Talking about tomorrow


Going to university

Studying at university level

Most people going to university in Scotland apply for a four year Honours degree. Each course has entry requirements, with most needing a minimum of four Highers or three A Levels. The grades required vary.

Some young people may not be ready to go straight to university and could do an access course at college instead, or an HND first before progressing to a degree.

Deciding the best option can be difficult. It’s a good idea for your young person to think about their interests and areas they have shown talent in, and to seek advice from teachers and careers guidance staff.

Once you know the type of course, you can use Skills Development Scotland’s course search tool or visit the UCAS website, which has a wealth of information on how to choose a course and apply.

This may help you decide if your young person is on track to achieve the qualifications they need, or if going to college first or instead might be better.

When to apply

Most universities have a deadline of 15 January to start in September the same year. Applications for UK based university degrees should be submitted through the UCAS website. Applicants choose up to five different courses. There are also articles on how to complete personal statements, as many young people struggle with this. Your young person should speak to their teachers, guidance teacher or careers adviser for advice in completing the form.

What universities look for

Universities consider academic qualifications, but can take other factors into account – for example, circumstances that might have impacted your ability to get the required entry qualifications.

Universities in the UK are expected to encourage a diverse range of applications (“widening access”), and factors that may have put you at a disadvantage include being disabled or having a long term health condition. Speak to your school and google ‘widening access’ and the name of the university you are applying to, to see their statement of commitment. Some are better than others at offering places to students who have experienced disadvantage.

It’s advisable to disclose any disabilities or health conditions when completing the UCAS form so proper adjustments can be made and support needs met as early in the course as possible.

Read Lead Scotland’s blog about why disabled students should always disclose by ‘ticking the box’.


Universites should make contact by the start of May with a ‘conditional’ offer (which means you need to achieve your exam results), an ‘unconditional’ offer (which means you have a place that doesn’t depend on your results) or an unsuccessful letter.

Applying at a later date

Young people can apply for unfilled places on courses throughout the UK through clearing, from the start of July to around mid-October.

Visit the UCAS website for information about clearing.

If someone changes their mind they can withdraw and begin again the following year with new choices, but they will need the support of their school in this – even if they already left – as an academic reference is needed.

If someone has been out of education for several years when they decide to apply for university, you should contact UCAS directly to find out how to proceed.

Support and how to find it

It’s in the interest of the university to make sure students have the best chance of success. Support could include:

  • academic advice and information such as how to organise your studies, write an essay or use computers and information technology to support your learning
  • information about student funding and managing finance
  • counselling or classes to manage stress and anxiety, especially around exams
  • identifying equipment that could help you.

University websites often have a section on student life or student services where you can find out more. You can also phone the main university office and ask to speak to someone about disabled student services or welfare.

Every university has a department that supports disabled students. It’s a good idea to let people know as soon as possible what the difficulties may be, so the right support is in place before a course begins. It helps to have a very clear idea of what is likely to be useful as services may not know every condition in depth. You can arrange an appointment with student services yourself to discuss this.

The university may assess your young person’s needs, then create a support plan detailing the adjustments agreed. This should be shared with the relevant tutors, with your young person’s permission.

Who provides what

In general universities are responsible for support that helps someone access their course. That might include for example:

  • sign language interpreters
  • assistive technology
  • a scribe/reader or
  • a communication support worker.

More general needs might include for example:

  • support with toileting
  • getting around campus
  • behaviour management

These are usually the responsibility of the social services department within your local council. It’s a good idea to have your young person’s needs assessed as early as possible, so they can decide if they will fund a support worker for them. See our social services pages for more information on assessing needs.

Lead Scotland’s guide, ‘Supporting you at College’, has more details about support and who funds it.

If you have questions about support at college or are in dispute with the college or the local authority, call Lead’s Disabled Students’ Helpline on 0800 999 2568.

Living Away from Home

Young people can apply to study anywhere, home or abroad. However, it’s important to research housing and support options if your young person needs them.

It’s also important to be sure they can manage as many everyday tasks for themselves as possible, including shopping, cooking, washing clothes, managing their own medication and organising their work.

For many disabled students, problems arise far less with academic issues than with independent living skills. It may be that delaying entry to university by a year or more until these skills are established could be the difference between succeeding in a course or setting someone up to fail.

Students living away from home may be able to get extra funding towards accommodation costs and in some circumstances they may be able to claim universal credit to contribute towards the cost of their rent.

Students who need personal assistants and adapted accommodation or specialist equipment when living away from home should contact social services where they currently live, to have an assessment of their needs carried out.

Starting university – a student’s view


Emma describes the support she received




Useful links

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Real life stories

Starting university – a parent’s view

Suzanne’s daughter Emma has severe hearing loss. Without hearing aids she can’t process sound and hears no speech. She is in her final year studying ...