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IMO was created by the Children’s Commissioner for England in collaboration with an advisory network of teenagers with care experience. In this post the Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, shares practical tips to help if you are thinking of applying to university and if you are starting university, as well as places to get support if you need it.

As Children’s Commissioner for England, I want to support all care leavers to pursue their dreams. If you are a care leaver who is thinking about applying to university or have already secured a place to start this year, I hope you find this guide of tips and resources helpful.


I want to signpost some of the previous posts on IMO that you might find useful.

Firstly, we have compiled a list of contact details for the care leavers teams at universities and colleges. The care leaver teams have the responsibility to support you during your transition into university and throughout your course.

Within the IMO Podcast series there are lots of podcasts from different care leavers sharing their experiences of university, you can listen to Cambridge graduate and care leaver Ashley John Baptiste’s experience, Isabelle’s experience of leaving care and university, Steven’s story of studying to be a social worker and Zara’s story about starting university during the COVID-19 pandemic. There is also a post on sharing an experience of going to university as a care leaver and videos on studying at the University of Oxford as a care leaver and applying for university as a care leaver.

My team and I are always interested in hearing directly from you, if you are interested in sharing your experience please reach out via the Become a Creator section on the IMO website.

Help at Hand

My Help at Hand team is available to any child in care or care leaver to support with liaising with the university’s care leavers support team on issues regarding accommodation and financial support.

As a care leaver you will also have the right to independent advocacy through the leaving care team that supports you. If you want to find out more about your rights and what support you are entitled to, you can contact the Help at Hand team on 0800 528 0731 or through their email [email protected] .

Examples of support that the Help at Hand team has provided to care leavers at university:

The Help at Hand team has supported many care leavers with navigating starting university. Here are a few examples of the types of support the team has provided in the past.

Chloe is a 23-year-old care leaver from England. After working for a while, she decided to go to university in Wales and moved there before she started her course. She contacted Help at Hand for advice about whether she should apply for her student loan in England or Wales and how she could access financial support to help her throughout her studies. The team supported her to access a range of resources, including a bursary which she was entitled to as a care leaver until she was 25.

Tom is a 22-year-old care leaver who contacted Help at Hand after he had completed his undergraduate degree to ask for advice about how to access financial support during his postgraduate studies. The team advised him that his local authority (LA) may be able to provide support but that it would depend on his LA’s Local Offer for Care Leavers. The LA offered a one-off bursary for master’s degrees which was allocated on a case-by-case basis. To support Tom to access the financial support he needed to complete his master’s degree, the team wrote a supporting letter to service managers on Tom’s behalf which set out why he should receive this funding. In response the LA allocated the bursary which will support him throughout his studies.

Tips for navigating university

Below is a list of tips and resources for finding out more about applying to university, and if you are starting university, for settling in and making the most of your experience.

Tip 1: Reach out for support about navigating applying for university or starting university  

Tip 2: Do some research to compare different universities support offers for care leavers

Tip 3: Seek out emotional wellbeing support, there are people out there ready to help you 

Tip 4: Find out about what financial support you can access as a care leaver at university

Tip 5: Consider what accommodation options are available to you as a care leaver

University is an incredible experience and I hope you enjoy yourself. Be sure to join societies and clubs. Every university has a students’ union which will often host a fair during the first term showcasing all of the clubs and societies on offer. Joining a club or society can be a good way to make friends with like-minded people and discover new passions and hobbies.

Finally, I wish you the best of luck in your university journey ahead.

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