If you are in care, or have experience of being in care in the past, there's lots of support available in higher education to help you with finance, accommodation, and settling in.

What do we mean by care experience?

Being care experienced means you will have spent time living with foster carers under local authority care, in residential care (e.g. a children’s home), looked after at home under a supervision order, or in kinship care with relatives or friends, either officially (e.g. a special guardianship order) or informally without local authority support.

Sometimes you will see the term ‘care leaver’ used. Although this has a slightly different meaning, it is often used interchangeably with ‘care experience’.

What support can care experienced students get at uni?

There is a wide variety of support available for care experienced students in higher education – some of which is managed by your local authority, and some by the university or college. 

It’s important to remember this support is there to help you overcome any challenges you may face, to ensure you are able to settle in well to university life, and to give you an equitable chance to do well in your studies. All students are in full control of the support they are offered and if you don’t want to use it, you don’t have to – it’s entirely your call.

You can find more information on the Propel website but here is an overview of the important things to look out for – remember to do your research before you apply (see our tips below) so you make the very best decision for you.


When applying to university, many students are worried about managing their money – and for students from a care background, this may seem like a particular challenge.

You should apply for student finance to cover your tuition fees and maintenance as an independent student – this means your household income isn’t be taken into account to calculate what you can receive. There are guides to help you apply for student finance in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

When it comes to repaying any student loan, don’t worry – you won’t be expected to start making payments until you graduate and start earning above a certain amount.

Find out more about student finance for care-experienced students

Read more about how student finance works around the UK.

In addition, you may be eligible for further financial help as a care experienced student, such as:

  • England and Wales: A Higher Education Bursary, which you don’t pay back – contact your local authority for details.
  • Scotland: A £9,000 Care Experienced Student Bursary, which you don’t pay back, and an optional student loan of £2,400. There is also a Summer Accommodation Grant to help with your accommodation costs during the summer period – find out more on the SAAS website.
  • Northern Ireland: Your Trust will assist you with planning funding for higher education, and must explain how they will support your plans – contact your Trust for more details.
  • Bursaries from the university or college: Many universities and colleges offer bursaries for care experienced students that you don’t have to repay, and some offer grants or loans to help you manage any additional expenses (e.g. specialist equipment). Speak to the university or college directly, or check the Propel website.
  • Charitable organisations: There are a number of organisations offering grants, bursaries and scholarships, including Unite Foundation, Buttle UK, the Care Leavers’ Foundation, and Rees Foundation.

Read more about funding in higher education for care experienced students on the Propel website.

Find out more about financial support for care leavers on the Become website.


Many universities and colleges help care experienced students to find appropriate accommodation. This varies greatly from one university to another, so make sure you check early on in your research, as it could be an important factor when you’re choosing where to study.

Help may include:

  • free or discounted accommodation
  • year-round accommodation (including over the holiday periods)
  • a guaranteed room in university accommodation for the duration of your course
  • no guarantor requirement – or the university will act as guarantor on your behalf
  • no deposit needed, or reduced cost
  • grants to help you cover living costs over the holiday periods
  • starter packs to help you get the equipment you need (e.g. bedding) or vouchers

Talk to your pathway plan adviser or care worker, if you have one, as they should be able to help you with organising your accommodation. They may also be able to help if you are unable to secure accommodation without a guarantor.

While many students go home during holiday periods, others choose to stay in their student accommodation – for all sorts of reasons – so you won’t be on your own if you are planning to stay. There will also be students who live locally, and staff members who work all year round, so there will be plenty of other people around, and many facilities stay open.

If you need help finding suitable housing or struggling to find a guarantor, get in touch with the Children’s Commissioner’s Help at Hand team on 0800 5280731 or email help.team@childrenscommissioner.gov.uk.

Looking after your mental health and wellbeing

Taking care of your mental health and wellbeing is an important part of university life, so it’s important to know what help is available if you need it.

If you have a mental health condition (diagnosed or not), you can let the university or college know you might like support on the UCAS application. This information is not used to assess your application, just to make sure you have the support you need to make a successful transition to higher education and through your studies.

Read more about managing your mental health and wellbeing in higher education.

Settling in

It’s normal to feel nervous about making friends, but each year, universities and colleges welcome students from a diverse range of backgrounds. There’ll be clubs and societies with like-minded people – and you may even find there are groups for students from care backgrounds. Check what’s available from student support services or the students’ union.

There’s lots of support available to give you a fair and equal chance to do well in your studies. In fact, 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.

Let's Connect

Rees Foundation runs online Let's Connect sessions for care-experienced people to meet virtually. The groups aim to create a safe place where care-experienced people can meet to discuss matters that interest them. Later in the year, they will be running 'Uni:fy', exclusively for university students – for you to share your experiences of student life and provide mutual support and advice to make the most of being a student.

All of Us

All of Us is the community for all estranged and care experienced students across the UK. Head to the website to find out how you can get involved online and in real life. All of Us is supported by Unite Foundation who have some funding available for students keen to organise community events, see the Funding for fun section for more info.


There are many ways in which care experienced students are supported to apply, settle in and enjoy their studies. This varies between universities and colleges but you may find there is:

  • a named contact in the student support team who will be able to answer any questions before you arrive and support you through your studies 
  • a dedicated webpage on the university website
  • travel bursaries to help you attend open days and interviews
  • workshops, orientation events or taster sessions over the summer holidays
  • mentoring or buddying schemes, social events and peer networks.

Interested in an apprenticeship?

Do your research – we’re here to help

Universities and colleges

If you are trying to find out what support a particular university or college offers to care experienced students, you can try the following:

  1. Contact the student support team directly – we always recommend this because each university or college will have different support on offer. Student services will be able to answer any questions and give you exactly the information you need. They welcome students getting in touch to find out more and discuss any support needs, so don’t feel worried – it’s exactly what they are there for!Take a look at the information on the university or college website. If you can’t find it, try typing into an internet search engine the name of the university or college and the phrase “care leaver” or “care experience” to help you find the right page on their website.
  2. Use the Propel website – this is a search tool from the care leaver organisation, Become, to help you find out what each university or college offers to care experienced students, and details of the dedicated contact for care experienced students in the support team. You'll also find general information about moving into higher education from care so you can make an informed choice about the right course for you.
  3. Check the NNECL Quality Mark for Care Leavers – this is awarded to universities and colleges to show they provide an inclusive environment and support care experienced students. Read more on the NNECL website and in this blog article.

Please remember that the availability and level of support will vary between institutions, and not all students will be eligible for support in every instance. We strongly recommend you contact the university or college as early as possible to discuss your circumstances so you can make a decision that is right for you.

Support from the local authority

The care leaver local offer

All local authorities are required to publish their 'local offer’ for care leavers aged 18-25. This sets out all the support and services available to help you make the transition from care to independence – including support and bursaries to help you access higher education.

Search for your local authority to check their provision for young people leaving their care on the Care Leaver Offer website.

Pathway Plans

By law, every person leaving care should have a Pathway Plan in place that sets out how the local authority will support you to live independently after you leave care. This includes making plans for higher education, employment and training, and also matters such as accommodation and finances.

Read more about pathway plans on the Become website.

Get advice from the experts

If you need advice on your education options and rights to support, call Become’s Care Advice Line on 0800 023 2033, or email propel@becomecharity.org.uk

The UCAS application – sharing your circumstances

You can share more information about your care background – and any other circumstances – in your UCAS application. This helps universities and colleges to connect you to the right support for your needs and ensure you have all the information you need. 

If you have spent any period of time in care, select ‘yes’ from the drop down box I the question that asked you if you have been in care in the ‘Diversity and inclusion’ section of the application. You will then see an additional question asking you how long you were in care - you will not have to share any further information at this stage.

What happens when I share my information?

The information you give about your care experience is treated sensitively and only shared with those who are responsible for arranging your support (e.g. the student support team). Knowing about your circumstances may also help admissions staff consider your achievements more fully. This is called contextual admissions – read more about contextual admissions. In Scotland, you're guaranteed a place at university if you are care experienced and meet the minimum entry requirements (see more below).

The university or college may get in touch tell you more about how they can support you but we recommend you contact them to discuss your needs directly. Not all universities and colleges offer the same type of support, so research your options before you make your application to ensure they offer what you need.

You are always in control – if you decide you don’t want support, you can choose not to accept it, but if you change your mind later on, or if your circumstances change, it’s ready for you. 

If you’d like to know more about sharing information about your care experience in the application, read our FAQs page and our blog article, Three reasons to tick the box.

Not sure how to share information about your care experience? Read LEAPS' advice and watch a step-by-step video guide to sharing your care experience with your unis and colleges in the application. 

The personal statement

Some students wonder if they should mention their care experience in their personal statement – this is a completely personal decision and you should only do so if you feel it is relevant to your application. For more advice, read a blog from Become that talks though the different considerations.

Care experienced students in Scotland

Scottish universities and colleges have two sets of entry requirements: standard and minimum. If you live in Scotland and are applying to a Scottish university as a care experienced student, you may be eligible for a guaranteed offer on your course if you meet the minimum entry requirements.

Read Who Cares? Scotland’s guide to the guaranteed offer in Scotland.

Find out more about minimum entry requirements in Scotland.

Who Cares? Scotland

Who Cares? Scotland works on behalf of and with care experienced young people and care leavers across Scotland, to ensure their voice is heard on the issues that matter to them. They also offer a helpline if you need help or advice.

Care experienced students in Wales

CLASS Cymru (Care Leavers and Student Support Wales) is made up of universities, colleges, social services, and charities across Wales, to support care experienced students going on to further and higher education.

If you're thinking of applying to university, their website has lots of information and advice to support you throughout your journey to higher education and beyond – from why you should consider uni, making applications, preparing for moving to uni, studying, graduating, and what you could do after.

Visit CLASS Cymru website

Mature students

Many care experienced people prefer to apply to university after they've left school. If you're age 26 or older, and no longer eligible for guidance and support from your local authority, there are still places you can find information, advice and guidance. The Rees Foundation is a great source, offering lifelong support to people who have been in care – including advice about education and careers at any age.

Read UCAS’ advice for mature students

If you are estranged from your parents

If your relationship with your parents has broken down but you have not been in local authority care, you may be considered ‘estranged’. Many estranged students have similar needs to students who have been in care and many universities and colleges also offer them support.

Find out more about applying to university or college as an estranged student.

Refugees, asylum-seekers, and students with limited leave to remain

If you have been in local authority care and have been awarded refugee status or seeking asylum in the UK, you should speak to the university or college directly before you apply to discuss your circumstances. They will be able to give you the best advice and tell you about your options.

Read more about applying to university or college as a refugee, asylum seeker or if you have limited leave to remain.

Where to get more information and support

  • Become offers a wealth of information and advice for students (including finance and funding, accommodation, and applying to uni) through their Propel website. Here, you can also search universities to see how they support care-experienced students. Become also offers lots of information about your rights as a care leaver, and a free (and friendly) advice line on 0800 023 2033 (open 10:00 – 17:00, Monday to Friday).
  • NNECL (National Network for the Education of Care Leavers) is a charity dedicated to supporting care experienced students – you can join their Student Voice Network to make education a better place for care experienced students.
  • The Who Cares? Scotland website provides lots of information about your rights and entitlements as a care experienced person.
  • The Care Leavers’ Covenant supports care leavers aged 16-25 in England to live independently. On the website you’ll find universities, colleges and businesses making a public commitment to support care leavers, including career opportunities (e.g. job vacancies, apprenticeships and internships), discounts, and other support). Read a blog article explaining more about the Covenant.
  • The EaCES Handbook is written by and for care experienced and estranged students.  It brings together information and advice, personal experience, and practical tips.
  • Read the Charlie Waller student guide for care leavers making the transition to higher education.
  • The IMO website - created by the Children’s Commissioner for England in collaboration with an advisory network of care-experienced teenagers is a space to share stories, experiences, and achievements. Here, you can find the Care leavers practical guide to starting university and information about education and careers. There’s also a free advice service for teenagers in care and care leavers. 
  • The Rees Foundation offers lifelong support and guidance for people who have been in care. Their support workers are trained in mental health first aid and always willing to offer emotional support. Rees collaborates with cafes across the country, offering a safe social space and a free coffee with your Rees Guest Card. They also have a careers service helping you with anything from creating a CV to making a decision about which course to study.