The chronically ill student’s quick-guide to success

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It is hard enough for University students to balance their coursework and exams with their social life. So, when a chronic illness is thrown into a mix, it definitely puts a spanner in the works.  Surviving student life with a long-lasting illness can appear daunting, impossible.

Trust me, I know. I had a mental break down three weeks in my first year and nearly dropped out.  The tips I am going to give you, are the techniques that enabled me to find my feet ; study with more ease and achieve high grades.


1.  Apply for DSA

If you have a chronic illness, you should qualify for Disability Student Allowance (DSA).  You apply for this through Student Finance (SF). You will then be offered a ‘Needs Assessment’ . This assessment determines what you are entitled to, based on your individual circumstances.

If you take anything from this post, it is really worth taking the time to make an application because your disability will be on record – even if you switch unis or defer. Module leaders are also made aware of your specific needs and you should get extra writing in exams and coursework extensions. Other examples I received were; printing costs ,  individual £1 taxi journeys costing  to and from campuses and Dragon software.  The software works by you speaking into a microphone and it types up what you say.


2. Order groceries online

Getting your groceries delivered may sound like a trivial thing but if you have a physical illness, it is something you MUST do. Not only will the delivery man become your new best friend, you won’t break your back in the process of buying food. food

It is easy to want to buy everything online but don’t spend money for the sake of it unless you are mintedIf not – like the majority of the student population, it is wise to set yourself a limit so you don’t become the size of a hippo and can go out.

Most supermarkets add basket charges which cost between £3-£6 each time.  If you want to do lots of little shops, TESCO delivery saver gives you the choice to pay for unlimited deliveries as long as you reach the minimum spend (£40).


3.  Select a disabled bedroom

Most Universities, allocate disabled spacious rooms in halls with larger beds on the ground floor. You will need to apply for the room during the booking of the accommodation and disclose evidence of your disability. I recommend doing this otherwise you might find it difficult to get to sleep with pain.


4. Cook meals in bulk

When your illness flares up, I know it can be difficult to do anything. When mine does I don’t want to get out of bed unless it’s to eat – I am a proper foodie. Cooking meals in bulk ensures that you always have something to eat, should you feel hungry – which is important for recovery.   Quick and easy nutritional meals I recommend that are fresh are; stir fries, steak, pasta, jacket potato with beans, sandwiches and chicken with salads.


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5. Be upfront & request help

Being open can be a difficult thing; for many in a new environment with strangers.  You may worry more that people won’t accept you because your different. Don’t worry, just be honest about your illness. When I wasn’t honest about mine I lost a lot of friends because they thought I was boring when I couldn’t go out.

Don’t live a lie and just try to keep up with the pace of everyone else. The chances are, you won’t be able to for long and burn out. Also, talk to your lecturers and  about your condition.  Discussing your illness can make them more understanding than it written down on a piece of paper.


6. Visit wellbeing

Every Uni, has a wellbeing department.  Go VISIT it.  You will be designated a disability advisor, who handle matters on your behalf and can help you with queries. My advisor helped me talk through my options if I was to stay or drop out of Uni and drafted my disability memo to staff.  You may find that you are entitled to extra support that is run by your specific institution too. For example, stress-relief and anxiety workshops.


7. Buy an audio recorder

When you do roll up to those 9am lectures, with a potential hangover and chronic audio recorderillness; chances are you won’t be playing much attention.

If your Uni does not record lectures, buy an audio recorder – they are only about £20 from Curries or Argos.  This device was literally my savour throughout first year and helped me remember content. However, make sure you sit near the front to get clear audio. I don’t think I would have achieved my high grades without this gem.


8. Take your laptop to lectures

Some lectures, speak very fast.  So, I suggest you take a laptop so you can open up the slides and go back and forth at your pace to keep up.


9. Have a structure

Try to plan your days as best as you can. So, you can relax  at societies and find time to do your coursework.  This can be difficult when your ill and one day merges into another but the secret is you can have a loose routine as long as you stay organised. By this I mean completing coursework progressively and putting your notes in a folder.


10. Take the free support available

I know, it can be hard to accept help, because of pride – you don’t want your illness to define you.  I was reluctant at first to take help but I was really struggling to plan my workload.  You are likely to get a learning support assistant through DSA for one hour per week in a study room.

The assistants are not subject specific but are still useful. During these sessions the tutor taught me how to structure essays for exam, check my progress and helped me plan. Be aware though – if you miss 2 consecutively without 24 hours’ notice your Uni reserves the right to stop these sessions for the entire semester.



 So, there we have it guys. My guide for the chronic ill student’s success.

I hope you found it useful.

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