Tick The Box – unlocking support at university

Kelly exceeded her own beliefs when she left care and was accepted to study Sociology at the University of Sunderland. Since then, she’s gone on to do a master’s degree in Global Human Resource Management at Newcastle University and is now working at the Care Leaver Covenant, supporting care experienced students in further education.

At first, I did not have the belief that university was something that I could ever be capable of. It was the Choices course, that my local authority sent me on, that started to give me the belief that it was something I could do. On the Choices course we went to different local universities, who would do sessions with us, for example telling us about different courses, UCAS applications and student finance, to clear some of the myths of being unworthy to go to university as a care leaver.

My experience of the application process was mixed. My student finance application made me realise how different to the ‘average’ student I was. When they asked for proof of your parents’ income– that was challenging. I had to prove I had been looked after, which required documentation from my local authority. However, once I was past that, my UCAS application was very much straightforward; once I got past the hurdle of being able to write my personal statement. That was more of a confidence issue rather than a practical one.

I ticked the box to say I had experience of care because my social worker told me that it was very important. It unlocked not only financial support but lots of other support too, such as having someone I could go to with my day-to-day issues.

Building a future

At the start, someone from my university got in touch, to introduce themselves and to have an initial meeting with me. Even though I already knew them from the Choices course the local authority had sent me on, it was a lifesaver; I would have dropped out had I not been supported in the way I had.

Once I got to university, the best thing was the freedom. Leaving the care system and having the opportunity to control my own life and my own path. It was also so important that I had people who believed in me and what I could do, even when I personally couldn’t.

In my final year of university, I was persistently asked about what I wanted to do next, and I didn’t have a clue if I’m honest. It wasn’t until the September after I graduated that I decided to do a master’s. I applied two weeks before the course start date! I got interested in Human Resources through someone my partner worked with. She told me about the process and that doing a master’s was the best way to get into it for me, since I already had a undergraduate degree.

Now I’m working as a Covenant Progression Coordinator for the Care Leaver Covenant. I work with care leavers in further education, with a few students studying as higher education students too. I started this role in September as part of a pilot scheme between the Care Leaver Covenant and the National Colleges Group. My remit is in the North of England. I applied for this job because of someone who supported me during my undergraduate studies believed that the role was something I would be good at. 

Room for improvement and advice

I am so glad I decided to apply for university, but the application process could be improved. For instance, it would have been better to not be reminded that I didn’t have birth parents to back me up through the process. The student finance application should also be easier, for example, the process to give proof that you are a care leaver.

I would tell other care experienced people considering university to do it! You are worth it, you can do it and don’t allow anyone else to tell you otherwise. Please apply! Also do your research, find out what different universities do to support care leavers, enquire which course is right for you and so forth. Weigh up different universities on the factors that mean the most to you. Grab every opportunity!

Kelly is supporting The Fostering Network’s campaign to encourage care experienced young people to consider further and higher education and to Tick The Box to say they have experience of care to make sure they have access to support and funding. Find out how you can join our Tick The Box campaign