My name is Ciara Sherlock and I am a third-year Management student. To give you some context to my background and situation, I come from a low-income background and I am a recipient of the Gold Scholarship Programme. Coming from a low-income household, finance was always going to be a worry when entering higher education.
Fortunately, I have been able to access financial support in several ways which meant I could focus on my studies and not struggle with the financial burden. In this blog, I will give you an insight into what I've used the Hardship Fund for and how it has benefitted me.
Why I applied?
The first time I ever used the Hardship Fund was in my second year during the time I was looking into getting diagnosed as Dyslexic. Finding out late in life that I had Dyslexia was one thing, but the cost of getting diagnosed was just another barrier in itself to getting support.
My worst fear was paying so much for it only to find out I was not dyslexic. This is a common deterrent for many, which means so many go undiagnosed.
How did I find out about the Hardship Fund?
Being a low-income student I received different communications about the financial support I could access if needed. Most people would think, oh but you've already got a scholarship bursary? Why don't you just use that to pay for it? But the reality was my Maintenance Loan and Gold Scholarship Bursary were there to help support my day-to-day costs of living and more.
At the time if I used what was in my account, I would have struggled immensely to make ends meet. When I started looking into getting diagnosed, I contacted Disability Services about the process. They were also the ones who pointed me in the direction of the Hardship Fund.
How was the application process?
The application itself is very simple and on a Google form! There are quite a few questions but the main aim of it is to identify why you are applying, whether you meet the eligibility criteria, and what access to funds you currently have. The evidence I had to submit was 3 months of bank statements from both of my bank accounts.
As I was already on the system as a low-income student I think this helped as they already had evidence that I submitted previously to support this. I got confused on a few questions, but I just emailed 'firstname.lastname@example.org' and they got back to me so quickly which made it a lot easier to get the application done fast.
I applied around December of 2020, being near to Christmas I was worried that when I applied, it wouldn't come back till January which would have prolonged my ability to book an appointment to get diagnosed. Although it can take up to four weeks, in my situation it came back within a week or so of applying. This really made the difference to the whole diagnosis process as it meant I could book an appointment in time to obtain academic support for my disability for the second semester.
How I benefitted?
The main way I benefitted was being able to get diagnosed. Just a simple diagnosis opened up a world of support that I didn't realize I needed or had access to. I had always struggled academically, and the first year was harder than most and I only obtained a 2:2.
In the second year, I pushed myself extremely hard to improve my grades, but this did take a huge toll on my mental health. Although I only managed to get support for my second semester, it was a huge relief to have access to an academic tutor, specialist software and a support team to help make a plan for future support. I managed to obtain a 1st in my second year overall, and I know having this support for my final year will enable me to go even higher.
In addition to the initial diagnostic cost, I needed to get a new laptop that would work with the software I would use to support my studies. However, part of this you have to put a £200 contribution towards the device. I didn't realise until Disability Services told me that there was a Hardship Fund application for this contribution as well.
I was fortunate enough to have my £200 contribution also covered by the Hardship Fund, making the entire diagnostic process completely free. Getting diagnosed was already a lot to cope with, but I am eternally grateful that I didn't have to worry about the financial burden of it thanks to the Hardship Fund.
Don't struggle and suffer in silence! During your time at university, there's going to be unexpected costs, things that crop up, and sometimes you don't have enough saved for a rainy day. That is exactly what the Hardship Fund is there for - to help students cope with this. Aside from the Hardship Fund, I have also benefitted from Short-Term Loans that Bath also offers.