Being eligible for free school meals (FSM) means you might be able get help to meet different costs, and access other types of support if you want to go to university.

What do you mean by free school meals?

Young people in the UK are usually eligible for free school meals (FSM) if their parents or carers are on a low income or in receipt of certain benefits – they'll need to have registered with their local authority. 

The UCAS application

The ‘More about you’ section in the application gives you the opportunity to share a range of circumstances and support needs – one of these is your eligibility for free school meals. If you have received free school meals at any point during your secondary education, select ‘yes’. 

The application fee 

  • For the 2025 cycle, students who are currently enrolled at school or college, and have been in receipt of free school meals at some point during the last six years (i.e. during their secondary education) up until the end of their final year, will be eligible to have the application fee waived.  
  • Students applying from the independent school sector can indicate their financial circumstances would have made them eligible for free school meals in the past six years. This can be verified by teachers/advisers using the Bursary Assessment Associates individual verification service. 
  • Students who are not currently enrolled at a school or college, but are applying through a registered centre and can demonstrate to the centre that they have been in receipt of free school meals at some point during the last 6 years, are eligible to have the application fee waived. 

What support can I get if I want to go to university?

Research suggests that students from low-income households are less likely to go to university. There are many different reasons for this, and it can be different for each student – for example, if you have lower grades you might not think higher education is right for you, or perhaps the financial aspects of going to university are a barrier.  

Outreach activities 

For some students, their individual circumstances can have a significant impact on their decision to go to university or college – and on their experience when they are there. Students from under-represented backgrounds often need extra support throughout their discovery journey and when applying to HE.    

Universities, colleges, charities, and employers deliver outreach activities which can support you throughout school or college to help you develop skills, discover your future options and support you with making the best decisions for your future.  

These activities might be subject-specific, such as a university taster session or summer school. Some activities might be long-term programmes such as mentoring, academic support or in school workshops.   

If you are in school or college, your teacher or adviser can support you with finding outreach opportunities through the Outreach Connection Service in the adviser portal. Speak to them to find out more about the opportunities available to you.  

Help with the costs of attending open days, interviews, and events 

Some universities can support with the costs of attending open days, interviews and events. It’s important to do your research and speak to the university about your options if the cost is a barrier to you attending these events.  

Some examples include:  

Contextualised admissions 

When universities consider your achievements, it helps them to know if you've faced any particular circumstances or challenges that may have impacted your education or results. By looking at your application in context, they may adjust their usual offer to give you a fair chance to access your chosen course – these are called ‘contextual offers’.  

The type of offer you receive will depend on the course and provider you apply to. Not every university or college makes contextual offers, so do your research before you apply. 

Read more about contextualised offers and whether you might be eligible

Help to make your next steps

If you’re unsure about what career to explore, what pathway to follow, or even what subjects you can study, UCAS has all the information you need to discover your future. 

Discover your options in the UCAS Hub 

Start by registering in the UCAS Hub. Answer some questions and we’ll start to personalise your dashboard. Here you can learn about different careers and industries, take a careers quiz, search for courses and apprenticeships opportunities, learn about different courses and subjects, and get all the support you need to make a university application.

The Hub is also where you will build your profile and make an application – if you decide this is the right pathway for you. 

If you’re thinking of going to university but not sure what it would be like – why not speak to a current student? We can put you in touch with students at universities all over the UK from all sorts of backgrounds and studying a wide range of courses. 

And why not try before you apply? If you want to know more about the sort of things you’ll learn, our Subject Spotlights will give you the chance to try a university course. Delivered by the lecturers themselves, you will gain insight into what it’s like to study the course (and give your personal statement a boost). 


An apprenticeship is a hands-on route to gain professional experience and earn money at the same time. To find out more about being an apprentice, read our apprenticeship pages, where we cover funding and support networks. 

The money, funding and finance page explains more about apprentice wages, associated fees and who covers them, as well as apprentice discounts and more. 

Frequently asked questions