Students with care experience: Three reasons to tick the box

Wednesday 29 September 2021, UCAS advice


Students with care experience: Three reasons to tick the box


Applying to university is a huge step for anyone but if you have been in care, you may have extra questions or concerns. Nicola Turner, Policy Adviser at UCAS explains how – and why – you can tell universities about your care background.

When it comes to completing your UCAS application, you will notice a question asking if you have been in care. If you have seen this question and don’t understand why we ask for this information, or feel worried about sharing it, you’re not alone. 

Some students ask if this will affect the way their application is assessed, and others tell us they don’t want anyone to know about their past because they want a fresh start. These are completely understandable concerns, and I hope that the following information will reassure you that ticking the box is a positive move.

Reason 1: Your chosen universities and colleges connect you to the support you are entitled to.

If you have grown up in care, you are entitled to a range of practical support in higher education, if you want it. This might be support during your application (e.g. events to help you with your transition to university), financial assistance (such as bursaries), year-round accommodation, or help to manage your health and wellbeing. In some cases, there are peer networks where you can meet others from similar backgrounds who understand your circumstances and can offer support. Many universities even have someone in their student support team dedicated to helping care experienced students – from the moment they send their application right through to graduation.

Ticking the box in the UCAS application is a quick and easy way to let the university or college know that you would like to know more about any additional support they can offer, and they may get in touch with the details. Each university and college will offer different support, so it is a good idea to do some research before you apply. The Propel website is a good place to start as it lists universities and colleges around the UK and outlines the support they have in place

Of course, ticking the box doesn’t mean you are obliged to accept help if you don’t want it. However, it’s a really good idea to let the university or college know so they can be ready to support you if you change your mind, or your circumstances change – the Covid-19 pandemic has certainly taught us to be prepared for the unexpected.

Reason 2: Admissions staff at the universities and colleges you are applying to can consider your achievements and potential in context.

Your journey to higher education might have been more difficult than those who have not been in care, especially if you have experienced disruption with your care placements or education.
Universities and colleges are aware of this and welcome applications from care experienced students. 

Ticking the box will help admissions staff consider your achievements in context. This is called ‘contextualised admissions’, and the aim is to form a more complete picture of you as an individual and identify those who have the potential to succeed – even if their personal circumstances have affected their attainment (e.g. exam grades). 

This absolutely doesn’t reflect negatively on your application, and some universities and colleges may make you a ‘contextual offer,’ which is typically lower than the standard entry requirements. 

In Scotland, care experienced students are eligible to receive a ‘guaranteed offer’ if they meet the university’s minimum entry requirements – read more about the guaranteed offer.

Reason 3: The information you share about your care experience is confidential

Information about your care experience will only be shared with those who would be involved in supporting you, such as the student support team. It will be only shared with other staff members with your permission.

Don’t forget that your answer to this question will not negatively impact the academic judgement of your application, or the decision about whether to offer you a place – it is a positive step towards connecting you to the right support so your experience of higher education is positive and successful. You are in control of what happens and the support you use at al times.

What next?

OK, I’m going to be completely honest, the ‘tick box’ isn’t really a tick box. You are asked to answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to the question ‘Have you been in care?’ and, if you say yes, we’ll ask you to tell us how long for. That’s it.

If you feel comfortable and you think it is relevant, you can use the personal statement to tell the university or college more. You can read a blog article from Become before you make a decision – Sam Turner explains how you can do this well, and why it might be a good idea.

After you send your application, the university or college may get in touch with more information but you don’t have to wait – feel free to contact them directly. You can find the right contact details on the Propel website and they will be pleased to answer any questions or tell you more. 

It’s never too late!

If you’ve already sent your application and you wish you had told the university or college, you can still contact them directly. Try to do it as early as possible so that support is ready for you.

Find out more about applying to a university with care experience.