My Overall University Experience

I have now finished university and found out that I will be graduating with a 2:1. I can’t tell you how pleased I am with my result and how proud I am of myself as it’s not been easy, so I thought I’d write a post on my overall university experience as it’s the end of an era for me. I thought that it may help some of you, but it’s also something that I can look back on in the future.

I’ve split this post into each year of university so that I can discuss each one in more detail as they were all completely different.

I hope you enjoy this post! It’s a long one so grab a drink or a snack and enjoy!

 

Preparing for university

I first applied for university towards the end of 2013, I had previously attended several open days earlier in the year and contacted the universities and decided where to apply for and which courses I wanted to also apply for. I weighed up all the factors, and decided that York St John university was the university for me. The Head of Programme of the Children, Young People and Families course was really accommodating and seemed to understand my needs, she seemed approachable and willing to help me in every way possible. AT the time, I didn’t feel confident enough to live in halls of residence so I decided that I wanted to commute. I made sure that I did everything early such as applying for student Finance and DSA (Disabled Students Allowance), this meant that I received my DSA equipment early too which was a great advantage. For those of you that don’t know what DSA is, it is an allowance that disabled students can apply for, which means that they can have equipment to help them with their studies, support, mobility training and much more. During the summer of 2014, I received my A-level results meaning that I had got a place at my first choice university which was obviously York St John. I can’t tell you how happy I was, as I had basically convinced myself that I wasn’t going to get in. Everyone believed in me, but I didn’t believe in myself. I think this was a turning point for me though, as I realised that my hard work had paid off and that I could actually achieve something if I put my mind to it.

I also had a final meeting with the Head of Programme and Disability Support to double check that everything was in place, and how they could best support me. My Head of Programme also got my timetable early for me, so that I knew what days I had lectures, and so that I could learn the routes to the lecture and seminar rooms.

I had orientation and mobility training around campus a couple of weeks before my university journey started so that I knew the routes when I started lectures so that I had some idea of where I was going and also because the campus was quiet so it made it easier to carry out such training. I was extremely nervous about doing orientation and mobility training as I wasn’t the most confident cane user, and didn’t really like using one. You can read my story on embracing the cane here. I’m pleased to say that this was the first time that I really did enjoy using the cane and honestly did enjoy mobility training. After all this, I was just about ready to start my journey at York St John University.

 

First year

Like every student, starting university is a nerve-racking and daunting time, and my experience as a visually impaired student was no different. Like I said, I did orientation and mobility training around the university campus so that I could attempt to navigate campus with my long cane. I was nervous about using my cane around university as I hadn’t had the best experience of doing so in school, but I thought that university might be different so wanted to try and give it a shot.

Freshers week (welcome week) arrived and I was feeling both excited and nervous; excited for a new chapter of my life to begin but also nervous, as I had no idea of what to expect, didn’t know anyone and didn’t have any clue of what university life would be like. For anyone that doesn’t know what fresher’s week is, it’s a way of getting new students settled in and familiarising them with university life by holding events and having introductory lectures. I didn’t get involved with the events because they weren’t very accessible for me as a blind person and also the fact that I didn’t know anyone and didn’t really want to go on my own. I was quite nervous for the few weeks ahead because I thought everyone on my course would have made friends already and I’d be on my own but later on I found out that that wasn’t actually the case.

Once freshers week was over, it was time to start the course and therefore, lectures commenced. The first lecture I had, the lecturer told me that he had no idea that I was going to be in his lectures and that he didn’t know he had a blind student. This wasn’t true at all, my Head of Programme had reassured me that all the lecturers did know that I was going to be there and what they had to do. So as a consequence of him apparently not knowing, I hadn’t been sent any materials for the lecture so my note taker had to read everything out to me. This made me feel like I was back in school, not at university at all. What a great start! Luckily this all got sorted and this didn’t happen again. This was an issue that did not repeat itself. A positive outcome of this particular experience, was that the staff involved truly wanted to resolve the situation, rather than feel like they had to. Staff at my university looked beyond my disability. Other than that, there weren’t any major hiccups in first year which I was extremely happy about.

In terms of support, in the first semester I received note-taking support and library support but nothing else. I thought that I could be independent and do the majority of things myself. I soon realised that there was no harm in using extra support and learnt that this was invaluable in the long run. I also had proofreading support from then on, and personally I think it helped to boost my grades. The disability support service was very proactive in sorting support which was fantastic. This did not mean that there weren’t any challenges because they really were, but they helped resolve them to the best of their ability. In terms of accessing materials, I used my DSA equipment (laptop with Jaws screen-reader, braille display and ClearReader+).

 

I got all of the lecture slides sent to me beforehand in an accessible format, some lectures even provided me with image descriptions which was brilliant. Accessing books was a bit harder especially if they weren’t available as eBooks. Publishers are restricted by copyright laws which means that they can’t just distribute electronic copies of books, this meant that I had to request books that I required much earlier than my peers, in order for the library to get me an accessible copy. The library did everything they could to ensure that I had the books in an accessible format as quickly as possible.

The social aspect of university was something that I thought I’d struggle with, due to my negative experiences in school. However, at university, this was completely different. People came up to me and spoke to me, which I didn’t expect which really helped. I didn’t join any societies in my first year of university but made some good friends on my course. It’s important to remember that everyone comes from a different walk of life at university and there are many students with disabilities so you’re not alone.

 

Second year

I remember going into my second year of university feeling excited for the year ahead; something that I had never really felt whilst being in education. I will admit, second year was such a huge jump academically from the first; I don’t think we were fully prepared for how hard it was going to be. There were a couple of minor glitches like lecturers not sending me work in advance but this was all resolved quickly. Nevertheless, I finished second year on track for a 2:1 overall if I kept that standard of work up throughout third year…no pressure then!

Support in second year ran smoothly – there were no major issues and I once again was grateful for the support that I received.

I think second year was by far my favourite year in terms of the social aspect of university. I had a good, solid friendship group and we all got on really well. I also joined the disabled society, “superhuman society” as it was called. I also made some friends through that and was also asked to be a committee member so that helped me broaden my circle of friends. Some of my favourite memories have to be our regular visits to Pizza Hut and our cocktail evenings.

I spent the summer planning my dissertation and doing some research so that I could try and at least do some preparation and be ahead of the game as I was expecting that third year was going to be the most challenging year yet. Over the summer I had developed some problems with my eyes, I had no idea that this would continue into my third year of university.

 

Third year

Third year was very hard, extremely stressful and presented me with various personal challenges but I learnt a lot from those. I had problems with my eyes, resulting in me having to have an operation in January, right in the middle of my third and final year. I actually did some dissertation work whilst waiting to be called for my operation…dedication or what? I didn’t let that stop me though, I just got on with it and I feel like those challenges gave me the motivation to carry on and get through it. I was surrounded by incredibly supportive people and I couldn’t have done it without them. The university were really accommodating as well, providing me with extensions for my assignments and also any other support that I required.

The main piece of work was a 10,000 word dissertation. Before writing it, I didn’t think I even knew 10,000 words! It was by far the hardest piece of work that I’ve ever had to do but I am pleased to say that I achieved a 2:1. I’m so proud of it and all the effort that I put in towards getting the grade that I so wanted. As well as my dissertation, I also had several 5000 word essays to complete. I completed all of my work on my laptop, and also used my braille display and my OrCam for reading materials. I couldn’t have done my degree without this equipment, especially my laptop with Jaws screen-reader.

 

There were no major academic issues in my third year, all of the lecturers that I had had previously taught me so I definitely think that this was a bonus.

The support that I received in third year was invaluable, it made my final year a lot easier. Having support meant that I didn’t struggle on my own, it made tasks such as finding books and journals and proofreading so much easier. I felt very lucky with the support that I received throughout my time in higher education, especially third year, as it really helped with my studies. The only difficult part was not just being able to get books for my dissertation when and when I needed them, but the library did their best to accommodate and they did a great job of doing so. I think the support in third year was a step up from previous years, as I really got on with the people supporting me, they really understood my needs and went above and beyond to support me.

The social aspect of third year was interesting, as I really found out who my true friends were. The stress of third year tested friendships, but we all got through it which I’m extremely happy about. I’m so proud of all of my friends as they all achieved the grades that they wanted which they thoroughly deserve.

 

Overall thoughts

I am extremely pleased to say that I will be graduating with a 2:1 BA (Hons) in Children, Young People and Families! A 2:1 was the grade that I was hoping for. The stress really started to take its toll on me towards the end but I’m so glad it was worth it. If there’s one thing that I’ve learnt from my university experience is that hard work most certainly does pay off and determination is key.

So as you can tell, my overall experience of university has mainly been a positive one. There has been challenges along the way and it hasn’t all been plain sailing, but that’s to be expected. I know that everyone’s university experience is different, and I feel very lucky for the experience that I have had.

I’ve learned a lot whilst being at university, I ppreviously wrote a post about things that university has taught me which you can read here. My confidence has grown so much over the last three years, I also feel like I’ve really found my true self. I’ve also become so much more independent and I feel so much more comfortable in using a cane.

I could go into a lot more detail, but this is just a snapshot into my experience in higher education over the last three years.

I feel like I’ve wrote a book but before I finish this post, I’d like to thank a few people as I know some of them will be reading this post.

Firstly, I would like to thank my family, especially my Mum and Dad as they’ve always been there for me, supported me in everything that I’ve embarked on and made sure that I had the provisions and support in place in order to succeed. They really have been my rock.

I’d also like to thank my friends, they’ve always been there for me, and have given me some wonderful memories.

I’d like to thank everyone that’s ever supported me in education – you helped me get to where I am today through your hard work and dedication and I will forever be grateful. It’s given me some special people in my life. Many of you went above and beyond to ensure that I could succeed, and you looked beyond my disability and were willing to adapt and learn about my visual impairment.

I’d finally like to thank my readers; your support has really helped me and motivated me over the last couple of years. You’ve taken a keen interest in my blog, which then inspires me to write content for you all.

I could go on and on but this post is long enough already!

It’s the end of an era for me, I’m feeling both excited and nervous about the future. I’d like to work within the field of visual impairment, supporting people like myself so we will see where life takes me.

That concludes today’s post everyone, thank you so much for reading! If you got to the end then well done!

Are you a disabled student? What are your experiences of university? Let me know in the comments.

I hope this post has helped some of you.

I’ll be back soon with another post.

Holly x

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