UCAS Undergraduate: Care experienced students

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 occasionally used interchangeably with ‘care experience’.
 

What support can care experienced students get in higher education?

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.

Financial

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 Care Experienced Students Bursary, which you don’t pay back – 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, and the Care Leavers’ 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.

Accommodation

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.

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

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.

This Is Us online community

You can also join This Is Us, an online community of estranged and care-experienced students in the UK. This safe space allows students to connect, give each other support, share info, arrange meet-ups and more. It’s free, national and open to all ages and years of study.

Other

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.
     

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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Check the NNECL Quality Mark for Care Leavers – launching in autumn 2021, the Quality Mark is awarded to universities and colleges by the National Network for the Education of Care Leavers (NNECL)/ The Quality Mark shows the university or college recognises where universities and college provide an inclusive environment and support through the student journey to – and through – higher education. As it was only launched in October 2021, only a small number of universities and colleges that participated in the pilot programme have received the award to date, so always check the care experience page on the provider's website. Read a blog article from NNECL explaining more about the Quality Mark.

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

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.

The UCAS application – ticking the box

The easiest way to tell the university or college about your care experience is by ticking the box on the UCAS application. You will be asked to share the duration of your care experience but you will not have to share any further information at this stage.

When you tick the box, the university or college can see that you may require support and they may get in touch with more information about how they will do this – and to tell you more about your options. This information is treated confidentially and only shared with those responsible for putting support in place – and those you choose to tell.

Don’t forget that you are always in control – if you decide don’t want the 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.

Knowing about your circumstances may also help admissions staff consider your achievements in context. It will not reflect negatively on your application. In Scotland, you're guaranteed a place at university if you are care experienced and meet the minimum entry requirements (see more below).

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. 

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 offer a helpline if you need help or advice, and more information can be found on their website

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

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.

More information

  • Visit the UCAS Blog site for articles about going to university from a care background, including articles from students and graduate – search for ‘care’.
  • The Propel website can help you research the support available at different universities and colleges, and there is lots of information about going to university from care, including information about finance and funding, accommodation help, student case studies, and help with applying.
  • Become – the charity for care-experienced children
  • In Scotland, the Who Cares? Scotland website is a good source of information about your rights and entitlements as a care experienced person.
  • Directly contact student support services at the university or college - they will be able to make sure you have all the information you need. They will usually have information on their website too.
  • NNECL (National Network for the Education of Care Leavers) has resources for care experienced students on its website.
  • The Care Leavers’ Covenant supports young care leavers in England aged 16-25 to live independently – here you will find universities and colleges who have made a public commitment to support care leavers, career opportunities (including job vacancies, apprenticeships and internships), and other opportunities (such as discounts and careers advice). Read a blog article explaining more about the Covenant.
  • The EaCES Handbook - written by estranged and care experienced students to bring together information and advice to help others – including their own experiences and practical tips.
  • Read the Charlie Waller student guide for care leavers making the transition to higher education.
  • IMO – write, spark, share – set up by the Children’s Commissioner for England in collaboration with an advisory network of teenagers with care experience. It’s your space to share stories, experiences, and achievements with other care experienced teenagers. You’ll find loads of advice and resources, along with jobs and apprenticeships for care leavers. There’s also a free advice service for teenagers in care and care leavers.