We recognise that care leavers are under-represented in higher education and are committed to offering support for these applicants to study at Heriot-Watt. We can provide access to the advice, guidance, financial support and accommodation required to allow care leavers the opportunity to succeed at university.

What is a care leaver?

  • A care leaver is defined as a person aged 25 or under, who has been looked after by a local authority for at least 13 weeks since the age of 14; and who was looked after by the local authority at school-leaving age or after that date.
  • Background in care: anyone not at this time in the process of leaving care but who at some time has been in the care of a local authority for at least 13 weeks, whether away from home or in the home, will be considered to have a background in care, and therefore be eligible for support. Normally support would be similar to that offered mature students.
  • “Looked after”, or “in the care of a local authority” includes at home under a care order, in foster care, in local authority accommodation, or under kinship care.

Heriot-Watt University supports care leavers 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. If you meet the definition of a care leaver (as above) you are advised to tick this field in 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 leaver students.

When your application is considered, you will be asked to provide evidence that you meet the definition of a care leaver. This will be in the form of a letter from the relevant social work department or head teacher.

How your application is considered

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

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, care leavers 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

Heriot-Watt University administers an Access Bursary and invites applications from those who have spent a significant amount of time in care/being looked-after anywhere in the UK.  Students who are awarded this will receive a total of £1,000 bursary for each year of study as long as they progress.  If a student is taking part in a work placement, the bursary will not normally be paid in this year.  Care leavers are strongly encouraged to apply for the Access Bursary.

Details and information on how to apply, plus an application form are available on the Access Bursaries (Scotland) page.

Summer School

Care leavers are encouraged to participate in the Heriot-Watt Summer School, a three day event that takes place prior to Welcome Week which helps participants prepare for starting at Heriot-Watt.


All new students are guaranteed a place in University-managed accommodation on our Edinburgh and Scottish Borders campuses. Heriot-Watt is able to offer year-round accommodation for care leaver students.

For care leavers resident in Scotland, the Vacation Grant for Care Leavers is available from SAAS to help with accommodation costs during summer vacation periods. To be eligible for this grant, care leavers must have been in care immediately before the beginning of their programme of study or at the end of secondary education. Please contact SAAS directly if you are eligible and wish to apply for this grant.

Details can be found in section 6 (page 29) of the SAAS Guide to undergraduate support.

Advice and support

For advice, guidance and support for care leavers, contact Pat Reid, Colleges and Wider Access Officer. 

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.