Applying to university is a huge step for anyone but if you have been in care, you may have additional questions about applying or studying. Nicola Turner, Senior Fair Access 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 use this information to connect you to the support you are entitled to.
If you have spent time in care, you are entitled to a range of practical support in higher education, if you want it. This might be support through 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 offers 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, you don’t have 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 certainly taught us to be prepared for the unexpected! You won’t be treated differently, and you will be in control of the support you choose to accept.
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 had to change schools. Universities and colleges are aware of these challenges 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 – in fact, 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 for the ‘guaranteed offer’ if they meet the university’s minimum entry requirements – read more about the ‘guaranteed offer’ here.
Reason 3: The information you share about your care experience is confidential and UCAS doesn’t require evidence to tick the box.
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, so if you don’t want to talk about your background, you won’t be expected to.
Some students are uncertain if their experience of care ‘counts’. We know that everyone’s experience of care is different and it all counts – even if it was a long time ago. UCAS won’t ask you for evidence to tick the box – this is the start of a ‘conversation’ with your university to see what they might be able to offer you. For some types of support, such as bursaries, you may be asked to provide evidence of your care background (the university will help you understand what this is) and the eligibility criteria may differ between universities. However, even if you can’t access that, there will be other support services and opportunities they can tell you about, so it is always worth letting them know and finding out what that is.
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 you were in care. That’s it – UCAS won’t need any more information from you.
If you feel comfortable and you think it is relevant to your application, you can use the personal statement to tell the university or college how your circumstances have prepared you for your studies, or make you a good candidate. You can read this blog post from Become before you make a decision in which they explain 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.