Research has shown that only 6-12% of those aged 19-21, who meet the definition of ‘care leaver’, go onto Higher Education (HE) compared to those who enter HE straight after school or college (DofE). That statistic reduces further as the individual gets older. This suggests that there are certain barriers at this stage in the student lifecycle to attending university.
For that reason, care leavers have been classified as a “key focus group” at the University of Bradford and enhancements have been made to the support offered to the care experienced community. There is a personalised package available to all students who fall within this category to encourage and support their journeys to higher education.
The assistance available includes a dedicated outreach contact who provides one-to-one support on the application and transition to university, as well as contextual admission which allows eligible applicants to receive a reduced UCAS offer of up to 16 points. There is support available through counselling services, finance assistance, careers support and peer mentoring. The step up to HE programme offered by the University of Bradford also give those who have been in the care the opportunity to meet other students and members of staff while beginning to develop some of the essential skills needed to complete a degree.
One individual who made the most of these services and has also become a care leaver Student Ambassador during her time at the University of Bradford is Aimee. She previously spent time in care and is currently studying BA (Hons) Criminology and Criminal Behaviour. She began her course at the age of 22 when she had decided to return to learn.
My journey into Higher Education was not a direct route for me. After being moved out of my parental home at 16, I had no plans of any education. It seemed to me at the time that I was not focused and engaged enough with my learning because I had the freedom to do as I wanted. I was not told when to wake up, go to sleep or even attend college. It came to a stage though where I was bored with not doing anything, I had no routine in my life. In 2017, after three years of attending different college courses that I was hardly attending I decided to make a change.
I started studying at Keighley College where I studied Health and Social Care Level 3. The first year was tricky in order to maintain my routine back into education. My attendance improved and in the second year I hardly missed a class, thanks to my amazing tutors who motivated me! It was January 2019 when I applied to university. I was 21-years-old and starting to think about higher education. At this stage I knew I wanted to help people, but a job in Health and Social care did not appeal to me.
When looking at the various and exciting courses that universities offer one stuck out to me more than others: Criminology and Criminal Behaviour. Perfect when I have always wanted a deeper understanding of why people commit crimes! I have always loved engaging in books and TV documentaries about crimes and why they occur. I chose the University of Bradford for my main choice because they have great modules, guest speakers relevant to the course, and brilliant tutors with lots of experience within Criminology. I filled in my UCAS form, wrote the personal statement, and I was on my way to university! Me, who was never attending college was now excited to be learning again.
My first set back happened in August 2019 on results day. My grades were lower than expected and I started to worry a lot because I thought I was going to lose my place at university. Bradford University sent me a letter shortly after results day offering me a reduced offer through the University Progression scheme. I was to attend events on campus worth UCAS points and this worked well because I attended an open day and two care leaver events which was very beneficial.
UCAS informed the University that I was a care leaver, and the care experienced team emailed me within days of me accepting my offer. I met with the care experienced team who offered me lots of support with mental health, money and budgeting, and points of contact if I ever needed anything. I never knew being a care leaver was so important. I found out lots of people like myself don’t come to university because they are scared they will be alone. At this point, I was asked to be a Student Ambassador where I would encourage people of all ages and personal circumstances to start thinking about higher education.
I’m quite a shy person but being a Student Ambassador for the University meant that I had to burst that bubble and become confident! I did not do many in person events because of the pandemic but I did lots of virtual events where my confidence developed. Through being an ambassador, I have visited schools – even my old one! – to speak to students and encourage them to think about higher education. Like today, I often speak with people about my experience about being a care leaver and how being a student with the University of Bradford is amazing because of the help I have received. Through my work as a care leaver ambassador, I have also received a letter of recognition from Professor Shirley Congdon for my work in the social mobility pledge.
My tips for applying to university would be: Never get yourself down because of your grades. Especially since the pandemic people have been on a rollercoaster of a journey with education and universities and colleges understand that. I often tell people there is always a way into university and in many cases which I have seen there is. Remember that you are amazing and keep working towards your goals! When you see an event advertised for an open day or applicant experience day, come and see us! It’s important to attend these events because you get a ‘feel’ for the university and your chosen course. You could speak to an academic to guide you into the course which best suits you. Never feel ashamed or like you are alone if you are care experienced. The university is a great place for support and to meet students who are also care experienced.
As I am writing this, I would like to thank some people for making me realise that I had the potential to go further with my education. Marie Murphy, for making me want to attend college in an early morning because she knew I had potential. The student life team because they have supported me in many ways and made my journey to university a great experience. The outreach and recruitment team/ Marketing, who have allowed me to develop my personal skills and confidence by pushing me to become a great Student Ambassador. Michael, for supporting me into higher education and being by my side every step of the way.