Heading to university

This handy guide to heading to university was written by Eilean, a young adult with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). It is based on her experiences and the support she received from her university. You can read her JIA story here.

Heading to Uni!

University is such an exciting time in your life and its normal to be a bit nervous too, so here are a few titbits of info that can help make that transition a little easier!

DSA and Accommodation

The first thing that some friends told me about was the DSA, the disabled student’s allowance, and they encouraged me to apply and I am glad they did! The DSA is a service for any students with learning difficulties, long term health problem or disabilities. It is there to cover costs that you may have as a result of your additional needs and it helps put you on a more even playing field as your peers. It can be applied for in addition to your other student finance payments so don’t worry about that and you do not need to pay it back either, BONUS! The additional support DSA can help fund may be specialist equipment and software, non-medical helpers, any study support, and any extra travel costs that you might incur because of your additional needs (for example if you are going on a trip and you need a taxi instead of going on the coach). Once you have applied and have been passed as eligible then you will need to be assessed at an assessment centre where they will evaluate what support they can provide. It may seem daunting but it is a super helpful service so I would highly recommend looking into it.

DSA is done in conjunction with student finance so when you are applying for student finance you can also apply for DSA. Personally, I would apply for it as soon as you are able, so everything is all sorted for the start of term. The government website has some really helpful more in-depth information about it here https://www.gov.uk/disabled-students-allowance-dsa

If you apply for DSA your university will also be informed. This means that the Support Services department at your university will likely be aware of you and may contact you to discuss your additional needs further. Most universities have a team that deals with students with additional needs so don’t be afraid to contact them if they don’t contact you first, mine for example is called Enabling Services. Here you can receive more support. This may be things such as needing a lift in your timetabled teaching buildings or additional requirements in exams (extra time, a laptop, rest breaks, a room with less people). Having a conversation to see what is on offer is always the way to go about these sorts of things. I was even offered some things that I hadn’t even thought of! My university is particularly good at tailoring support to the individual student.

If you are looking to stay in university accommodation, then this team may also work in tandem with the Accommodation team if you have specific needs. Every uni is different so don’t be afraid to contact your universities Accommodation team when applying for accommodation if you have any concerns.

Who should I tell other than my student services?

One question I thought about a lot before I went to university was ‘who do I tell?' Should I tell my lecturers? Tutor? Departmental office?’

For me, as JIA is ‘invisible’, it as always been somewhat of a conundrum. The short answer is whoever you want to tell! If you would be more comfortable with all your lecturers knowing about your condition, then have a conversation with them. If you only want your tutor to know that’s ok too. You are in charge of your information. Your student disability services should organise most things and you can always go through them. However for me, in some cases, I found it easier to go to a specific lecturer and explain my situation and why I needed the additional requirements I did. It is up to you how you manage your information. As long as you are getting the support you need, then it is ok if you don’t want some people to know your whole story.


You can get involved with lots of cool things at uni and some of those things are societies! Each university will have a different selection of societies and clubs on offer. If you see one you like, don’t be afraid to go along to a session. In my experience, societies also run social media accounts so if you have questions before going then you can ask. Societies at my university are good at adjusting to people’s needs where they can. There is also a Neurodiversity & Disability Society at my university which is a space for students diagnosed or undiagnosed as well as those who want to learn more.

Not starting university yet but might be in the future?.... no worries!

Of course, if you haven’t picked a university yet or are just thinking about the future then it is always a good idea to ask about the services the university provides for students with additional needs when you attend their Open Days. Often there will be a dedicated email address where you can ask any questions you may have. Similarly accessible/quiet accommodation is offered by most universities so you can also consider finding out about that if that is something you are interested in.

In the case of school exams, it is worth having a conversation with your school if you haven’t already. They can provide additional support with applying for extra time, accommodating rest breaks and using a laptop instead of writing, amongst other things.

The most important bit!

The best piece of advice I can give is to ask. Asking opens a conversation which can then usually lead to help or assistance for what you need. And lastly the most important thing of all is to enjoy yourself!