Sasha’s care leaver story

Journey to studying at Higher Education (HE)

I was permanently excluded from school aged 15 with no GCSEs and attended a PRU [pupil referral unit] for what would have been Year 11. At the age of 16, I enrolled on a course at Bradford College and returned to education. Soon after starting my course, I was handed the keys to my first flat and began living independently.

I struggled massively and found myself dropping out and never returning after the Christmas holidays. This became a recurring pattern for years to come. Every academic year, I enrolled myself on a course at Bradford College. I was keen to secure an education, but financial and mental health issues resulted in me again dropping out by Christmas.

It was not until my 5th and 6th attempt at college that I successfully completed an academic year. It took me another two years to get my GCSE’s as I studied English and Biology in one year, and Maths and Chemistry in another. At the time, I had a court case pending and was looking at potentially serving a custodial sentence but I believe this was the push I needed.

I finally had the requirements to enrol on to the Level 3 Access to Higher Education (Health and Social Care Professions) course at Bradford College. As I had been a student for six years, the course tutor recognised me and recalled I had a poor track record. She seemed reluctant to have me as one of her students and warned me that if she allowed me on her course, it would be my final chance at Bradford College.

Support from HE staff

She turned out to be an amazing woman who 100% believed in me. I will remember her for the rest of my life. As much as it was down to myself, her support and encouragement helped me get through the year. Access courses are designed to get you into university and I remember researching courses and universities and writing my personal statement not long after the course started.

Our tutor arranged for representatives from most universities we were considering to come in and provide us with more information, as we were a small group who all wanted to stay locally.

I was considering Bradford, Huddersfield and a few in Leeds. I remember Caroline Priestley [Senior Recruitment and Outreach Officer, University of Bradford] coming in to speak to us. She was extremely approachable and gave off nothing but positive vibes.

I received offers from all the universities I applied for and I was over the moon. I accepted and chose Bradford because I researched every single module and assessment method before applying and had a great interest. I also read up lecturer profiles and found their experiences very interesting. Saving money on travel was also another reason as I walk to and from uni.

Wanting to study at university

I remember being 14 or 15 and I was living in a children’s home at the time and I developed a strong drive to go to university. I was not too familiar with the formalities of education, but I knew A levels were needed to go to university.

Even though I had no GCSEs I used to apply for A levels because I was so desperate to go to university. The staff in my children’s home used to tell me it does not work like that, but I did not want to hear it, I was a very stubborn teenager. I knew from back then I was going to go to university no matter what.

Experience of studying at University of Bradford

I have so far had a positive experience of studying at the University of Bradford. The enrolment procedure was quick and easy and I became familiar with campus quickly.

I have found the lecturers on my course to have a vast amount of personal experience of working in and doing research in the Criminal Justice System which is always very interesting to hear about. Lecturers and my Personal Academic Tutors respond to emails quickly and have made it clear that we are more than welcome to email them or drop by their office.

I am a big foodie and I love the food from the canteen. There is also an app where you can collect loyalty points which comes with its own benefits, like cake on your birthday. I also love the fact there is Starbucks and Costa on campus. Last year I spent a lot of time studying in the library. I like the fact that is it 24/7, spacious and has silent zones.

Support available at the University fore care-experienced students

Before attending university, I was aware that Social Services would continue to support me after 21 if I stayed in Higher Education but I did not realise being a Care Leaver would be a thing at university.

It is nice that it is recognised and additional support is offered. For example, last year I applied for the role of Care Experienced Student Ambassador and did not have to go through an interview process. I found this to be extremely helpful as Emma Thomason (the contact for Care Experienced students) personally met with me and we had a great informal chat about my experiences and the role.

Advice to other care-experienced students who are considering studying at university

I would say do not let the thought of the length of a degree put you off. Time goes so fast. I can’t believe I am in my second year already.

Starting university was one of the best things I have ever done for myself and I never thought I would enjoy being a student as much as I do. Nobody can take your education away from you, it’s yours for life. There is so much support and so many opportunities available to care leavers, grab it all with both hands.

Favourite thing about being a student at the University of Bradford

In September as I was scrolling through my emails, I came across one from UBU [University of Bradford Union of Students] about an upcoming hike as part of the Kick Start activities and signed up. I loved it and have been attending every week since. I am enjoying it so much that I have even invested in a pair of hiking boots.

Next week will be my fifth week. I have not even been back at university a month and through Kick Start I have canoed, rock climbed, zip wired and climbed two mountains in the Yorkshire Dales. These activities have had a positive effect on my mental health and given me such a confidence boost. I now know about destinations to go for a nice walk that are easily accessible by train and would feel confident going alone or with friends.

I am enjoying being able to interact with other students and as most lectures are online it is not posible to do this through attending university. Being involved in Kick Start is my favourite thing about being a student at Bradford.


Article reproduced with permission from University of Bradford.