Learn with Care to Go Higher: Barriers to Higher Education for care-experienced students

This article looks at some of the barriers that care-experienced students may face when entering or succeeding in Higher Education (HE). The challenges, which may overlap with each other, can be factors in reduced progression to HE for individuals when compared to their non-care experienced peers. 

I would like to think the majority of those reading this blog will have a positive mindset in relation to supporting care-experienced students. However, understanding where there may be a lack of support can help to overcome the barriers.  

Go Higher West Yorkshire (GHWY) is always looking to raise awareness of the difficulties care-experienced students may encounter, and discuss ways that key influencers can help.  

Lack of support to thrive and progress 

Care-experienced students may have had multiple foster homes, schools and social circles throughout their time in education. This means they may not have had the opportunity to build relationships with their peers, teachers or even foster carers. Not having someone who knows them, or their capabilities, means there’s likely to be less support or guidance with their own goals in mind.  

To support students in this situation it’s important to be a positive and optimistic presence to help them realise their potential, even if you only have a short period of time to interact with them. This can be done by encouraging their goals or discussing how their challenges could be overcome.  

Limited inspiration and culture of progression

Students that aren’t from a care background often have family members who’ve studied at HE or role models from a similar background to inspire their progression.  

There are very successful people from care backgrounds, including actor Marilyn Monroe and business magnate Steve Jobs, but their care-leaver status isn’t often known to the public. This can make it feel like there are very few role models to inspire care-experienced young people. Read more about the importance of role models for care-experienced individuals.

Foster carers are statistically less likely to have experience of HE when compared with the general population. This means they may not have first-hand experience of applying to or studying at that level. GHWY has run the Care to Go Higher programme, which helps key influencers increase their understanding of HE and better support care-experienced students, for three years. We plan to run the programme again in 2023-24 – keep checking our website for updates.  

Poor mental health and self-perception 

Care-experienced young people have much higher rates of mental health difficulties than the general population. Some common diagnoses are anxiety, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  

Difficult formative years can also affect an individual’s self-perception, which can be detrimental when they need to showcase their strengths and skills in a positive light when applying to HE. This can really affect a young person’s confidence or ability to ask for help.  

There are many mental health support services available in the UK from the NHS, schools and colleges, and relevant charities. Making use of them can help individuals to manage their thoughts and feelings. They can also offer coping strategies to help overcome challenges in life, such as the HE application process.  

Self-perception can be difficult to overcome but some things to look out for are jumping to negative conclusions, focusing on negatives more than positives, and mistaking feelings for facts. There are many online resources to help with this and using them with young people can help make the application process less intimidating. 


This article has covered some of the more prevalent challenges for care-experienced young people accessing HE but many more can exist, The barriers are dependent on the individual and their own experiences: they may struggle with some, none, or all of them. The best way to proceed is to communicate with the young people to find out what issues they may face at any point in time.   

GHWY is keen to share knowledge that can help key influencers support students when they need it most and keep the HE experience a positive one. 

Read previous blogs in the Learn with Care to Go Higher series. 


Dominic House, GHWY Care to Go Higher Delivery Officer