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A guide to the new UCAS questions for 2023 entry onwards

You may have heard by now that there are some new questions on the UCAS application for students applying to enter HE from 2023 onwards. They are intended to help universities to better support groups of students who may face barriers to HE access and success. But what are the new questions? And how should you support your students in answering them?

Whilst it’s still a little too early for most students to be applying, UCAS applications for the 2023 entry cycle are already open. Students you support who are finishing Year 12 or S5 may already be putting together their applications and making choices about where to apply. 

You might have heard from UCAS that some new questions have been added to the application for 2023 entry onwards. In this article I run through some of these questions so you can understand more about what your students might be asked. 

Free School Meals

UCAS have introduced the following new question on Free School Meals (FSM) status: 

Are you currently receiving free school meals, or have you been in receipt of free school meals during your secondary education?  Yes/No/Don’t know

Most of your students should have a fairly clear sense of whether or not they have been in receipt of FSM. The criteria for FSM varies across the different UK nations. In England, children are entitled to FSM if their parents or carers are in receipt of certain means tested benefits. FSM in England tend to end after Year 11 (except in the fairly rare case of those 16-19 year olds who may be in receipt of benefits themselves), so students are likely to be thinking back to before Year 12 or 13. You may be able to support students in answering this question by letting them know if your school or college records indicate that they have been in receipt of FSM in the past. You may have records which indicate whether or not students have been identified as ‘pupil premium’. The vast majority of pupil premium pupils are likely to have been in receipt of FSM, though pupils can also be flagged as pupil premium if they have been adopted from care. 

In England, the FSM status of every state school pupil is held in the Department for Education’s (DfE) National Pupil Database. Recently, the DfE have started sharing this data with UCAS who can then make it available to universities. The FSM question on the UCAS application gives applicants the chance to self-identify as being in receipt of FSM and universities will then be able to verify these declarations using the DfE data.

Service children

The following question relating to service children has been added: 

Do you have a parent or carer who currently serves in the UK Armed Forces, or who has done so in the past? Yes/No 

Instructions underneath the question will explain that applicants should chose ‘yes’ if they have a parent who currently serves in the regular UK armed forces or as a reservist, or has done so at any point in the first 25 years of the applicant’s life. Research suggests that children from Armed Forces families tend to have a lower likelihood of progressing to HE when compared to those in civilian families. You can read more about supporting service children in an earlier blog post we published on the subject. Another new question will also ask applicants if they have served themselves at any point in the UK Armed Forces, though unless you are supporting mature applicants you are unlikely to be supporting anyone in these circumstances.

Estranged students

The new UCAS question on estranged students is as follows: 

Would you consider yourself estranged from your parents (i.e. you are not in contact with and supported by your parents)? Yes/No​ 

Some students might require support with this question. There will be some young people who have a very clear sense that they have become estranged from their parents. However, others may be more uncertain on how to answer. Young people become estranged when they no longer have the support of their parents and a breakdown in their relationship leads to ceased contact. ‘Parents’ might mean biological, step or adoptive parents or even other family members such as grandparents who may have taken on parenting responsibilities. Some estranged students may also be care-experienced too, though this may not necessarily be the case for those who leave their family home without involving the local authority. 

Students with care responsibilities

The new UCAS question on care responsibilities will ask: 

Do you have any caring responsibilities? Yes/No

UCAS defines carers as those who “provide unpaid care and support for a family member, partner, or friend who has an illness, disability, mental health condition or addiction”.

Refugees, asylum seekers, and those with limited leave to remain in the UK 

Asylum seekers are those who are either in the process of seeking asylum or waiting on the outcome of a decision as to whether asylum can be granted. Once an asylum seeker has had their asylum claim recognised, they are then granted refugee status. Those with limited leave to remain have been given permission to stay in the UK temporarily. The new question in this area is as follows: 

Do you have official refugee status or limited leave to remain, or are you seeking asylum? 

The following four options are available:

The UK government has granted me refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK 
I have limited or discretionary leave to remain in the UK 
I’m currently seeking asylum in the UK 

You should reassure students that this question is there to match them with the necessary support, not to make decisions about their fee status. Universities will have existing processes in place to designate the fee status of applicants to undergraduate courses (refugees tend to have ‘home’ fee status while asylum seekers tend to have ‘overseas’ fee status).

Care experienced students

You’re probably aware of the fact that UCAS applicants have been asked whether or not they are care-experienced for some time now. However, recently the question has been updated with additional guidance for applicants. Applicants should answer ‘yes’ to the “Have you been in care?” question if they have ever lived in public care or are a looked after child. This might include living with foster carers under local authority care, living in a residential children’s home, being ‘looked after at home’ or living with friends and relatives in kinship care. You can learn more about supporting care-experienced students to progress to HE by watching the recent Advancing Access webinar on this subject

Students with parenting responsibilities

Another new UCAS question will ask: 

Are you a parent or do you have parenting responsibilities? Y/N  

Advice underneath the question will clarify that the question covers biological parents, step parents, adoptive parents, legal parents or guardians, foster parents or someone who provides parental care to the child of a family member or friend. 

Why have these new questions been introduced?

The main purpose of these new questions is to enable universities to best support all students to progress smoothly to undergraduate study and then succeed once they arrive. UCAS will share students’ responses to application questions with universities to enable them to best support all of their applicants. Some information about applicants can be a little sensitive, but it will always be treated in confidence. 

There are many different ways that universities may be able to use some of this new information about their applicants. For example, in the case of applicants who have been in receipt of Free School Meals, universities might contact them to ensure that they’re aware of all of the bursaries they may be entitled to. In the case of applicants with parenting responsibilities, universities may be able to ensure they get their timetables in plenty of time so that they can make necessary childcare arrangements. The more information that applicants are able to provide, the more universities will be able to do to support their students to succeed. If students wish to provide further information about their circumstances, they can also add this to their personal statement. 

The new UCAS questions also give universities the opportunity to include a wider range of different factors in their contextual admissions policies which are designed to support students who may have faced barriers to educational success. It’s worth noting that UCAS will not verify the information provided by applicants (with the exception of Free School Meals which often can be verified). This could mean universities may wish to get in touch with applicants first in certain circumstances to verify certain responses before an applicant is flagged as part of a contextual admissions policy.

Further reading

> UCAS Adviser Toolkit: Supporting students with individual needs


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