
I need to use a wheelchair, but I’m worried about getting around the campus. How can I find out if I’ll be able to manage?
Most unis and colleges will already be accessible, and will provide information about this on their websites, including accessibility ‘maps’. Every university or college has a team dedicated to supporting disabled students, so the disability adviser is a good starting point to talk through any concerns you have, describe what adjustments are already in place, and plan for any additional adaptations that can be made. They may also be able to put you in contact with other students so you can speak to them and hear about their experiences.
If you’re able to visit the university or college in person, at an open day or a pre-arranged appointment, you can see the facilities first-hand and talk to key members of staff. The Access Able website provides information on UK universities and colleges, access to key areas, and support offered to specific students.
I’ve recently been diagnosed with a mental health condition, and I want to find out about the support I can get when I need it. Can I do this without telling lots of people?
All university and college student support teams offer confidential support and advice, and many have specialist mental health advisers. Take a look at the University Mental Health Advisers Network (UMHAN) list of mental health support teams at course providers in the UK, along with their contact details – you will be able to contact many of these via email.
Universities and colleges will give you opportunities to be open about your disability throughout the application, admissions, and induction process, as well as during your course. Whenever you choose to tell the university, you can contact the disability adviser in student services. The adviser can work with other departments on your behalf, agreeing what information you want or need to share. Most universities have a Nightline service too, for out of hours support.
Remember, you’re not on your own, and more students than ever are disclosing mental health conditions because they really want to have a positive experience. You can also get useful advice and support from Student Minds — read their blogs to find out more about their work and their advice on disclosing a mental health condition on your UCAS application.
I find it hard to make new friends easily due to a mental health condition, but I don’t want to feel left out. Are there any support groups to help people settle in?
Many students worry about meeting new people when they start university or college, and if you have a mental health condition it can feel like even more of a challenge.
Universities and colleges have counselling services, offering specialist and tailored support. The disability adviser will know of any mentors and support groups where you can meet others with similar concerns. You can also get useful advice and support from Student Minds, a charity which provides loads of information on its website, as well as running student support groups through Student Minds groups in universities across the UK.
I’m an international student with a disability. What support can I expect to receive at a UK university?
When completing your UCAS application, you'll have the option to declare your disability if you wish to do so. This information will be passed to those responsible for arranging support for you.
You’ll have the same level of support as a UK student, but your university/college will require supporting evidence, such as a letter from your doctor (translated into English), or a needs assessment.
If you need personal care or other non-academic support, the disability adviser at your university or college will be able to tell you about the support services they offer, but you may need to fund this yourself.
International and EU students are not usually eligible for the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) or other benefits, however, there are some exceptions. If you're an EU student who has lived in the UK for at least five years before the start of your course, or an international student from outside of the EU who has lived in the UK for three years or more before the start of your course, you may be entitled to claim a DSA.
If you’re on an EU Erasmus programme, check for any funding opportunities from your home university first.
You can find out more about applying to UK universities if you have a disability on the British Council website.
I live with my parents, who provide personal care for me, but I would like to move away from home to study. Can I get personal care to help me live independently?
Yes, you can take your care package with you if you choose to move away from home. You will need to have a needs assessment to establish what help you can receive. Some services may be chargeable.
You may be entitled to benefits such as the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – see our fees and funding page for more information, or check the Turn2us website, which also provides details of local and national organisations which may offer support.
You can get help organising your personal care support from the disability adviser at your university or college, along with advice about local services you can access. You should also check if your university or college participates in the Volunteering Matters scheme (or other volunteer projects), where you can access different levels of support from the community.
I have a long-term illness which can affect my attendance, because I need to go to hospital for treatments and appointments. Will this cause problems?
Always discuss your concerns with the university or college's disability/mental health adviser. They will be able to give you practical advice and keep your course tutor informed if you do need to be absent for any length of time.
In some circumstances, it may be worth considering an alternative study option – part-time courses and distance learning may offer more flexible ways of learning, and ease your concerns if you do need to take time off.
Because of my autism, I'm anxious about starting my course. Can I visit the uni before term starts to understand how to get to my lectures, and get to know my surroundings?
Many students experience some anxiety about this, but it can be particularly stressful for students on the autistic spectrum. With this in mind, some universities and colleges now offer summer school programmes for students with autism – they give you a taste of university life and help familiarise you with the campus. Contact the university or college directly to find out if they offer this.
Most campuses provide clear signposting, information points, and maps to make sure students can find their way around easily. It is a good idea to attend an open day to see if you feel comfortable with the layout and signposting of the campus. If you can't visit in person, you could attend an online open day.
Discussing your concerns with the disability adviser can be very valuable, as they will know how to support you. They will also advise your lecturers and course tutor, and explain where to get help if you need it. In addition, many campuses have 'safe' spaces where you can go if you feel anxious and need time out.
Where can I find out more?
The National Autistic Society provides a free transition support service for young people moving into higher education.
Student finance and funding
I’ve heard I can apply for a Disabled Students’ Allowance. What is this, and how much can I receive?
You may be eligible to claim a Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) to cover any extra study-related costs. It’s not a loan, so you don’t need to repay it. The amount you’ll receive depends on your individual needs, not your income. There are some restrictions on what you may use your DSA for, so check the details carefully. It’s also available if you’ve previously taken a higher education course.
You’ll need to provide proof of your disability and undergo an assessment at a centre of your choice. The assessment report will be sent to the disability adviser at your chosen university or college, so they can make arrangements for any support or adjustments you require. If you have an EHC plan, your local authority for your home address will – with your permission – forward the details to the DSA assessor as proof of your eligibility, and help you complete your application. The process takes about 14 weeks, so think about applying when you apply for student finance, although you can apply for the DSA at any time during your course.
DSA is slightly different depending on which area of the UK you live in:
Find out more about DSAs.
Can I get financial support for a postgraduate course?
Yes, you can apply for the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA), even if you have already received funding for a previous course.
If you claimed a DSA for an undergraduate course, and want to start a postgraduate course straightaway, you may not need to be reassessed, but it’s worth checking. If you’re eligible, you will receive the DSA as a single payment for academic support. Full details about eligibility for the DSA and applications can be found on the gov.uk website. You could also ask the university or college whether they provide any bursaries, scholarships, or awards for postgraduates in your chosen subject area.
Is there any other funding I can apply for?
Depending on your circumstances, there may be additional grants or bursaries available to you. The disability support team at your chosen university/college will be able to advise you further. Remember to check whether any additional funding will affect your DSA.
There are also many charities in the UK that offer additional funding and support, so it’s worth looking into what’s available. See our additional funding page, which gives further advice and guidance about grants and bursaries. The Disability Grants website also provides information about what is available to students with individual needs in different parts of the UK.
I'm thinking of doing a degree apprenticeship. Will this affect the financial and academic support I can receive?
Degree apprenticeships combine part-time undergraduate study with employment, and courses can be foundation degrees, honours degrees, or master’s degrees. Apprentices do not pay tuition fees, as the costs are co-funded by the government and the employer. Because apprentices are in paid employment as they study, these courses are not eligible for student funding, including the Disabled Students’ Allowance.
Apprentices in England, Wales, and Scotland (read about the arrangements for apprentices in Northern Ireland) may be eligible to apply for an Access to Work grant if a disability, long-term health condition, or mental health difficulty affects your ability to work, or if you are likely to incur extra costs (e.g. for travel) because of your condition. The grant can also help pay for adjustments to the workplace (e.g. changes to your workstation) and to support your learning (e.g. use of a scribe). Under the Equality Act (2010), employers and training providers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for their employees and students, and these same duties apply for apprentices.
While you're on campus, the university or college should be able to make any specialist equipment available to you, such as a computer with assistive software. However, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to take these items home. Speak to the disability adviser at your university or college for more information about the equipment and support they can provide.
Find out more about degree apprenticeships