Students with care experience

One of our care experienced alumni talks about her time at Heriot-Watt

How we can help

We recognise that students with care experience are under-represented in higher education and are committed to offering support for you to study at Heriot-Watt. We can provide access to the advice, guidance, financial support and accommodation required to help you succeed at university. We offer a named point of contact and support within the University, from pre-entry advice through to support during your time with us.

If you disclose your care experience on your UCAS application form by ticking the relevant checkbox, we will contact you with more details of how we can help.

Remember you can make use of our support as much or as little as you wish.

What is care experience?

Anyone who has been or is currently in care or from a looked after background at any stage of their life, no matter how short.  This care may have been provided in one of many different settings, such as in residential care, foster care, kinship care or looked after at home with a supervision requirement.

Heriot-Watt University supports those with care experience in the following ways:


UCAS form

We have put together guidance to help you complete your UCAS application.  UCAS also provides dedicated advice for care leavers wishing to apply to university.

When you apply you will be asked on your UCAS form to indicate if you have spent time in care by ticking a checkbox on your application form. If you are care experienced, please tick this box when completing your UCAS application. This enables the University to offer you appropriate support and give due consideration to your application. This information will be treated as confidential and only shared among staff involved in supporting care experienced students.

When your application is considered, you may be asked to provide evidence that you are care experienced. This will be in the form of a letter from the relevant social work department, support worker, head teacher, principal, lecturer, or other suitable individual. Please contact us if you are unsure as to who you could ask to evidence your care experience, as we realise this can be difficult, especially if your care experience was a long while ago.

How your application is considered

Where possible, we aim to make an offer to any any care experienced applicant who meets the minimum entry requirements for the course to which they have applied. Entry requirements for each course are listed within each degree programme.

When considering applications, we take the applicant's circumstances into account and recognise that some people will have faced more obstacles that others during their school or college career, which may have impacted their grades.  Therefore, those with care experience are considered under Heriot-Watt University’s Contextual Admissions Policy.

The Contextual Admissions Policy is explained in part 4 of Heriot-Watt University’s Undergraduate Admissions Policy (section 4.4). 

Applicants studying Highers or Advanced Highers may be given a measure of flexibility at the offer-making stage and/or at confirmation. Flexibility may take one or more of the following forms:

  • Making an offer of, or accepting a student at confirmation with, up to two grades lower than the standard entry requirements. For example, AABB would become BBBB, AACC or ABBC.
  • Making an offer of, or accepting a student at confirmation with, one less Higher than the standard entry requirements. For example, AABB would be AAB or ABB. BBBBC would be BBBB or BBBC.
  • At the offer or confirmation stage, counting one Advanced Higher taken in S6 as additional to the Higher taken in the same subject in S5, (as opposed to current practice where an Advanced Higher cancels out the same Higher).
Financial support

If you are care experienced, you are eligible to apply for our Heriot-Watt Access Bursary. Students who are awarded an Access Bursary receive a total of £1,000 for each year of their undergraduate studies. 

Students with care experience are eligible for support towards travel costs for each year of their undergraduate studies.

The Student Award Agency Scotland (SAAS) currently provide a Care Experienced Students Bursary. The Care Experienced Students Bursary is available to eligible full-time Scottish domiciled students undertaking an eligible undergraduate course. You can see more information about this bursary and if you would be eligible.

Other student finance agencies also have support specifically for students with care experience. Make sure you check what you are entitled to.

Get Ready for Success at HWU

Individuals with care experience are encouraged to participate in the Get Ready for Success, a three day event that takes place prior to Welcome Week which helps participants prepare for starting at Heriot-Watt.


The University guarantees to make an offer for accommodation to all eligible students in their first year of study. Please see our accommodation guarantee for full details.

Students with care experience are also eligible for year-round access to University accommodation for the duration of their studies. Visit the accommodation webpage for more information. 

Please email when you apply for accommodation so we can discuss the options available to you.

Advice and support

For advice, guidance and support for applicants with care experience, contact Pat Reid, Colleges and Wider Access Officer. If you are already a student at Heriot-Watt you can also contact Emma Smail, Student Wellbeing and Transition Advisor (Edinburgh Campus) or Gillian Mclaughlin, Student Advisor (Scottish Borders Campus).

Corporate Parenting

Over 2016-18 we’ve been taking forward a number of activities to support our role as a Corporate Parent. You can find out what we’ve been doing in our Review Report.  Our most recent Corporate Parent Policy and Corporate Parent Plan covers 2018-21.

The Active Student Programme

During your time at Heriot-Watt you might want to de-stress by engaging in sport and exercise. The Active Student Programme is an option available to you to help you get started, where you are entitled to a free 12-week exercise programme with support from an exercise professional.

For more information regarding referral to this programme please email Emma Smail, Student Wellbeing and Transition Officer (Edinburgh Campus) or Gillian McLaughlin, Student Advisor (Scottish Borders Campus).

Key information

Patricia Reid