Top Tips for Starting University

For the past seven years I have had the privilege of working with a group of young people with visual impairment, following the various transitions that they have made since leaving school. For over half this has included making the transition into university.

While starting university can be a really exciting time as you have the opportunity to move away from home, make new friends and study the course of your choice, for students with visual impairment it can also be a particularly daunting time. In this blog I draw on the shared experiences of the young people I have worked with to outline some top tips for preparing for university.

Student working at computer

Give yourself plenty of time.

The application process for Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) can take a long time – particularly if suppliers need to source very specialist equipment. Make contact with the support service at your university in advance so you can start working together to outline any specific adjustments which the university may need to make.

Think about what you need.

Before meeting with a needs assessor for DSA spend some time thinking and researching about how you want to approach your studies at university: what support and equipment will you need in place to achieve this? Before meeting with the university support service consider what adjustments you might want and how best they can support you in your studies.

Talk to other students.

University can be very different from sixth form or college. Teaching often takes place in large lecture rooms and there is a particular focus on independent study. To get a better understanding of what university is like, talk to friends or family members who have already been, or ask the student representatives you meet at open days.

Students at a university campus

Take responsibility.

One of the main findings from our research is that universities view their students as adults, expecting them to take responsibility as such. It is inevitable that there will be some teething problems as you make the initial transition into university as staff learn how best to support you, and you learn more about the adjustments you need. However the onus is on you to let staff know if you are experiencing problems or if things aren’t quite as you would like them.

Embrace all aspects of university life.

One of the great things about university is the opportunity to meet new people and to get involved in different clubs and societies. Take advantage of Fresher’s events to learn more about what is on offer. Talk to your university about how they can support you with this. For example, some universities have volunteers who can act as sighted guides for Fresher’s events or to help facilitate people in attending societies.

For further advice I recommend looking at our ‘Starting University’ guidance which can be found on the RNIB website.

If you have any additional advice you would like to share, please feel free to do so in the comments below!

Rachel Hewett

Transition to Adulthood: Launch of End of Phase 2 report for the Longitudinal Transitions Study

Transition to Adulthood

We have just launched a new summary report to mark the end of phase 2 of the Longitudinal Transitions Study. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this research study, the project was first instigated by RNIB (Phase 1 2010-2012) due to concerns about the low percentages of young people with visual impairment (VI) in employment in the UK. Phase 2 of the study was funded by the Nuffield Foundation, and took place between 2012 and 2015.

The study has now been running for over 7 years and during this time we have been following the experiences of a group of 80 young people with VI through various pathways such as further education, higher education, gap years, apprenticeships and employment. As a research team we are really grateful to all of the participants who give up their time to talk with us and speak so honestly about their experiences.

You can get a full overview of our findings from the summary report (including an alternative version in MS Word), but here’s a brief overview:

Experience of transitions

  • Young people with visual impairment follow similar transition pathways to their peers, although for several of the participants it took them longer to reach their intended destination than expected.
  • The transition into higher education in particular proved extremely challenging for some, leading to us working with RNIB to develop some guidance resources.
  • Young people with visual impairment are leaving school with limited knowledge of important services such as Access to Work, and a limited understanding of the Equality Act and the reasonable adjustments which they can expect from employers.

Preparation for independence

  • As the participants have got older we found that many of them did not feel prepared to live independently
  • Some of the participants have a limited understanding of their visual impairment as well as a limited understanding of the process of registration of sight impairment and the associated benefits.
  • Whilst in education young people are not making use of low vision aids, often having previously had negative experiences.
  • In contrast, braille is highly valued by those young people who have learned it, as is accessible mainstream technology.

Support available to young people

  • The research identified mixed levels of support available to the young people when they prepared to make transitions. A Freedom of Information Request by RNIB identified a ‘postcode’ lottery of services available for children and young people with visual impairment from local authorities in England. We will continue to observe the evolution of transition services as local authorities respond to the 2014 SEND reforms.


Thinking more broadly, as a research team we have been focusing lately on the importance of young people with visual impairment being equipped with the resources they require to make successful transitions from one setting to another. This is something which we explored further in a recent journal article. As the Longitudinal Transitions Study progresses we will be investigating how well the young people have been prepared for the new environments they are in.

If you would like to read out more about the Longitudinal Transitions Study and our plans for Phase 3 of the study, you can find our project website here. In the meantime we would love to hear your thoughts about our Phase 2 findings.

Rachel Hewett