Applying to University as a Care Leaver

For many people, the biggest hurdle to overcome when applying to university is achieving the necessary grades. It can often be easy to forget that, for some, academic requirements are just one of many potential factors when deciding whether or not university is a viable choice.

Propel Logo Orange Background
Propel aims to help care leavers overcome the
difficulties concerning applying and attending university

Care leavers must consider more issues than most when applying to university, and whether you’re in this group yourself, or know someone who is, it’s important to get to grips with why care leavers are around six times less likely than other young people to progress to higher education at the same age as their peers, and what’s being done to change this.

With that in mind, we’ve teamed up with Become, the charity for children in care and young care leavers. Become runs Propel, a higher education website for young people with experience of care, and they have helped us put together the following information and advice. 

What are the issues, and what are the solutions?

1. Issue: Perceived lack of funding

For young people in care, the belief that financial support won’t be available can be hugely off-putting. While many would-be students can count on their parents to help fund their time at university, most care leavers cannot, and The Entitlements Inquiry (carried out by Become in 2013 on behalf of the APPG on Looked After Children and Care Leavers) found that a third of these young people didn’t know that they could get help with the costs of their accommodation from their local authority.

Solution: Financial support is available

While maintenance loans go a long way to covering the cost of things like rent and food, additional funding is often necessary to help make ends meet. Thankfully, in addition to the bursaries and grants available to many other students, there are many more that are almost exclusively on offer for care leavers, including: 

  • Setting Up Home Allowance (Leaving Care Grant) – This is a grant paid by your local authority when you leave care to help you with the costs of setting up home, including the things you need when you go to university. Government guidance says it should be at least £2,000.
  • Higher Education Bursary – This is a bursary paid by your local authority that entitles you to £2,000, which will usually be paid in instalments over the duration of your course.
  • The Rees Foundation – This charity awards grants of up to £400 to care leavers, with the aim of helping cover the cost of things like household items, education costs and training and employment.
  • The Unite Foundation Scholarship Scheme – Offered in partnership with 27 different universities, the scheme gives successful applicants free year-round student accommodation with no bills to pay for three years of study. You can also receive opportunities from Unite’s sponsors, including work placements and mentoring schemes.

‘There are lots of other organisations which might be able to support you financially. Check out our All about the money factsheet for further information.’

Your eligibility for many of these bursaries will depend on whether you live in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales. For more information on the funding that is available to care leavers, as well as how to apply for it, check out Propel’s website.

Also note that when you fill out your UCAS form, you’ll see a box which asks if you’ve been in care. You might feel anxious about ticking it, but as the Propel website explains, ticking the box won’t define you as a 'care leaver' while you’re at university or college. The information will remain confidential, and it simply means that universities that make you an offer may be able to provide you with additional financial and practical support, some of which could be put in place before you start.

2. Issue: Need for year-round accommodation

During the summer months, the majority of students vacate their university accommodation and head back home to live with their parents. Unfortunately, this is not an option for most care leavers.

It is never easy to find a property that can be rented on a short-term contract, let alone one that is available for the exact dates you require. Combine this with existing worries about finances, and it’s easy to see how the need for year-round accommodation can put many care leavers off applying to university.

Student In Accommodation

Solution: Most universities now provide year-round accommodation

According to Propel’s data, 84 per cent of universities now provide 365-day accommodation for care leavers. You can limit your search on the Propel website to universities that do – but even if a university doesn’t say that they offer year-round accommodation, don’t be put off. 

Speak to your local authority – they have a duty to provide you with vacation accommodation or financial assistance to help you with this if you can only get accommodation at university during term-time. You should also speak to your university as they might be able to offer you support in finding somewhere to stay during the holidays.

Visit the Propel website for more information on securing the accommodation you need while at university.

3. Issue: General perceived lack of support/advice

If someone doesn’t know that support is on offer to them, they can’t access it. There are a number of support services and initiatives that can help care leavers apply to university, but if you’re not aware of this help, it can be easy to end up feeling as though university is not a viable option.

Solution: Support is available

There are a number of websites and support services that are there to help care leavers, and you shouldn’t hesitate to use them if you’d like any help or advice when considering university as an option. Among the useful resources to use are:

  • Propel – Become, the charity which created Propel, helped us to produce this section of advice. On the Propel website, you can directly compare the support on offer to care leavers at different universities and colleges, find out the named contact with responsibility for supporting care leavers, and find inspirational stories from care-experienced students.
  • University websites – Universities understand that being a care leaver brings with it a unique selection of challenges, and most of their websites will list the support that they give. This can include a care leaver bursary, assistance in securing 365-day accommodation, as well as general support and counselling should it be needed.
  • Stand Alone – If you don’t fit the formal definition of a care leaver, but you’ve got no contact with or support from your family, Stand Alone can offer support. This charity offers advice to estranged students in England and Wales, and also has online support groups for people who are estranged from their parents.
  • Buttle UK – Similar to Stand Alone, Buttle UK offer financial support to young people who receive no support from their parents or guardians.
  • School staff – Your teachers, personal tutors and careers advisors should support you to think about whether going to university or college is right for you. While not all staff at your school or college will be able to help with issues specifically related to being a care leaver, they should help with most other aspects of your university application, and your designated teacher and Virtual School Head should be able to help with more specific advice.

Find out more about Become and Propel

Become logo

Become, the charity which created Propel, works to help all children and young people with experience of care to unleash their potential and take control of their lives. Find out more about their full range of services on their website. 

Visit the Propel website for more information and guidance if you are a care leaver – or you’re supporting a care leaver – who is interested in university.