Care Experienced

If you’re the parent or carer of a young person who’s spent time in care, you’ll play an important part in helping them to consider whether university is right for them.

Applying to university is a huge step for anyone, but those who have been in care may have extra questions or concerns.

Universities and colleges recognise this and often provide additional support to young people who have spent time in care to make the process less daunting, so don’t be afraid to get in touch and ask what help is available – from choosing a course to applying to university and settling in.  

Read on to learn more about supporting care experienced young people in their journey to Higher Education and the start of an amazing future!

Did you know?

Care leavers who go to university are entitled to a Higher Education Bursary of £2,000 (usually paid in instalments during the course), which does not have to be re-paid. This is in addition to their student loan.

Supporting a Care Experienced Student

What’s the difference between being a ‘care leaver’ and being ‘care experienced’?

Care Leaver: A care leaver is someone who has been in the care of their Local Authority (in foster care or a children’s residential home) for a period of 13 weeks or more around their 16th birthday. Care leavers are legally entitled to support from their Local Authority, and often through university too. If you’re not sure, try this simple quiz.

Care Experienced: If your young person isn’t a ‘care leaver’, but they have spent time in care at some point during their childhood, perhaps in foster care, a residential home, or living with another family member, they’d be described as ‘care experienced’, meaning they may still be able to benefit from additional support to help them access university.

How do I help a care experienced young person prepare for university?

There are lots of things to think about as your young person prepares to make choices about their future, however, there’s plenty of advice and support available. Find out about the different options in our Your Child’s Choices and Applying to HE sections.

The charity Become’s website Propel is a great starting point for care experienced students, allowing you to easily compare courses and universities, as well as the support available for care leavers, including named care leaver contacts for students thinking of applying.   

What grades will they need?

Degree entry requirements will vary depending on the course they’re interested in studying. If they’re concerned about their grades, try and encourage them to contact the universities they’re interested in as some will offer special access programmes with flexible entry criteria for care experienced students.

How do you apply to university?

If your young person wants to study full-time at a university in England or Wales, they’ll need to apply through the UCAS website.

For more information, see our Applying to HE section.

Should my young person share that they’ve been in care on their UCAS application?

When it comes to completing the UCAS application, there’s a question asking if the applicant has been in care. It’s a good idea for your young person to share this information as it means they can access any additional support (financial or other kinds of support) that may be available at their chosen university.

Remember – this information will be treated in confidence and won’t disadvantage their application in any way.

For more information, see the UCAS guide ‘Why Tick the Box’.

What additional support is available for those who are care leavers or care experienced?

There is plenty of extra information, advice and support available for young people who’ve been in care and are preparing for university. 

Support for care leavers 

Care leavers are entitled to advice and support from a Personal Adviser (PA) until their 25th birthday, and they should have a Pathway Plan in place, which sets out what support the Local Authority will provide to help a young person prepare for independent living – including at university. If your young person is thinking of applying to Higher Education, make sure that this is written into their Pathway Plan, and encourage your young person to ask their PA about what support they can offer as they apply and prepare to move to university.

Care leavers who go to university are entitled to:

  • A Higher Education Bursary of £2,000 (usually paid in instalments during the course), which does not have to be re-paid. This is in addition to their student loan.
  • Help with somewhere to live (or help to pay the rent) over the holidays.  

For more information on what support to expect from your local authority, speak to your Local Authority or visit the Propel website.

What additional support is available from university?

Universities offer varying packages of support for care leavers, and sometimes this support is extended to care experienced students. It’s best to check directly with the university about what help and support they offer. You can visit their website (or type the university name plus ‘care leaver’ into your internet browser to find the pages more easily). You can also compare the support that’s offered by different universities on the Propel website.

Support could include: 

  • having a named contact who can help them apply
  • help with their UCAS application
  • signposting to the financial support that’s available 
  • support when they’re getting ready to move in
  • the offer of year-round accommodation 

Some universities offer pre-entry support for care experienced students, which can include taster days, summer schools and one-to-one meetings with members of staff and students who are studying subjects they are interested in. Some universities are even able to offer some academic support to help with studies!

The earlier students contact the universities, the more they can access support and the greater their chances of being successful in getting into university and having a smooth transition. 

Care leaver contacts at Kent and Medway universities

Canterbury Christ Church University

University for the Creative Arts (UCA)

University of Kent

University of Greenwich

What accommodation support is available for care leavers?

According to Propel, many universities provide 365-day accommodation for care leavers. Check with your choice of university, or search via the Propel website to see which universities offer this. 

Even if a university doesn’t say they offer year-round accommodation, don’t be put off. They may be able to offer support for holiday accommodation as well, so it’s worth asking. 

The Unite Foundation Scholarship Scheme, in partnership with 27 universities, offers 90 care leavers a scholarship of free year-round student accommodation with no bills for three years of study. 

What financial support is available?

Most students, whether they’re care experienced or not, will apply for a student loan (or ‘student finance’) to pay for their studies and living costs at university. This may seem overwhelming, but it’s not like other types of loans, as you only start repaying it once you earn over a certain amount. 

Those who are care experienced may be eligible for certain bursaries or scholarships – including some exclusively for care leavers – which they won’t have to pay back. 

Universities also have emergency funds for any student in financial difficulty.

For more information, see our Student Finance section and visit the Student Finance website

Where can I get more help and support?
  • Coram Voice – Am I a care leaver?
  • UCAS Care leavers – Information about making your application.
  • The Complete University Guide – A guide to what support you can expect as a care leaver.
  • Propel – Compare support available for care leavers at different universities.
  • Unite Foundation – Information on the scholarship scheme available to care leavers.
  • Care Leaver Progression Partnership – Information and support for care leavers in Kent and Medway who are considering university.
  • Standalone – Support and advice if you’re not a care leaver but are estranged from your parents and are considering university.
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