To celebrate Care Day 2019, we speak to Michelle Sebele: a care leaver, UK Summer School alum, Alumni Leadership Board member, and advocate for change.

Tell us what it was like growing up

I was in care from the age of five. I was lucky in that I only had one care placement in my life.

My first language was not English so primary school was hard, but my school picked up on it early and didn’t allow this to impact my learning. The rest of my experience at school was very positive. I went to one local school which gave me the stability I needed to thrive – this isn’t the same for all people in care who sometimes have to move around frequently.

I knew I didn’t have the same security as other children and that I needed to work to support myself, so I was very driven from a young age.

What was your experience as a Sutton Trust student?

I was so surprised when I got in! I hadn’t realised care leavers get priority when applying. I chose a medicine course at the University of Cambridge as I’ve always had a passion for human biology – the experience was a true reflection of life at university and I left determined to study medicine.

How did you find university as a care leaver?

I did the extended medical degree programme at King’ College London which gave me extra support while I was at university, but I only found out about this through a random interaction with another student.

Programmes like this need to be more widely publicised. The benefits they give both pastorally and financially are huge. I had big questions around things like the effect student finance has on your credit, and where your student debt goes, and young people need clear answers. It shouldn’t be solely on young people to figure it out.

Tell us a bit about your work with charities supporting care leavers?

Alongside my degree I teach with Debate Mate, support outreach for medicine at Kings, and I’m a Policy Forum Ambassador at the Drive Forward Foundation.  I’m also working with other students from Harris Academy Merton. We’re doing a pilot STEM-based mentoring programme where previous alumni visit current students to support with personal statement workshops and homework clubs.

Where do you see the sector moving in the future?

Support needs to begin at primary level. Sometimes interventions in teenage years are just too little too late…

What advice would you give to a care leaver thinking about applying to a Sutton Trust programme?

Fight the stigma, do your research, and apply!

If you, like Michelle was, are looking for information on the support available to care leavers in higher and further education, read Sam’s story.  He works at a charity called Become which advocates for care leavers and runs propel, a searchable online database of the support offered to care leavers in HE and FE, or as his boss calls it, like “UCAS for care leavers”.

Care leavers receive priority across our applications. Applications for UK Summer Schools are open until Thursday 28th February 5pm and we encourage students in care to apply.

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