What is it like going to University with Dyslexia?
Looking back at the past 3 years, thinking about how I got into university, I am grateful to have achieved a BSc (Hons) in Mathematics. However, my journey to this point hasn’t been as smooth sailing as I thought it would be. It didn’t live up to my very high expectations - not only my expectations of myself but also my expectations of university life.
This journey starts at GCSE results day, when I didn’t get any of my predicted grades or even achieve what I thought I was capable of. My results were not bad, but my school then struggled to believe that I was capable to take A-level maths, let alone A-level further maths. After a lot of persuasion the school relented and allowed me to take both maths a-levels.
After one year in sixth form I had achieved an A in a-level maths. The following year, on A-level results day, it was deja vu. I didn't get into any of my chosen universities and had to find a place through clearing. The morning of the getting my results I was devastated, but Lancaster University offered me a place straight away and the relief I felt in that moment was indescribable.
About half-way through my first term of university I had end of module exams. I had been revising these modules non-stop for the past 2 weeks, I sat them and got the results back. I had only just passed - I was distraught. At the time I remember thinking that I wasn't smart enough to do a maths degree if I couldn't do first year basics. It was around this time that my friend and flatmate told me that I might be dyslexic. I stood there and looked at them like they were crazy - I couldn’t be dyslexic, my schools would have picked it up before I went to uni, wouldn’t they?
This is where I was wrong. There is so much more to dyslexia than just not being able to spell, read or write. Dyslexia is a neurological difference which primarily affects reading and writing skills. However, dyslexia is actually about information processing and does not affect intelligence.
Only 5% of UK university students are dyslexic, but it is estimated that only 42% of dyslexic students achieve a 2:1 or above compared to 52% of non-dyslexic students achieving a 2:1 or above. This then poses the question of: why?
Although the perspective of dyslexia has changed recently, the consideration towards dyslexic students hasn’t. People with dyslexia are granted extra time in exams (usually about 25%) and allowed a cover sheet which prevents the student from being penalised about spelling and presentation of their work; universities still struggle to understand that dyslexia can cause a range of problems for things as simple as organisation, reading, time-keeping, expressing ideas verbally, concentrating and short term memory. Every year, students go to university with undiagnosed dyslexia and struggle - some will drop out, some will get depression and others will graduate, whether they attain the grade that they had hoped for or not.
Dyslexia often goes undiagnosed throughout primary and secondary school as the schools simply have no funding to accommodate those who are dyslexic. Also, in recent years the education system in the UK has drastically changed, the government is no longer looking to stretch young minds to achieve the best they can possibly get but ensure that everyone achieves at least a C in both English and Maths. On the odd occasion, dyslexia arises as an unrelated excuse for some students. Students expect to use dyslexia as a scapegoat for issues unrelated to the symptoms of dyslexia. I think that the current university system is still harsh with the criteria, in the way exams are marked for dyslexic students (given the short term memory issues dyslexia brings), but dyslexia as an excuse won't get students far once university is finished for them.
Although there were times where it was hard and I felt as though I could give up, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at university and cannot wait to go back for my Masters!