In this guest blog, Sam Turner from Become (with help from current and former care-experienced students) talks through the considerations for care leavers writing their personal statements. Become is the national charity for children in care and young care leavers and run the Propel website for care-experienced learners interested in higher education.
Personal statements are exactly what they say on the tin – personal! The decision to mention your experiences in care is ultimately yours, and it’s all about what feels comfortable and what’s most important for you as an individual. Here’s some advice to help you with the decision.
First of all, don’t worry!
We speak with lots of care-experienced applicants each year who are worried about feeling judged or stigmatised, especially if they’ve had negative experiences revealing their care identities before. It’s completely understandable if you feel a bit apprehensive about mentioning it in your personal statement.
Stating your care experience is an option only if you want to. Think about whether being care experienced shaped your decisions to apply for the course – this can be particularly useful for those applying for courses to do with social care, education etc. Also, read your personal statement out loud! Hearing yourself read it back can help you recap on any information that needs to be added or removed.
Leanne – graduate in social science, community development & youth work
However, rest assured that if you choose to, it won’t be held against you in any negative way by those assessing your application.
Admissions staff are aware that people with experience of care can sometimes find it difficult to access opportunities more available to their peers – things like work experience, after-school clubs or volunteering. This can be due to the lack of family and financial support. Universities and colleges want to welcome as many care-experienced students as they can because this lived experience is underrepresented in higher education, and because of the value which different experiences and backgrounds bring to life at college or university.
To add or not to add?
Remember that your lived experience can be a strength. Have any of your experiences impacted on your choice of subject or future ambitions? If it’s a big part of who you are and you think it’s relevant to describe your passion and interest for the course, by all means put it in. Try reflecting on the personal journey you’ve had and how it’s led you to where you are now. Speak to those who know you well – such as your friends, carers or your social worker or personal adviser if you’re happy to – to talk through your ideas and ask for their advice.
My one piece of advice would be to use your care experience and not hide away from it. I found that the main point of my statement was how my childhood circumstances swayed me into wanting to do the degree/subject area I’m doing now.
Shenya – currently studying criminal psychology
On the other hand, you might want to focus your statement on other aspects of your experience and suitability for the course that feels more important to you. There are only around 500 words to play with in your personal statement, so there are always tough choices about what can be included – and it’s best to keep the focus on the subject you want to study. Remember, if you're applying to more than one provider your personal statement has to work for all your choices.
Are there other options?
The personal statement isn’t the only opportunity to share information about your care experience with the universities or colleges you’re applying to. If the person writing your reference knows about your experience in care and how it’s impacted your education, this can be a helpful place to put in the information – do speak with your referee about this if you feel comfortable doing so.
In my personal statement, I explained that because I’d never had a nice room (and being in foster care the room was never mine), I understood the psychological importance of having an effect over your own space and feeling like it's an extension of you.
Alice – currently studying interior design
Some providers might have other ways you can share important contextual information about your application. For example, the University of Cambridge have an Extenuating Circumstances Form which lets your referee, or someone else like a doctor or social worker, share further info about challenges you might have faced to put your application in context. You can always ask the named contact at the institution(s) you’re applying to for advice if you’re not sure – find them on Propel.
Tick the box
Finally, even if you decide not to talk about your experiences in care in your personal statement, it’s really important to tick the box on your UCAS application. This is so admissions staff can consider your application in context and so your chosen universities and colleges can let you know about the support you’ll be entitled to. Remember – this is confidential so will only be shared with those who need to know.
It can be to your advantage to include your status as a care leaver on your application. I included it in my application, and it meant I was able speak with my uni before starting, and I was able to access additional support.
Zara – about to begin studying social work
If you’re care-experienced and you would like some advice or support navigating your own educational journey, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Become’s Senior Advice and Support Officer for Further and Higher Education by calling 0800 023 2033 or emailing Propel@becomecharity.org.uk.
Blog updated by Jade Ward, Senior Advice and Support Officer for Further and Higher Education at Become: 6 January 2023