Five Top Tips for Dyslexic Students Starting University

Written by Anneliese Evans from Exceptional Individuals.

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is said to affect approximately 10% of the population, but it shouldn't stop anyone from going to university.

Like other specific learning disabilities – such as dyspraxia, dyscalculia and ADHD, dyslexia is the result of a difference in brain wiring. 

Dyslexia is said to affect approximately 1 in 10 people

It does not affect intelligence but can result in an uneven pattern of strengths and weaknesses, in particular, when it comes to learning.

Many of us also have a tendency to think in pictures rather than words. This can make the step-by-step, linear thinking style traditionally required for reading, writing and often mathematics, quite challenging.

Dyslexia specifically affects the way the brain processes the sounds in spoken language, it is often accompanied by a weakness in short-term, auditory memory – this can make retaining certain information particularly difficult.

Although no two students with dyslexia are the same, it is perhaps understandable that, after years of battling through school, many will feel worried or apprehensive about starting university. However, this does not have to be the case.

There is help available and with the right amount of support, understanding and hard work, a student with dyslexia (and related specific learning disabilities), cannot only survive at university, but also thrive. 

By talking to universities throughout the application process and getting in touch with their disability services, students can find out what support is available that will suit them.

Exceptional Individuals’ top tips for dyslexic students

1. Make sure you have an up-to-date educational psychologists’ report

Dyslexia is officially recognised as a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act and so students with dyslexia, or a related disability, are usually entitled to access support from the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA).

However, in order to access this support, each student must have a post-16 report from an appropriately qualified educational psychologist or specialist tutor.

A large proportion of dyslexics are actually only identified at university after slipping through the school system. These students can also apply for a DSA after receiving confirmation and a report from their university disability services.

2. Apply for a Disabled Students’ Allowance as soon as possible

If you already have a diagnosis with dyslexia and an up-to-date report, then you can apply for a DSA through your student funding body (for example, Student Finance for England, Student Awards Agency for Scotland). We recommend that you apply as soon as you have your university place confirmed as it can take up to 10 weeks for it to be sorted and equipment ordered and set up.

The DSA process involves having a needs assessment based on your report and an interview at an access centre discussing how you feel dyslexia affects you. Typical reasonable adjustments include specialist software (such as speech to text or mind mapping), extra time in exams and a photocopying allowance, as well as one-to-one tuition. However, this really does depend on the individual and to what extent dyslexia affects you.

3. Tell your tutors you're dyslexic

It’s a personal choice, but in our experience, telling your tutor you are dyslexic can be really beneficial. It can be useful for the tutor to understand the way you learn so, for example, they know to judge your work on its content, rather than your spelling abilities.

It is your tutors, as well as the university disability services, who can assist you in overcoming your dyslexic challenges.

4. Not everyone will understand your thinking and learning style, but that's okay

For any dyslexic that has ever been given extra time in exams or been allowed to use a laptop or spell checker, there is always one person who argues that this isn’t fair and that it shouldn’t be allowed. This can cause stress for dyslexic students who really do need these accommodations.

Dyslexic students require reasonable adjustments to keep them on an equal footing to their non-dyslexic counterparts. It’s important to learn to be your own self advocate and ignore any negativity you encounter.

People learn differently and that’s okay.

5. Anything is possible

In many ways dyslexia is merely a learning difference rather than a disability. It doesn’t take much looking to identify a long list of hugely famous and successful dyslexics who have succeeded in all walks of life, including academia.

Generally, dyslexics have been conditioned to work ten times harder than their non-dyslexic classmates from an early age. As a result, perseverance and determination become second nature.

Combine this with dyslexic creativity and excellent problem solving abilities, as well as university support to counteract the challenges presented by dyslexia and actually, you may have a dyslexic recipe for success, more powerful that you, or perhaps anyone else, ever thought possible.

Sarah Fearn, a previous student of the University of Kent, thrived during her studies:

'When I first arrived at the University of Kent I was nervous. I was very aware that studying English, American Studies and Creative Writing could be considered a brave choice for a dyslexic. Luckily the attitude towards me as a dyslexic person was much more positive and supportive than what I had experienced at school.

'I found the self-directed study really suited me as someone who learnt differently. I graduated with a 2.1 and I'd encourage others not to let the negativity or ignorance from their pasts put them off studying what they are passionate about, especially if it is English.'

Sources: The British Dyslexia Foundation Website and Dyslexia, A Practitioners Handbook by Gavin Reid.