Fresher’s week is almost upon us, and we all know what that means? No, not booze, late nights and fast food (well maybe a little bit of each) But thinking on a serious note, we all know University students tend to have a lot on their mind before a new term starts. When you’re a fresher, and a wheelchair user, there will be additional plans and actions that need to be put into place on top of the typical fresher’s process. Has the university accommodation taken into consideration your personal needs for your room? Will your DSA funding come through on time? Most importantly, will the local clubs and pubs be accessible and will they have low bar tops so you can actually see who’s serving you at the bar? We’ve spoken to a few young people who have been to Fresher’s, done it and got the t shirt to prove it (literally in some cases.) They’ll be able to give you some advice that they wish they had received before they had started University.
Hattie is entering her second year of University and is studying Sports Coaching and Physical Education.
Living in accommodation at uni is a really fun time and a great way to meet new people and get into the uni way of life. My advice to new disabled young people going to university for the first time, would be to make sure that when you go to the university open day that you are able to see the disabled accommodation the uni has to offer. Don't just take the university's word for it. Then once you have the room, make sure it suits YOUR needs; as universities forget that each disabled student if different and NOT every disability is the same. For example when they say the room is wheelchair friendly, they don't always mean that the whole room is wheelchair accessible. It may be that it is classed as a wheelchair friendly room because a chair can get in, it can’t actually move around. So my advice regarding accommodation at uni is to check, check and check again that the room is right for you and your needs; before you commit to paying for it. At the end of the day you are the one paying for the room and spending thousands of pounds for the best out of that university. In my experience this also makes the university move quicker in sorting the room out and making it meet my needs as they want you at the university, so will help you in any way possible.
Michael attends Canterbury Christ Church University and is entering his final year studying Finance. He tells us he has learnt a lot during his time at University so far, not only inside the lecture theatres, but outside as well.
‘One of the main lessons I learnt in my first year of University was how to budget. Budget budget budget. You will hear it time and time again but it is not until you are down to your last few pennies that you realise the importance of budgeting as a University student, particularly as a Fresher in that first semester. I made the mistake of initially doing all my food shopping in Waitrose, and ended up living on canned food that I arrived with from the start for the rest of the term. I quickly learnt my lesson, and now I tend to shop in Lidl.
My budgeting has definitely improved since my first term at University as a Fresher but I am not going to lie, financially, it is still a struggle to live off the money provided by student finance. Even if you sort out your student finance and DSA, and any other grants you are eligible to receive, you are not living a luxurious life at all unless you decide to work. I have chosen to live away from home for the three years; Firstly in student accommodation and now in a house with some friends. Being at University has been great for my independence, and really fun, especially as I am living with friends at the moment, but it does mean that you need to think more about where your money is going. It is fine to enjoy a night out every now and then, but make sure you have a balance. Also ensure that you schedule your time effectively.
Another important lesson I’ve learnt is communication. Communicate with your lecturers, friends and most importantly University staff. I would always recommend going for modern accommodation. If you are living on campus, the more modern accommodation tend to have lifts, automatic doors etc. They are far more accessible generally. I have also noticed, although my University is quite accessible overall, it does help when I contact them beforehand just to remind them of any changes that need to be made. I occasionally get in contact just to let them know I’d prefer to be placed in seminars and lectures which take place on the ground floor and they are usually quite flexible.
Lexi is studying Creative Digital Media and Media Culture at the University of Worcester and is now entering her second year.
‘My biggest piece of advice would be to make sure you get your funding sorted out asap. I found the DSA application pretty confusing at first if I am honest, and even now, in my second year, it is still a bit confusing. I have recently received a letter which says that my DSA may be impacted by my DLA so please try and watch out for that.
I will say, when I did receive my DSA money last year, it was really helpful. People often forget that if you are living in accessible accommodation, you are more likely to be living in modern accommodation and modern accommodation is more likely to cost money. Then if you decide to move out of student accommodation in your second year into an accessible studio flat, you are going to be paying even more money. One of my friends is paying over £7000 for the year for her accommodation whilst studying in Bristol. That is basically all of your student finance money gone. That is why I am thankful for the extra funding. For me personally, it definitely went towards my living costs.
I also had a few issues with Student Finance England because I was born abroad. Just a quick word of advice, if you know you were not born in the UK but you are still eligible for funding, do try and get your application in as soon as possible. I ran into a few issues and ending up having to contact the Home Office directly and going back and forth for months.’