Going to university or college if you’ve been in care – our top ten tips for success
Making a decision about university or college can be tricky, and there may be more to think about if you are care experienced. There are lots of misconceptions around so this guide will help you find out all you need. And if you need more information, you can read our information and advice for care experienced students.
1: There is financial support available to help care experienced students
Everyone worries about finances, but this shouldn’t be more of a concern for students with care experience than anyone else – in fact, there is additional financial support available to help you go to university or college.
Here’s what you may be able to get:
- Student finance to cover tuition fees (where applicable) and maintenance costs which are not paid back until you graduate and are earning a minimum salary
- A local authority bursary which depends on eligibility and where you live
- Bursaries, grants and scholarships from the university or college, or via a charitable organisation.
- Hardship funds from the university or college if you are experiencing financial difficulties
- A part-time job can help you manage your finances but remember to balance this with your studies!
2: Many universities and colleges offer 365-day accommodation
Many universities and colleges offer care experienced students year-round accommodation – in some cases this is free or discounted as part of a wider support package, or you may be able to get help with the additional costs of staying during the holidays. Always check with student support services at the university or college to see what they can offer, and remember to talk to your pathway plan adviser as they are there to help you with these arrangements.
And don’t worry that you’ll be alone during the holidays – lots of students stay on or close to campus, or live locally. Many facilities stay open because staff are on campus all year round.
3: Many universities and colleges can help with accommodation deposits and getting a guarantor
In many cases, universities and colleges can waive the need for a guarantor and/or deposit. They may be able to act on your behalf or offer a grant or loan to help with the deposit.
If your support package includes accommodation, it’s unlikely you’ll need either.
4: Higher education welcomes students from a diverse range of backgrounds
It’s completely normal to feel nervous about making friends and wondering if you will fit in. Each year universities and colleges welcome students from all sorts of different backgrounds, so you don’t need to worry about fitting in. There will be a range of clubs and societies where you can meet people with similar interests, and sometimes there are societies and groups specifically for care experienced students where you can talk to others in similar circumstances and get support with any questions or concerns. The student union or student support services will be able to tell you more about what’s on offer.
In terms of your studies, graduates from a care background are just as likely to achieve a first or upper second degree as students who are not care experienced, and their career routes are similar too.
5: It’s never too late to go to university or college
You can go to university or college at any age, and thousands of mature students start university or college each year.
However, it’s worth bearing in mind that local authority support to help you access higher education is usually only offered up to the age of 25 so you may need to look for other types of support if you are older.
6: It’s a great time to learn to cook
Some universities and colleges offer catered accommodation in the first year, which means your food is provided. However, many people learn to cook at university or college, and there are lots of great free online recipes for cooking on a budget. You will have access to a kitchen, and some people like to take turns to cook with others in their accommodation which can be a nice way to socialise.
7: You are in control of who knows about your circumstances
It’s totally fine if you don’t want to tell anyone else about your care experience – it’s entirely your decision who you share this with.
If you have ticked the box in your UCAS application, this information will only be shared with those who are responsible for putting support in place – other staff members will only be told if you want them to be.
8: Student support services are ready to help you with any questions
The student support services team (they might be called something slightly different) are there to help you with any questions or worries – both before you arrive, and when you are there.
In some cases, you’ll be put in touch with someone who is dedicated to supporting students with care experience. This might include helping you work with your local authority to get the support you are entitled to, helping you to manage your finances, or arranging accommodation. They can also just be a friendly face to stay in contact with – someone who cares about your wellbeing while you are at university or college.
9: There is support to help you with your studies
Although you will be expected to be a more independent learner in higher education than at school, that doesn’t mean you are completely on your own. Usually, you will be assigned an academic tutor who will help you manage your workload if you find things become difficult, and student support services will also be able to help if you need any advice.
In addition, you’ll find there are lots of workshops, refresher sessions, etc if you need to brush up on any skills – the library is a great place to get more information what is on offer.
10: You can get help with managing your mental health and wellbeing
Everyone experiences times of difficulty, and there is help available to help you manage all sorts of things that life can throw at you. Student support services is a great place to start. Many universities and colleges also have a dedicated mental health and wellbeing team, or mental health adviser who will be able to tell you more about what’s available and how they can support you.
If you have an existing mental health condition, don’t forget to share this on the UCAS application so the university or college can arrange support for you ready for when you arrive. Just like ticking the care experience box, this information is confidential and will not affect your application – in fact, this is a really positive move to help you become independent in looking after your health and wellbeing.