Applying to Higher Education

A guide for students with a physical/mental health condition or learning disability

higher education

Supporting a young person whose life is impacted by a physical or mental health condition or a learning difficulty is extremely difficult, even when they are living with a caring family and attending a supportive school. Knowing how best to help them to achieve their aspirations and move into adulthood, often starting with their application to university, is a terrain that feels even more challenging and uncertain.

I have written this guide because working as the GDST Consultant for Higher Education has given me more time to research an area of interest; an area that has developed partly through trying to support the students at Sheffield Girls’ but also due to my experience with my own daughter who has OCD.

At the point my daughter was applying to university she (and we) had had many years of coping with her OCD but she was actually managing it better than she ever had. She was extremely reluctant to mention her condition to the highly competitive universities she was applying to as she felt strongly that this could be a reason to reject her. I admit that, at the time, I was worried about this too so we supported her decision to keep quiet about it.

Looking back, although we did manage to get some vital support in place when a crisis point was inevitably reached, it would have been so much better if we had involved the university from the outset. When we finally turned to her university’s Disability Resource Centre, it did not magically make all the problems go away, but the help she received was crucial in helping her through her degree and successfully out the other side.

I have tried to make this guide as clear and concise as possible so that the people who read it can find their way through what feels like a complex system of support. In reality, I hope you will see from Tia’s experience that she only had to reach out for help through her conversations with university support staff at open days and then through her UCAS application and everything else started to fall into place.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing but I know that if we had followed Tia’s advice when my daughter was in Year 13, we would have avoided her getting to a confidence shattering crisis point before help was offered.

Part of any battle is knowing what you can ask for. I have tried to be comprehensive about the sorts of support that can be put in place but this is actually very individual to each student so please think carefully about what would make a difference, and don’t be afraid to ask for more support once you get to university and experience a problem that never even occurred to you.

Finally, I would like to thank the following people for supporting and encouraging my research: Dr Gray Foster Felton, the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Coordinator (SENDCo) at Notting Hill & Ealing High School and Trust Consultant Teacher for SEND; Tia Hardcastle a student at Sheffield Girls’ whose own journey through the system helped to ground this guide in reality and Pippa Stacey, a former Sheffield Girls’ student, whose generous and timely sharing of her own experience of studying while coping with chronic illness steered me towards writing what I hope will be a relatively simple self-help guide, rather than a research paper about university responses to equal opportunities legislation.

Download our Guide to Applying to Higher Education below to find out more.