Whilst the excitement of Freshers’ Week may help to suppress the anxieties of living independently for the first time, as the party dies down and reality kicks in - the stresses of university life can also begin to sink in.
But there’s no need to panic, help is at hand.
Chris Benoit-Pool, co-founder of AskJules, offers some guidance and advice on adapting to these changes and the key decisions which can make the difference in ensuring a successful university experience.
AskJules is a family business, created in 2008 when Chris’s mother Julie Pool helped his younger brother Oliver, who suffers from Spinal Muscular Atrophy, to leave home and go to University. With Julie’s support Oliver has achieved true independence and enjoyed the full student experience. He lived independently in a lively student area of Manchester and employed his own team of PAs, who provided his 24/7 care and student support. He has recently started a PHD in London, where he lives with his girlfriend and two children.
Here, Chris shares ways to ensure you have everything in place to boost your confidence as a new term starts:
Get the right care package
Sounds simple enough, yet from my experience those with a disability tend to focus on what they can do for themselves during their assessment, however it is imperative to highlight what they need support with.
I advise you to imagine yourself on your worst day. Everyone has them. This is the level of care and support you require. You will then have the correct care package to support you even on those days when you spend more time in bed on antibiotics than in lectures.
Choose a course that you enjoy
It is so important to choose the course that you have a passion for and enjoy. After the craziness of freshers’ week passes and you settle into your timetable many students have a moment of panic and regret that they might spend 3 or 4 years on a course in which they have no real interest.
The cold, dark and rainy mornings of November are when I believe many students decide if university is for them or not. So having a passion and genuine interest in a subject will make the getting out of bed a lot easier.
The right university for you, not for accessibility
Campus vs City Universities
Growing up with a disabled brother we as a family tended to view the world with a “how accessible is it?” mind-set. This was applied to everything - schools, friends’ houses, train stations, birthday party venues and local parks.
When choosing the university at which you plan to spend the next 3 years of your life, accessibility should not be your only priority, as location also has a part to play.
From my experience Campus universities tend to be very accessible, have a safer atmosphere, are easier to get around and have better facilities in comparison to City based ones.
However, after the first few weeks when the campus has been explored students tend to turn their attention to the nearest large city for its shopping and nightlife. This is almost always done by using the arranged transport to and from the campus. As a result, you can end up staying on campus whilst the other students venture out and enjoy making memories together. City centre based universities may be slightly older looking, have dated accommodation and can be more expensive. However, it is certainly worth it and more, if it means you are able to enjoy the same experiences as other able-bodied students.
City universities are usually livelier, often having more choice of things to do and places to go out and there is no need for the dreaded buses back to campus.
Choose the right support staff
It’s like Christmas and your birthday rolled into one! You finally get to choose who provides your care and support! You may go from no choice at all to complete choice and control. For many students it is too much to get their heads around.
From our experience after hosting hundreds of interviews with clients and applicants we notice that clients tend to have definite preferences for specific characteristics they want in their PAs.
The difficulties come when they employ a team of 4 support workers who are all the same.
University life is very much a balancing act. You do not want all your support staff to be crazy party animals nor do you want a team of academics.
I always advise our clients to think of their support team like a football team, you do not want all goalkeepers nor do you want all strikers, you need a balance. Just like you do at university.
Make use of the university's disability office
Make sure you meet the disability support officers in person. Are they welcoming and enthusiastic, do they have a can-do attitude, do you feel you could go to them if you had a problem? Take note of where the office is situated which will tell you a lot about the university’s stance on disability – is it in a well-resourced central office, or a broom cupboard on the edge of campus?
Ask the university how many students they have with your condition or a similar disability. Ask to be put in touch with a current student with similar difficulties to yourself – they will be a mine of information and tips, and will be able to give you a first-hand view on how well the university can support your needs.
For more advice and help find Chris and the AskJules team on stand 8152 at Naidex 2018, and begin your journey to a successful university experience.