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Find some frequently asked questions on applications for university and college.

If in doubt, get in touch with a named contact at the university or college you’re thinking of going to.

On this page, you will find a video from Jess, a care-experienced young person we support, sharing her top tips for applying. Below that, there’s a Frequently Asked Questions section from our Propel team.

Applying to uni or college can seem complicated, but if you have all your information ready, then all you will need is time.   

You’ll need to know your university choices, previous exam results, names and contact information for your references as well as your personal statement. It’s not as daunting as it sounds – there are plenty of tips online, and UCAS, Unis, and colleges may offer help with the process too.    

Want to study full-time? If you want to study in England or Wales, the application is through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). 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 study part-time? Some institutions ask you to apply directly to UCAS, while others ask you to apply through the institution. The best thing to do is to check how to apply with the named contact.  

Want to go to the Open University? You need to apply directly to the Open University.

Entry requirements can vary. Some Higher Education 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 relevant subjects such as chemistry.  

Although entry requirements are there for a reason, don’t be put off straight away if you haven’t met them. Reach out to 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. The university might offer some flexibility called contextualised admissions, 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 and 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 clicking on our FAQ, ‘What is Clearing and how does it work?’ – find it by scrolling down.

Some universities offer Compact Schemes or widening access programmes that can help students who face additional barriers to going to university. Some Compact Schemes offer UCAS points upon completion of a course (or lower offers). Others may have a scheme that gives additional support with your application and may give you the opportunity to explain more about your personal circumstances. Have a chat with 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 retaking your exams and applying next year.  Have a chat with 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.    

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 questions about what it’s like to study there and see inside the accommodation. If you decide to apply, do mention in your personal statement that you went to the open day and what it was 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 open day. 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 find out more about a particular subject, you might be able to attend free lectures or other events at universities or colleges near 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.  

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, parents, or any other adults you trust. You should also speak to the named contact at all the places you’ve applied to. 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 do’s 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 you in your studies.   

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 three mornings a week every week to go to swimming practice shows commitment, dedication and passion – all things that admissions tutors will be looking for!  

Don’t forget, if you get invited to an interview, they’ll probably ask you questions about your personal statement, so always be totally honest and don’t get tempted to exaggerate the truth!  UCAS also checks to see if you’ve copied your personal statement from someone else, so don’t try to take this shortcut.   

It’s totally up to you whether you write about your care experience in your personal statement. You won’t be judged 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, paid opportunities or activities you take part in  
  • 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, 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. Alternatively, you can use lots of these examples without mentioning that you were in care.    

The form will give you room to write between 500 and 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.  

Ticking the box won’t identify you as a care leaver to all your tutors, 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 to let them know about the support available once they’ve made an offer. However, if you don’t tick the care leaver box, they won’t be able to do that and it may take longer to get support in place.  

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 with 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.  

Not all universities and colleges will give interviews before offering a place. However, some might offer you an interview or audition because of the type of course you’ve applied for, like drama or dance. But others may invite you to interview no matter what course you want to study. If you are offered an interview, 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.  

Top tips:  

  • Check you know where you’re going, and how you’re getting there, and book any travel or accommodation in advance.  Leave plenty of time in case of delays.   
  • 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!).  

“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.”  

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 the 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 on 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.