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5 Golden Rules for Applying to University as a Chronically Ill Student

Pursuing higher education is an incredibly exciting time. It marks the beginning of your independent life, and gives you have the autonomy to choose which path your studies follow 

When you have a fluctuating health condition, however, the process can become somewhat more challenging. Even the simple act of applying to university can feel overwhelming, so today let’s break this specific area down into five essential steps to ensure you’re as well-prepared as possible…. 

1. Know Your Rights When Disclosing Your Condition 

In the UK, your UCAS application form is often the first place where prospective students can choose to disclose their disability. You have the option to share as much or as little as you like, but many people worry that in doing so, they will be discriminated against because of their health condition. Furthermore, this may be somebody’s first experience of identifying specifically as ‘disabled’, and they may have questions regarding whether or not they truly fit this definition. 

However, it’s worth bearing in mind that this element of the application form isn’t there to police prospective students or make judgements about their health. It’s primarily there to ensure that, should they receive an offer, their needs can be accommodated as thoroughly as possible. You as an individual have a legal right not to disclose your disability if you don’t want to, but if you’re uncertain, my best advice would be to go for it. You can always review the information you submitted and discuss your unique needs further down the line. 

2. Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Adjustments 

For particular courses, offers can be made on the basis of an application alone. For others, you may be required to attend an interview or assessment centre before a decision is made. I was one of the lucky beans who didn’t have to attend any interviews myself, but I can appreciate the additional factors you would need to consider in order to navigate this process alongside chronic illness. 

Before your interview comes around, the university should ask if you would like any adjustments for your interview. Examples of adjustments you could request include a location close to the main entrance of the building, on the ground floor, or asking for any assistive technology you may need when working on computers or technical equipment. You could even request to have a companion or PA with you during the assessment.  Have a think about any adjustments that may be helpful for you, and have no fear in asking for them… doing so will ensure you can perform at your best on the day.  

3. Remember That Admissions Tutors Are There To Support You 

Related to the previous point, it’s also worth bearing in mind that the university staff you encounter throughout the application process are there to guide you, not to catch you out.  

Even if the worst happens, such as suddenly feeling really unwell with your condition during the interview, it’s worth remembering that you can do whatever you need to do to look after yourself. Many admissions tutors will have experienced similar things multiple times before, and will know how to act appropriately. In cases like these,  you could ask for a ten-minute break, go outside, take any necessary medication, or engage any strategies you have to calm yourself. And if you still feel as though you cannot recover, it’s acceptable to request another interview. Doing so will not harm your chances of gaining an offer.  

4. Practice Patience When Responding To University Decisions 

So you’ve submitted your applications, bossed your interviews and assessments, and you’re well and truly on a roll… what happens next?  

Waiting is what happens next, and usually a fair bit of it. Having such a long and drawn out waiting time can mean it’s particularly exciting when decisions are made, and it can be tempting to ‘firm’ the very first offer that comes your way. If you take one thing away from this piece, however, let it be this: try not to accept or decline anything until you’ve had a response from every course you applied to. 

Your ‘insurance’ choice could also hold particular importance when you’re a chronically ill student; if there are two universities you love but have the same entry requirements, it doesn’t really make sense to use them both for your firm and insurance choice. If you don’t make the grades for one, you won’t make the grades for the other, and you therefore risk being left with no confirmed place at all on results day. No matter how confident you feel in your future exam results, consider choosing one of your lower entry requirements courses to be your insurance choice. That’s what it’s there for: to be a back-up. Nothing is set in stone until results day comes around, and you can always change your mind again on the day.  

If you find you have no offers at the application stage, or you’ve decided to decline the offers you received, there’s no need to panic: UCAS Extra allows you to apply for one additional course online. Sometimes our circumstances change, particularly with a fluctuating health condition, so it’s worth knowing that there could be one more chance for you. More information on this process can always be found on the UCAS website.  

5. Have A Plan Of Action for Results Day 

If there’s ever an overwhelming day in your life, it’s results day. Even now, I can distinctly remember the days leading up to the moment that would decide the course of my life for the next three years; lying awake in bed the night before, hearing my alarm go off in the morning and feeling like I hadn’t slept a wink. And that was before painsomnia’ became a regular part of my chronically ill life.  

Back in the day, somebody thought that handing out white envelopes containing people’s grades in a confined space would be the best system for results day. And as you can imagine, having an abundance of anxious young people dealing with potentially stressful situations can make for quite an overwhelming environment.  

My best advice would be not to get swept up in it: find yourself a quiet corner and allow yourself to sit with your thoughts and feelings. You’re not obliged to share your results or plans with anybody unless you want to, and calmly assessing your options and deciding on your course of action is much more efficient and less energy-consuming than having a public meltdown in the common room.  

If your university offer has been confirmed, amazing! If not, no need to panic. If you haven’t made the grades you needed, you can use UCAS Clearing to apply for courses that still have places remaining. There should be somebody at your college or sixth form available on results day who can assist you through this process. Otherwise, you can find further information on how to proceed on the UCAS website.  

It would be naïve to simply tell somebody not to worry, but for what it’s worth, remember that you’re going to be fine. The process of applying to university marks the first step in an exciting new journey, and whatever happens, the world will keep on turning, and you will be okay. Don’t be afraid to reach out and seek the support you need to be your very best self, and here’s to your own adventure!  

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Pippa Stacey is a writer and blogger from Yorkshire. She acquired her chronic illness whilst studying for her undergraduate degree at the University Of York, and experienced for herself how little targeted support was currently out there for students with long-term health conditions. Pippa’s experiences led her to publish her debut non-fiction book, University And Chronic Illness: A Survival Guide, the first resource of its kind.  

As well as blogging at Life Of Pippa, she enjoys theatre and books, and can often be found in her natural habitat: drinking tea and wearing pyjamas.  

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