Going to college or university can be daunting: there are new friends to make, different ways of studying and possibly a move away from home. So, how can you get the most out of your experience?
So you stammer. It is frustrating and can create barriers. But it’s a thing. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or to apologise for. Ever. But how do you navigate it?
If you talk to the college or university about your stammer, then support can be put in place before you start. You might need to explain what stammering is, the effect it has on you and how others can help. We have a page for Tutors and lecturers – share it with them so they can find out more.
When I first started university I was terrified – not knowing anyone, new place, starting a degree, but I also had my stammer to cope with, a whole extra hurdle. I was most worried about meeting new people.
Being open about your stammer can help take the pressure off you. It can also help those around you understand why certain speaking situations might be hard. It doesn't need to be a big thing. Mention your stammer in a matter-of-fact way, for example: "By the way, I stammer sometimes and what helps me is…". This can be particularly useful at the beginning of an interview or a presentation. But there’s no pressure to do so – if it doesn’t feel right then that's fine.
You might be someone who has a stammer, but 'successfully' hides it by switching words or avoiding situations. Yep, this is a real thing, and it can have a huge toll on you. If you have been covering up your stammer all these years you might feel awkward about talking about it, and that's OK. You can ask for the information to be kept confidential and shared only with your course tutors or those that need to know.
My advice to students is to talk to a friend and tell your supervisor. You have a right to be heard. If I had the chance to relive my time at uni, there'd be no stopping me!
Your college or university will have support services to help you achieve your full personal and academic potential.
Often there’s a disability service to support students with different types of disability. A Disability Advisor or Learning Support Co-ordinator is probably the best person to contact. They are there to make sure changes are put in place to support you.
Whether you consider yourself disabled by your stammer is entirely up to you. Stammering can be classified as a disability under the Equality Act 2010 – read our page on Is stammering a disability? for further information.
I wish I’d spoken with the Student Support Service earlier, as it could have saved me a lot of worrying.
The Act places a legal obligation on schools, further and higher education, and qualification bodies to make changes, or ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure that disabled students are not at a substantial disadvantage. You do not need to register as disabled, or regard yourself as disabled within the wider sense, to have access to reasonable adjustments.
See some examples of the reasonable adjustments you can get below.
Try and tell someone about your stammer at the earliest opportunity so that support can be given to you.
Here are some examples of reasonable adjustments which your tutor, lecturer or disability support officer could put in place.
The admission interview
You may keep your answers short because you don’t want your stammer to be heard, or even have long pauses on the phone in a telephone interview. And yet you do have full answers.
- You can be given extra time.
- Written responses to be considered alongside verbal responses to questions.
- A face-to-face interview rather than a telephone interview.
Lots of people who stammer find it hard to say their own name.
- Use of name labels so you don’t need to say your name.
- Pair work introductions, where you introduce the person you’ve been talking to and they introduce you.
You may fear speaking in front of a large group and may be reluctant to contribute your opinion or read out your work.
- Varying the size of the group during a tutorial.
- Pair work and small groups.
- If everyone is expected to contribute, agree with your tutor/lecturer on the best way for you to contribute.
- Extra time given for contributions.
- Option given for written work to be read out by a peer or a support worker.
Seminars and lectures
You may hold back from contributing to discussions or asking and answering questions.
- Varying the size of the group during seminars and lectures.
- Pair work and small groups.
- Agree with your tutor/lecturer on best way for you to contribute.
- Extra time given for contributions.
- Seminars and lectures could be run through video-conferencing software to allow for use of chat rooms and polls, and to take the focus off oral communication.
You may avoid presenting in front of group.
- Option offered to co-present with a peer.
- A written script for presentations to be considered alongside verbal presentations.
- Extra time given.
- Opportunities to practice in front of a smaller group.
- Option to give presentations in a less formal way (eg sitting down around a table instead of standing up in front of a group).
- Use of audio-visual aids to take the focus off you.
- Recording or videoing your presentation in private, to show to your seminar group.
You may be put at a disadvantage because of perceived difficulty to communicate your ideas clearly and concisely.
- Extra time given.
- Option to incorporate written element into format of assessment.
Other types of reasonable adjustments
- Alternative modes of assessment or presentation – adapting the format to include written elements, for example.
- Provision of a support worker, if appropriate, to support with any spoken elements of study.
- Review of assessment criteria: ‘fluency’ could be replaced with ‘effective communication’ that focuses on your ability to convey thoughts and ideas logically. You don’t need to be fluent to be an effective communicator.
- Use of electronic fluency devices or apps to help manage your stammering. Read our page on Apps & devices for more information about these.
These are examples only. Work out what’s going to be of most help to you and discuss what’s possible with your Disability Advisor.
Some colleges and universities might ask you to provide medical evidence about your stammer. Ask for a letter from your GP. Your GP might charge you for providing this (around £30).
Or try contacting your local NHS speech and language therapy department and ask for an assessment. They should be able to provide a letter at no charge. To find your nearest NHS service, do an online search for ‘NHS speech and language therapy (+ your location)’. Or you can email us at email@example.com or phone our helpline (see Need to talk? below). Do call us and we’ll talk you through. In some areas, unfortunately, there is no NHS service for adults who stammer.
The letter needs to confirm that you have a stammer and describe the impact it has on your ability to study on a day-to-day basis. Check with the student support services at your college or university what they need from you in terms of evidence.
Any type of bullying is unacceptable. All colleges and universities have a zero tolerance policy towards this.
Report any bullying immediately to someone you trust so that action can be taken.
Going to college or university is a great opportunity to meet new people, form friendships and try out new things. For lots of people who stammer, introducing yourself can be hard but our advice would be to go for it. If you stammer on your name, so what? If the person you’re talking to reacts in an unhelpful way, either it’s not worth your time talking to them or it’s an ideal time to tell them a bit about stammering. For some helpful tips for situations including saying your name, see our Everyday tips page.
I made an effort to spend time with those who were understanding and were patient enough to listen to me.
Universities have a ‘Freshers’ week’, which is designed to help you settle into university life before lectures begin. There’ll be lots of different societies to join, a good opportunity to meet people while trying out something new. You might feel anxious about meeting new people and doing new things but you won’t be alone in feeling that way. Give it a go and step out of your comfort zone.
Some universities set up Whatsapp or Facebook groups where you can chat with and get to know your new flatmates online before meeting them.
If you have additional costs because of your stammer, then the processes for applying for these will depend if you’re in further or higher education.
Funding support in further education
Stammering can be classified as a disability under the Equality Act 2010 (see above). Colleges must make reasonable adjustments to avoid disabled students being placed at a ‘substantial disadvantage’. Colleges receive money from the Education and Skills Funding Agency to meet the costs of reasonable adjustments. This is usually called Learning Support.
Whatever your situation you can expect extra disability-related study costs to be covered by the educational provider under the Equality Act.
Learning support should be available from your college or training provider on a traineeship or apprenticeship. You can also apply for Access to Work towards extra work-related costs. For more information, see the Gov.uk website here.
Funding support in higher education
You can apply for Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) to cover some of the extra costs you have because of a disability.
You can get DSAs on top of your other student finance. They are not means-tested. That means your income, or your parents’ income, is not taken into account when assessing the level of allowance you will receive. Previous study doesn’t affect your eligibility to get DSAs. There is also no upper age limit on applying for DSAs. The allowances you receive are only based on the assessed support you need while studying. You do not need to repay DSAs.
In England you can usually apply online for DSAs at the same time as making your main college or university application. You can also download the form from the Student Finance section on the gov.uk website. All awarding authorities will have the form available to download on their websites. You can apply before you have a confirmed place at a college or university.
For more information about DSAs, visit the gov.uk website here.
Need further help?
The helpline provides free information and advice to disabled students in England, their parents, carers and key advisers about opportunities in post-16 education and training. This includes further and higher education and apprenticeships. It also provides general information on the Equality Act 2010 as it applies to education and give advice on UK students’ entitlement to welfare benefits.
Disability Rights UK produces a range of factsheets which you can access through the education and skills section of their website.
Local groups. Meeting someone else who stammers can be life-changing. See if there's a group near you or meeting online at our Local Groups Page or our Online Events Calendar. Some are even held in universities, such as the Manchester Stammering Support Group and the Birmingham Stammering Network.
Therapy or courses. There’s lots of help out there if you want to work on your speech. Find out more on our Therapy & courses section.
STUC. See if your university would like to sign up to the Stammerers Through University Consultancy (STUC). STUC aims to ensure those who stammer in higher education are not disadvantaged and can reach their full potential, no matter what their role.
Read an article by STUC's founder, Claire Norman, on why she set the network up.
Stand Up and Be Heard: Taking the Fear Out of Public Speaking at University, a book by Rob Grieve. Learn how to develop your public speaking skills and build your confidence. Click here for more information.
Being a student brings its own pressures, whether you stammer or not. If you’re feeling worried, anxious or depressed, you’re not alone and there’s help available.
Sometimes things can get so overwhelming that it can all seem black. It needn’t be like that. If you reach a point where your feelings boil over, there are people out there who will listen, confidentially and anonymously. Many of the helplines have the facility for webchat or email, so you won’t even need to talk.
BSA's closed Facebook Support Group is open for everyone aged 13+.
Student Minds: Student Minds run peer support groups so that students experiencing mental health difficulties have access to a supportive environment in which they can talk about life, university and what they are doing to keep their lives on track.
The Mix: The Mix is the UK’s leading support service for young people. There for any challenge – from mental health to money, from homelessness to finding a job, from break-ups to drugs. Free, confidential, anonymous. Talk to them online here or call 0808 808 4994, open 4pm to 11pm every day.
CALM: The Campaign Against Living Miserably, for men and boys hitting crisis or feeling down. Confidential, anonymous, free. Phone: 0800 58 58 58 (daily, 5pm to midnight) or contact them on webchat at www.thecalmzone.net