My journey into higher education: Kirsty Capes

I was in care from aged 2 onwards. In school and college I was extremely lucky to have a supportive home environment which encouraged me to participate in extra curriculars, and foster parents who forced me to finish my homework(!) I am absolutely certain that had it not been for this situation – where I was so completely supported and encouraged – I would not have been able to move into higher education.

I started my MA in 2014, a year before the introduction of government loans for postgraduate study. While studying for my MA I worked 4 days a week which helped me to save for my eventual PhD, which I started in 2015, researching female-centric care narratives in 21st century fiction.

While I had a lot of help financially from my local authority and the government during my BA, I self-funded both my MA and my PhD. The government does now offer loans for these types of degrees which certainly makes PG study more accessible for those from less privileged backgrounds. Additionally, lots of universities now offer scholarships for care experienced students to access postgraduate study. Once I had committed to self-funding my degrees, I didn’t bother to look up other funding routes available to me as a member of a group under-represented in higher education. This is something I would encourage anyone starting out on their postgraduate journey to do. While government grants are few and far between nowadays, many universities have compensated by offering their own scholarships for CEPs, and it’s worth checking out what’s available at your chosen institution before making an application.

I was very lucky to go through the care system in a comparably straightforward and supported manner. I know many, many CEPs do not have the same experience and acknowledge that because of this, accessing higher education has been easier for me than it would be for many others who have spent time in the care system.

I would recommend any CEP considering PG study to reach out to their university’s Widening Participation / Access Officer. In the final year of my PhD I struggled financially and reaching out to my representative allowed me to access routes I didn’t know were available to me and had a tangibly positive effect on my funding situation. Reflecting on my time in HE, I would highly recommend that any care leavers considering postgraduate study research opportunities for funding and support, and make full use of the resources available to them before making a firm commitment.

These days, I work at a publishing house and have just handed in my PhD, awaiting my viva. I’m not sure what the future holds in terms of my journey through higher education but its impact on me has been profound and lifelong. Postgraduate study can be difficult and lonesome at times – but achieving that milestone, or getting to the top of the proverbial hill, is an incredible feeling which is even more delicious when done in defiance of society’s expectations. There is no better feeling than putting on that mortarboard and collecting your degree on that stage, knowing that you have struggled against the odds to earn your place here, and more than that, you deserve to be here, and that there is a space carved out just for you.

You can read my blog post about being a care leaver in higher education here and follow me on Twitter here.

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