I had decided from an early age that I loved school. Even though I was bullied, and I never really made friends at school, it was always better than being at home. I loved learning, I loved reading and I loved my teachers. It was my escape.
After school I used to watch lots of documentaries, and I was super nerdy. I loved being in the library and reading, admittedly it was fiction and definitely included a lot of teenage books where I was just reading about ’normal’ girls. I also watched so many films about going to university too – I pictured myself away from my family, where I could read all day and make friends on my own terms, with people like me. That carried on pretty much until I was 18. I never changed my mind or doubted it, I just knew I wanted to go.
Applying for university
Applying for university was a rollercoaster. I was terrified, excited, nervous, proud – but it also brought up a lot of tough feelings. My parents told me I would never get into university and there were a lot of things that made me unsure and feel a little stupid I had even bothered applying – especially for top universities. But I had a purpose and a real drive to succeed, and I guess the universities I applied to saw that. When I got in, I was so proud of myself. It’s not a major thing to anybody who’s not in care, but for me it means everything.
Generally speaking, for a lot of people in care, you need just one person who believes in you. Cling onto that and carry that with you when you struggle. At my sixth form we had an assigned ‘university advisor’ who was really experienced in personal statements and the UCAS system. I went to her a lot and told her what I wanted. Her advice was amazing. I doubt I would be at one of the best universities in the country, had it not been partly for her.
Ticking the Box
I did consider not ticking the box. I wanted a university to take me based on my experience and what I would 'bring to the table’ so to speak, not just accept me to make a good statistic. But my UCAS advisor and my foster family advised me to be honest and that I’d be given help (help that I would need to succeed) and if I didn’t tick the box, I might not receive that. As far as I was concerned, I wanted my degree so badly that if I had to give up a little of my pride by ticking a box, then I would do that for something I had been dreaming about for a long time.
Thriving at university
I'm now studying criminology and social policy, and I definitely picked the right course for me. I am really enjoying spending time with my flatmates – I’ve got more people to add to my family! They’ve taught me a lot about myself, but equally I’m learning so much from them.
Education is an enabler. It’s something I don’t hear enough, and I want to hear more. Experience and confidence are key, but I truly believe education can make a huge difference.
I’d tell any care experienced student considering university, to go for it! Work hard, focus on something you really want to change – that is the thing that will make you work hardest, because you’ll be passionate about it. You’ll know if it's right.
Elle is supporting The Fostering Network’s campaign to encourage care experienced young people to consider further and higher education and to Tick The Box to say they have experience of care and make sure they have access to support and funding. Find out how you can join our Tick The Box campaign.