How do I apply?
Applying to uni isn’t that complicated, but it might take a bit of time. You’ll have to write a personal statement, choose your universities and give info about previous exam results, as well as provide references. It’s not as daunting as it sounds – there are plenty of tips online, and UCAS and unis may offer help with the process too.
Want to study full time? If you want to study in England or Wales, application is through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). It might be different in Scotland or Northern Ireland (you can read about why it might be different below). It’s also where you apply for undergraduate and postgraduate performing arts courses studied at conservatoires, and some other specialist post-graduate schemes.
Want to go to the Open University? You need to apply directly to the Open University.
Want to study in Northern Ireland or Scotland? Some institutions ask for applications to be made directly to them, not through UCAS. These include St Mary’s University College, Belfast and some regional colleges in Northern Ireland, and some colleges in Scotland – have a look at their website to find out how to apply for the course that you want.
What if my grades aren’t good enough?
Entry requirements can vary. Some HE institutions will want you to get a certain number of UCAS points, others will want you to have studied a specific subject beforehand. For instance, to study medicine, most universities will require you to have studied a related subject like biology or chemistry.
Although entry requirements are there for a reason, don't be put off straight away. Contact the named contact at the college or university to let them know you are interested in applying, and ask them to explain what the requirements are for the course. There might be some flexibility, or they might be able to suggest a course that is similar but has different entry requirements.
If you have conditional offers, but your results don’t go to plan and they won’t accept your actual grades when you call them, don’t panic. They might be able to suggest another course that is similar but has lower entry requirements. If you really want to attend that university, this might be an option for you.
You can use Clearing from results day. Clearing is a list of all the courses that aren’t full yet, and that you can apply for. You can find out more by looking at our FAQ, 'What is Clearing and how does it work?' - find it here.
Some universities offer Compact Schemes or widening access programmes that can help students who face additional barriers to go to university. Some Compact Schemes offer UCAS points upon completion of a course (or lower offers), while others may be a scheme that gives additional support or help with your application and may give you the opportunity to explain more about your personal circumstances. Have a chat to the named contact, to see if the university has a Compact Scheme you could apply for.
If you need specific grades for a course, and you really want to study it but your grades don’t quite make it, you could also think about applying next year and retaking your exams. Have a chat to your personal adviser about your options. These might include other study or training options like apprenticeships - and these may still take you on to university later on.
Can I ‘try' before I apply?
Yes. Many places will offer open days, summer schools, campus tours and taster sessions to encourage you to go there. They’re a great way for you to get a feel of a place before deciding if it’s right for you.
Tours on open days are often run by students at the university, so you can ask them lots of questions about what it’s like to study there, and see inside the accommodation. If you decide to apply, you should mention that you went on the open day in your personal statement, and what it was about it that made you want to apply. They’ll be impressed you made the effort to find out more.
Get in touch with the named contact at the university or college you’re thinking of applying to find out when they’re holding the next one. You can also look at the National Network for the Education of Care Leavers website, which lists different outreach activities at different universities and colleges around England.
If you want to try out or find out more about a particular subject, you might be able to attend free lectures or other events at universities or colleges near to you. Ask your personal adviser or virtual school team to see if they can help.
If you’re in Wales you could get in touch with your local Reaching Wider Partnership, just search for ‘Reaching Wider’ online, or you can find out more about the programme and what they do here.Tours on open days are often run by students at the university, so you can ask them lots of questions about what it’s like to study there, and see inside the accommodation.
I need to write a personal statement - help!
It’s a good idea to start your personal statement as early as possible so you can get help from your teacher, carer, social worker or parents, or any other adults you trust. You should also speak to the named contact at the places where you’ve applied. They will be able to give you the inside info on the types of things that they like and look out for.
You'll also find lots of general advice about what to include and the dos and don'ts of writing a great statement on the internet - check out UCAS and What Uni for starters. Your personal statement is your chance to explain to the university why they should accept you onto the course. They'll want to know why you've chosen your course, and how your experience inside and outside the classroom will help.
It can be really daunting looking at a blank page and knowing you have to write about yourself! So don't be afraid to talk to other people about what they think your strengths are, or why they think you're passionate about your subject. You might not be an Olympic swimmer, but getting up at 5am to go to swimming practice every day shows commitment, dedication and passion - all things that admissions tutors will be looking for!
Don't forget, if you get invited to interview, they'll probably ask you questions about your personal statement, so be honest. UCAS also check to see if you've copied your personal statement from someone else, so don't be tempted to cheat.
It’s totally up to you whether you write about your care experience in your personal statement. You won’t be judged either way for your decision.
Either way, being in care might have given you lots of experiences and personal qualities that you can write about in your personal statement, like being able to adapt to new situations, or having been a peer mentor.
If being in care has:
- inspired your choice of course
- led to any volunteering or paid opportunities or activities you take part in in your spare time
- led to any positions of responsibility (such as a member of your children in care council, or chairing your review meetings)
- given you the opportunity to attend any summer camps or other activities run by the university, college, your school or local authority
- made you better at coping and adapting to new situations (such as a change of placement)
- made you more disciplined and determined
...then these are all things you could write about and use as examples in your personal statement, and in an interview. Of course, you can use lots of these examples without mentioning that you were in care.
The form will give you room to write about 700 words, but it’s what you write not how much that’s most important.Did you know? There’s a tickbox on the UCAS application form for care leavers.
Why do I need to tick the care leaver box? I don’t want to be known as a ‘care leaver.’
Ticking the box won’t define you as a care leaver, but what it could mean is the uni will give you extra financial and practical support. Some unis and colleges get in contact with care leavers if they make them an offer to let them know about the support that they offer – and if you don’t tick the box, they won’t be able to do that.
Please don’t worry about being known as a care leaver – it’s only for the university or college’s information, and helps them to put any extra support or funding they offer in place before your course starts. UCAS explain more about why it’s REALLY important to tick the box on their website.
If you’re worried, have a chat to the named contact at the university about how they might use the information.Ticking the box won’t define you as a care leaver, but what it could mean is the uni will give you extra financial and practical support.
I’m nervous about having an interview.
Not all universities and colleges will give interviews before offering a place. Some might offer you an interview or audition because of the type of course you’ve applied to do, like drama or dance, but others may invite you to interview no matter what course you want to study. If you get one, it means you’ve already impressed them with your application.
It’s normal to feel nervous. Most people get a few butterflies before an important meeting - especially with people they don’t know. But remember, this is just another chance for you to shine.
“Coming from care, you spend a lot of time meeting people in authority and having to deal and adapt to new situations. You’ll probably find you have much more experience and maturity than a lot of other school leavers.”
- Check you know where you’re going, how you’re getting there, and book any travel or accommodation in advance.
- Take a copy of your application form and read your personal statement beforehand – they might ask you questions about this.
- Make sure you know what the course involves - for example, is it coursework or exams? How is it structured and taught?
- Be prepared to answer why you chose the course and the uni or college (give reasons other than the funding they offer!).
- Be prepared to talk about any special interests, hobbies or work experience.
- Dress smartly, but you don’t have to buy or wear a suit.
- Think of a few questions to ask them.
- Be enthusiastic – about the course, the subject and the university!
- Relax, smile and be yourself.
- If you don’t know the answer to a question, ask them to rephrase it or repeat it. Don’t assume that you won't get in if a question goes badly. And remember – the interview isn’t over until you have left the room (and they’ve closed the door behind you!).
What is Clearing and how does it work?
You can use Clearing from results day. Clearing is a list of all the courses that aren’t full yet, and that you can apply for. You are most likely to need to use Clearing if you don't get the grades that you were predicted. The idea is that you find a course that you are interested in from the list, check that your grades meet the entry requirements, and get in touch with the university or college directly. You can find out more about how the process works here.
Your Pathway Plan should include a backup option, in case your grades are lower than you need to go to your first choice university. It's a really good idea to make sure that you understand how the Clearing process works before results day. There will be a lot going on that day!
Make sure that your Personal Adviser and/or your carer are on hand to support you on results day, either in person or by phone. If you think you might not get the grades you were predicted, tell them in advance, so that they can be prepared to help you through the Clearing process. Places can move fast, so having someone available to talk through your options and help you make decisions is really important.
When you call universities during Clearing, make sure that you tell them you are a care leaver. That way, staff can talk to you about extra support that they offer. You may be put through to the person at the university who holds responsibility for supporting care-experienced students, with things like accommodation or finances.
If you find a place through Clearing, your Pathway Plan will need to be reviewed. The change in circumstances may have a knock-on effect for where you live and the support you’ll receive. Get any arrangements discussed between you and your Personal Adviser written down in your Pathway Plan as soon as possible – don’t rely on a verbal agreement.
It is really important to make sure you choose the right course at the right university for you. It’s disappointing not to go to university when you were expecting to. But it may be better to take some time to think about things if you don't find a course you want to do at a university you want to attend. Remember, if you start a course and then drop out, you will have to pay back any student loans (like your tuition fee loan and maintenance loan) and you might have to pay back bursaries or grants that you have received too.
If you’re close to, or over 21 and you don’t find a course that’s suitable during Clearing, then ask your Personal Adviser about what continuing support you’ll be entitled to from your local authority, if you’ll no longer be in education, or plan to take a gap year.
How do I get support?
If in doubt, get in touch with a named contact at the university or college you’re thinking of going to.