If you are responsible for providing unpaid care to a family member, partner or friend, you may be able to receive extra support during your studies. This could include financial help, such as a bursary, support with managing your workload and deadlines, or even help with your own health and wellbeing.
There’s a variety of help available for students with care responsibilities, so it’s a good idea to do your research before you apply. We recommend that you contact your university as early as possible to discuss your circumstances and any support needs you may have, however small or major they may seem. This will help you to make a smooth transition to university and succeed in your ongoing studies.
Who is a carer?
A carer is anyone who has a commitment to providing unpaid care to a family member or friend who could not cope without their support. This may be due to illness, disability, a mental health issue, or substance misuse.
A caring responsibility may be short term — such as supporting someone with their recovery following an accident, or long term — such as helping someone with a long term illness.
Some students with care responsibilities might think it's not worth telling the university or college about their circumstances, perhaps because they think it's a temporary situation, or because they don’t think it ‘counts’. However, all carers deal with their responsibilities alongside their education differently, and you may still find some occasional support helpful, especially if your circumstances change. It’s important to make sure it's ready if or when you need it.
Young adult carers
If you are aged 16 — 25 and have a caring responsibility, you are considered to be a ‘young adult carer’.
There are approximately 375,000 young adult carers in the UK, all facing different challenges and responsibilities. If you provide regular care and support to a family member, partner, or friend, you may be eligible to access additional support while studying. Below are just two of the many charities providing support, information, and advice to young adult carers.
- The Carers Trust offers support to those who who give unpaid care to a family member or friend – find out more at carers.org.
- If someone in your family has a life-threatening illness, Hope Support Services can help. Visit their website for more information or watch their video. You might also be interested in watching Ben’s story.
What support is available to carers in higher education?
Some carers think their caring role will prevent them from going to university, even if higher education would help them meet their aspirations in education and work. This might be because of financial reasons, concerns about balancing studying with a caring role, or worrying about who would provide care in their absence if they wanted to move away.
If you're balancing your studies with the responsibility of caring for another person, this can sometimes be challenging. To help you manage this, many universities and colleges have put support in place specifically to help student with caring responsibilities. This can include:
- academic help – this might be flexible deadlines, help with managing your workload, or priority access to academic or career opportunities (e.g. internships).
- financial help – some course providers offer bursaries and other financial support to student carers
- health and wellbeing support – as well as support services on campus, some universities and colleges offer induction days over the summer to help you settle in and to give you the chance to discuss your support needs
- Carer Passport – some universities run the Carer Passport scheme, which means you won’t have to share your story multiple times with different staff across the university. Find out more about the Carer Passport
The help available varies between each provider, so do your research before you apply. Most will have a website that gives more details, but you can always contact the student services team directly to find out more. They will also be available to talk to on open days, if you plan to visit.
Four tips for carers who want to go to university
1. Do your research
If you're thinking about applying to university or college, it's a good idea to find out what support they offer for carers before you make your final decision.
Often, this information is provided on their website, sometimes on a student carers web page. You can contact student support services directly by email or telephone (their details will be available on the university’s website), or visit them during open days to find out more about the academic and practical support they can offer.
Other resources to help you research your options:
- Check out the Going Higher for Student Carers Recognition Award resource on the Carers Trust Scotland website.
- Carers Trust’s Supporting Students with Caring Responsibilities highlights examples of great work being done by universities to support student carers in England and Wales (Welsh language version available here).
2. Tell the university about your circumstances
Knowing a prospective student has caring responsibilities allows the university or college to put support in place, to make sure you get the most from your university experience.
We recommend you do this as early as possible, however small or major your caring role may seem to you. This will help you make a smooth transition to university, and succeed in your ongoing studies. However, if you feel more comfortable doing this after you've received your offers or confirmed your place, it's not too late to do so. If your circumstances change during your studies or after you apply it’s also a good idea to let the university know, so they can support you.
There are several ways you can tell the uni about your circumstances:
- Use your UCAS personal statement to highlight where your care responsibility has enabled you to develop any strengths or skills – see below.
- With your permission, your referee can mention your circumstances in the reference. They can also make sure the university knows if your caring role has had any impact on your studies or exam results (e.g. through absence).
- Contact the university or college directly – the contact details for student services will be on their website.
Knowing about your circumstances can help admissions staff take your achievements into account, and gain a better understanding of your potential in context. It will not reflect negatively on your application or academic ability, but instead will enable them to form a more complete picture of you as an individual, and your potential to succeed.
3. Use your personal statement to highlight your strengths and skills
Your personal statement is a great place to highlight the skills, strengths, and positive attributes your caring responsibility has allowed you to develop.
4. Consider the practicalities and make plans before you go
Whether you're planning to live at home or move away, it's helpful to think about some of the more practical aspects. Some things to consider might be:
- finances – as well as applying for student finance, don’t forget to check when you need to apply for any carers’ bursaries or grants. Set aside some time to plan your budgeting, taking into account any costs for equipment, books, etc. you’ll need, as well as your day-to-day living costs. Visit the Blackbullion website for some useful resources to help you get your finances in order
- travel plans – if you're planning to commute to university, think carefully about travel time at different points in the day, such as rush hour. Find out where you would need to park (if driving), or where the train station or bus stops are. If you're planning to move away from home, how you will move your belongings to your new accommodation? Remember to build all travel costs into your budget
- work placements – if you're planning to take a course that requires work placements or off-site learning, it's a good idea to find out in advance when these are likely to take place — so you can make any necessary arrangements and update your travel plans and budget accordingly
Where to get more information and help
Carers in the UK have rights in law, which emphasises that they should receive the appropriate support to allow them to meet their own personal goals, including education. However, there are some differences depending on where in the UK you come from. Select your country below for more information from Carers Trust:
If someone in your family has a life-threatening illness, Hope Support Services has advice for young people going to university.
Fran is studying at the University of Winchester and has hopes of doing a master’s. She has been caring for her brother who has autism since she was 11. Fran wants universities to make sure that anyone who does care for someone is recognised from the start.
“In terms of increasing support at university, it is to make sure that anyone who does care for someone is recognised from the start so the university can make sure that they are not alone and know that if they want and need help there is always someone there! Starting university, I did not disclose that I cared for someone on my university application as I thought it was not needed and to be honest did not want to use it as an excuse. However, since telling someone at university the support that I have gained has helped so much. I wished I had said something at the beginning and do recommend disclosing this on the application as you never know the help or opportunities you can get by doing this.”
Students with parenting responsibilities
If you're responsible for the care and wellbeing of a child aged 17 or under, there may be additional support to help you succeed in your studies.Read more about support for students with parenting responsibilities