Going back to university after cancer treatment

Find out about more about going back to university after cancer treatment, what support you can get and what benefits you might be entitled to.  

  • If you’re worried about going back to university after treatment, there are things that can be put in place to help you  
  • You should get support from your university and you can request reasonable adjustments to help you with studying  
  • You might be entitled to benefits while you’re at university depending on how your cancer diagnosis and treatment affect you 

How can I prepare for going back to university after cancer treatment?

Whether you’re excited or anxious about going back to university (uni) after treatment, it can be an adjustment. You might have to change your routine, have different energy levels than you did when you were last at uni, and need more rest than your friends and classmates.  

Depending on how long you’ve been away from uni you might now be in a different year to some of your friends. If some of your friends are still at uni you could try and meet up with them before you go back full time to help you settle in when you do go back. 

You might want to meet some new people when you go back - there are lots of ways to do this at uni. This could be through your course or clubs, societies, and social events. And even if your friends from before you started treatment are in a different year, hopefully you should still be able to see them.  

It could help to get in touch with your tutor or department and have a chat, online or in person, about any reading or preparation you can do before you go. You could also find out a bit more about what to expect from the course when you do go back. This could also be a good opportunity to talk about any reasonable adjustments you need to support your learning. For example, you might need things written down so you don’t forget them, or you might need more time to process information.  

You can have a look at this page on the UCAS website for more information about applying to university when you have physical or mental health conditions and learning differences. 

What support is available to me?

From your university: 

It‘s a good idea to get in touch with your university student support department or disability service as soon as you can. They’ll be able to let you know what they can do to support you. Different universities will offer different types of support so it’s worth speaking to them to find out what would work best for you.  

Speak to someone at your Students’ Union (SU). It might take longer than expected or there may be barriers to getting reasonable adjustments in place at university. Each university has an SU which should have an advice service or wellbeing officer who can support you with arranging things like this 

It might be helpful to do some preparation for these conversations and have a think about the areas of your uni life where you need support.  You could ask a friend or family member to support you, make notes or remind you of questions you want to ask. 

If you have a Youth Support Coordinator (YSC), they might be able to help you with any contact you have with your uni before you go back.  

Here are some ways that your university might be able to support you: 

  • non-medical support such as scribes, readers, library support assistants, proof-readers, manual note takers, exam support 
  • Therapy, counselling or support from wellbeing and mental health officers 
  • arranging your timetable so that your lectures, seminars and workshops are in accessible rooms  
  • support from disability/student services to act as a connection between you and the department you’re studying with  
  • extensions on deadlines, extenuating circumstances (things that happen in your life that you didn’t expect and stop you from being able to complete work like you normally would), around assignments and exams  
  • time off for appointments/treatment 
  • finding somewhere for you to leave things on campus so you don’t have to carry them around for the whole day 
  • flexibility in attendance and timings 
  • support from teachers while you’re away, for appointments, treatment or if you need some time to recover from treatment 

Student Minds: If you’re struggling to get the help you need and you’d like support with your wellbeing Student Minds is the UK’s student mental health charity. They’re dedicated to improving university communities and empowering students to build their own mental health toolkits to support themselves. Find out more on the Student Minds website.  

Reasonable adjustments: 

Some of the side effects of cancer treatment, like brain fog and fatigue, can affect your studies and your experience at uni.   

Reasonable adjustments are changes that should give you additional support to study. The idea is to reduce any disadvantages you have at uni in comparison to someone without a cancer diagnosis. Some examples of possible reasonable adjustments might be attending classes remotely, having someone write for you in an exam, or some physical changes to a building if you have mobility problems.   

If you’re not sure what support you will need, you can ask your family and friends, or your care team, to help you with these conversations. If you’re worried about something but not sure what would help, the people around you might have some ideas.  

What benefits am I entitled to?

Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) 

If you have had a cancer diagnosis, you might be entitled to DSA. DSA supports with extra study-related costs people need if they have a mental health problem, a disability or a long-term illness, like cancer. It can be used to pay for a range of things, such as technology, practical support, or travel. You aren’t automatically entitled to DSA because you’ve had cancer - it depends on what study-related costs you have because of your cancer diagnosis, and what type of course you’re doing. Find out more about DSA and how to apply.  

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) 

PIP is a benefit that helps with extra living costs, it’s called Adult Disability Payment in Scotland. You might be entitled to PIP if you have a long-term health condition or disability that makes it more difficult for you to do everyday tasks or get around. It’s available to people aged 16 and over, until the age you can get your pension. You might be entitled to PIP if you have cancer, but it won’t be automatically given to you because of your cancer diagnosis; you’ll need to have an assessment. Find out more about PIP and how to apply.  

Staying at university during cancer treatment

Some people decide to stay at uni and carry on with their studies while they’re having cancer treatment. If this is something you’re considering then it can be really helpful to find out everything you can about the support you can get from your uni. It’s good to let them know as soon as possible about what you’ll need to support your learning while you’re in treatment. If you have access to a Youth Support Coordinator (YSC) then you could ask to talk to them as well. They could help you think about what support you might need from the university, and help you discuss this with them.  

Tips for going back to uni after cancer treatment

We know that hearing from other young people who have been through similar experiences can be helpful. Here are some tips from young people about going back to uni after cancer treatment: 

  • Don’t be afraid to talk to your teachers if you’re struggling with any assignments or topics you need more help with, it’s completely normal to feel nervous for the first few weeks going back to school 
  • Try not to stress too much about assignments even if it seems hard not to 
  • Don’t let others pressure you into things you don’t feel up to! This may be worse during freshers for example if others aren’t aware of your situation. 
  • It’s important to remember that going back to uni is not a race. Take the time you need to prioritise your wellbeing and come back stronger. 
  • Missing uni might make you feel like you’re falling behind, but the truth is, you’re not. It’s all about finding the balance that works for you. Remember, you’re not alone on this journey. 
  • Reach out to the student wellbeing officer of your university for support and guidance. You got this! 
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