A guest blog from Anna Gildersleeves, first year Biology student at the University of Bristol
An Open Day is a great opportunity to look around a university and get a feel for student life. As a type 1 diabetic, I found that gathering information was a useful way to manage the transition to independent living. I have attended numerous open days as part of my university applications, each time speaking to the students and lecturers on my chosen course rather than attending the talks.
This allowed me to gain a personal insight into course content and what I could expect as a disabled student.
Faculty Administrators were happy to outline the alternative exam arrangements that might be available to me and, by exploring the campus, I was able to decide if it was suited to my needs. Researching the disability support networks available at a prospective university is very important, though it shouldnt necessarily be the defining factor in your choice of establishment.
Choosing accommodation close to a pharmacy or food shop may alleviate a lot of stress while you are settling in to university life. I chose Bristol university mainly because of its academic credentials, though it also had a diabetes specialist as part of the students health service, and numerous 24 hour pharmacies around the campus and halls; minimising the inconvenience my condition has on my life. Disability should not hold you back from applying to university, but it is important to make an informed decision. Through my enquiries I found that universities are very accommodating but support can vary between establishments.
Here are 5 things to consider asking about at an open day.
1) Students Health Service
Some universities have a dedicated GP surgery for students. This could mean shorter waiting times and more flexible appointment hours. If there is no student provision, it might be worth asking where most students are registered.
2) Disability Services
Enquire about the university provisions for disabled students. Most will have a dedicated team who, following a consultation, will be able to organise extended library loans or private study rooms. The waiting list for appointments will lengthen greatly as term starts, so try enquiring about appointments before freshers week.
3) Student Support
While most universities will have a free counselling service, some integrate their support groups for mental health with the wider community. This could mean access to extra services but may also necessitate travelling outside the university for appointments. Enquire about the support available, either in person or via an email to Student Services and consider whether you would feel comfortable travelling independently.
4) Alternative Exam Arrangements
Generally, universities are more liberal with alternative arrangements than schools or colleges, as they are not constrained by nationalised exam board rules. However, provisions vary between universities and academic departments. Consider what support you would find helpful and discuss it with the department administrator either by email or on the day. Consider asking current students about exam arrangements for further insight.
5) Students Union Disability Rep
The students union may have a disabled students representative dedicated to equality and inclusiveness within the university. In addition, they may represent a useful advice / support network for disabled students which could come in useful, for example when applying for Disabled Students Allowance (DSA). Ask about the guidance which is available. I also recommend joining student Facebook groups; they will give you a feel for student life at that particular university.