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Considering university

Considering university

The thought of going to university can be exciting, overwhelming and/or scary. You may be eager to have the chance to explore new things, or be concerned that you won’t manage on your own. Having a chronic illness like M.E. means that you may have to deal with people's ideas and preconceptions.

If you are planning to go to university with M.E. - or were already studying when you became ill - please remember that information and advice is available to support you. You can always get in touch with us for information and support: we are here to help.

We have listed some potentially useful organisations in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland on our Useful contacts page, and produced an M.E. and higher education factsheet that you can share with your tutor or other university staff, showing the impact of M.E. and what support can be put in place.

University and M.E.

Pippa Stacey has lots of experience to share in her book University and Chronic Illness: A Survival Guide, which "encompasses all aspects of student life: socialising, independent living, managing your money, and what to do when things go wrong." Pippa was has a BSc Psychology in Education and and an MSc Health Psychology. Blogging about why she wrote her book, she explains:

"During my first year of university, I was your typical student: studying hard, partying harder, travelling the country with various sports teams and for dance competitions, volunteering, working towards an honours degree and generally living my best life. By the same time the following year, I was struggling to stand up on my own [...] With plenty of support and adjustments, I managed to continue my studies and graduate, but heaven knows it wasn’t without its challenges."

Pippa has also published a How to study online, with tips and tricks for getting the most out of remote learning.

Amy studied for a full-time MSc in Health Psychology at the University of Nottingham. She told us:

“My university have been incredibly supportive. I have a special disability liaison tutor and they have arranged for me to have a parking permit as I have been living off campus since my first year. When I have been really bad, they have offered a minibus service around campus which will take me from where I park to where my lecture is. When I had a bad relapse in my second year, the university provided me with a note-taker to sit in on my lectures until I was better. All I had to do was listen and do the work afterwards in addition, I was given an extension on a piece of coursework.”

James was diagnosed with M.E. in his third year of a chemistry degree at the University of Bristol. He told us:

“Initially, I felt that I might be asking too much from the university and didn’t ask for everything that could have helped me, making things harder for myself. In reality, I found that university staff were more than happy to listen to me and help me with my requirements and limitations. I think they were probably grateful when I was clear about what I wanted as this helped them do their job properly and meant that they didn’t have to guess what it was I needed.”

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against students of any age with a disability, including a long-term condition such as M.E. This means that reasonable adjustments should be made to accommodate students with M.E. in all education provision, from learning and assessment to student support.

Your institution's Disability Office or Student Support Service should be able to provide information and advice about their obligations.

Planning and support

With the right planning and support, for many it’s still possible to go to university and study your chosen degree. The information below can help you make your choices.

  • When thinking about your chosen university, make contact with the Admissions Officer and talk to them about your suitability for your choice of course - do they have any understanding of M.E.? Are there any other students with M.E. you could talk to about how they have managed the course?
  • Enjoy it as much as you can! You have earned your place to study and deserve to have the university experience, even if you can't take part in everything.
  • Telling the university about your condition opens up the discussion and makes it easier for them to put support systems in place for you from the start. Think about how you can turn your experience into something positive on your application form. For example, if you can say it has given you empathy, that you've shown determination and resilience in achieving your qualifications, or that it's made you more motivated.
  • Think carefully about making visits to your chosen university – it may be extremely busy on the designated open days, so consider asking for an individual appointment.
  • Apply for financial support early on (see below) to get the necessary assessment and support in place before you start university – think about what you may need in order to maintain your education.
  • Make contact with the university student disability team well before starting university – they are the people who can ensure that you have the necessary support in place and guide you through what you’re entitled to.
  • If you are struggling, tell someone straight away as they may be able to put more support in place for you or look at other options such as extensions, taking more time to complete the course, etc.
  • Don't be afraid to tell the people you are studying/living with about your M.E. – they may be able to offer you help and support and be more understanding when you can't always go out.

What support is available?

People with disabilities should have the same opportunities for accessing education as people without a disability. A disability, as described in The Equality Act 2010 is, a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial, long-term (a year or more) and negative impact on normal every day activities. You may be considered disabled if M.E. affects you in this way.

A university can’t refuse you admission just because you have M.E. Find out more about disability rights and education. If you identify which universities have a good understanding of M.E. and are more open to supporting you, then you can be more certain of having an environment that meets your needs. This may mean accepting your second or third option and making it your first.

You can apply for Disabled Student Allowance (DSA), which can be used to help pay for the costs of specialist equipment related to your disability, for example a computer if you need one, non-medical helpers, extra travel, and other disability-related costs of studying.

How much you get depends on your individual needs, not your household income. You can apply at any point during your course, and it doesn’t have to be paid back.

On your course

You can ask for help with coursework and exams. Speak to your university’s student disability team, which is usually located in the student’s office. They can give you advice on individual arrangements and information that you will need to supply in support of your application.

Examples of individual arrangements include extra time, a small exam room, or use of a computer or scribe for your exam. You can also get extensions on essays and be excused from course trips and low attendance. Make sure you apply early, as you may need to provide medical evidence as to why you need individual arrangements.

Disability Rights UK offers further information and support through its student helpline, which you can email or call on 0330 995 0414 (11am to 1pm Tuesday and Thursday).