As a follow-up to my previous post about applying to university I thought I would also write about student finance. Unless you are very fortunate and happen to have thousands of pounds to spare you will end up dealing with them when you prepare to go to university.
Applying for student finance itself was actually pretty easy. You have to fill in a form online and then you will be notified what forms you need to print out and send to them. For me that was a disabled students allowance form, application for the special support grant and another form my mum had to fill in that dealt with her income so they could assess how much maintenance grant I would receive.
Using the website with a screen reader isn’t a problem. I did find it slightly annoying that forms have to be printed, rather than having everything online and uploading evidence. Luckily I had family that did this with me and so everything had been sent off just two weeks after applications opened for the 2015-16 academic year.
Applying for disabled students allowance
My application for DSA was accepted immediately and I received an email with further instructions. Essentially you have to book a needs assessment, choosing which centre you would like to go to. I chose to have my assessment at the closest centre to where I live, though I know other people who have had them at their university if this is possible. Again, this website was not difficult to use and the centre contacted me that day confirming my appointment. I emailed them my confirmation letter and it was all sorted.
The needs assessment itself was a really positive experience for me. I asked my dad to come with me in case there was something I didn’t think of to ask that he might, but for the most part he just sat with my dog! It was split into several sections. Firstly the assessor went through a checklist of things that I can and can’t do. My answers to that would form the basis of the final report.
Then we went over the specifics of each area. For example we identified that I can’t handwrite, so we had to come up with solutions to that. For me this was a computer with a screen reader and also a braille display as far as technology is concerned, and a note taker as human support.
I found my assessor incredibly helpful. We discussed all areas that I might need support and she offered me solutions that other students in the past have found beneficial as well. I chose to receive a draft copy of the report so that I could read it and request any changes before it was sent off to student finance England, although ultimately I didn’t need to make any.
Funding decisions and future steps
I was approved for student finance in general very quickly. However there was absolutely no mention of the special support grant in my entitlement letter. I was very concerned about this as I had sent the evidence off in the very beginning. When I called student finance they said all the evidence had been placed with the disabled students allowance and so would have to be scanned into the system. A job that should have taken them 5 days at the most took 12 weeks, with constant reminders from myself. My advice would be to put your DSA application and evidence in one envelope and your special support grant application and evidence in another. It might cost you an extra stamp but it should save you a whole lot of hastle.
In order to receive your student finance make sure you log into the website and input your bank details so that you will receive the money. I’ve done this already so that when the time comes around and I’m busy with freshers week it’s one less thing to think about.
Ordering your DSA equipment
Once your needs assessment report has been sent to student finance you should receive a letter telling you whether they are going to pay for everything recommended by the assessor. I was very worried when my letter said I would only receive a laptop, not the braille display or digital voice recorder. I rang student finance but all the adviser could do was read me the letter. However once I contacted my needs assessor she told me this was a mistake. So I guess student finance had sent me the wrong info!!
All I had to do then was call the company that would be supplying my equipment and arrange a delivery date. I had to pay them £200 towards my laptop as this is a new policy, but other than that all my equipment was paid for.
Hopefully this post will give you a little insight into the process of applying for student finance. If you are a disabled student you should be entitled to both DSA and the special support grant. I would definitely recommend applying for both. I know that there is no way without these two sources of funding I would be able to attend university.
If you have any questions please comment on this post.