Coventry University Outreach Specialist urging young adult carers to take advantage of one small change to the UCAS application form

Bethanie Downing

Bethanie Downing

University news

Wednesday 18 January 2023

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One small change to the UCAS application form could be life-changing for young adult carers, according to a Coventry University Outreach Specialist who knows what it is like to study for a degree while caring for a family member.

Bethanie Downing is sharing her story to inspire others after young adult carers and people with caring responsibilities have been given the opportunity to identify themselves on the university application form for the first time.

Bethanie, who used to be a young adult carer, says the chance to self-identify at the start of the process will give students the opportunity to gain access to support as soon as they start university.

Bethanie’s dad, who died in March 2021, had Huntington’s disease which leads to progressive degeneration of nerve cells in the brain that affects movement, cognitive functions, and emotions.

His condition worsened when Bethanie was 15 and she continued to juggle her learning commitments with caring for him throughout her higher education journey.

When she started her psychology degree at Coventry University, she flagged the barriers she faced to the university and was able to access support and funding that helped her complete her studies.

Bethanie now works for the university as an Outreach Specialist, focusing on the Fair Access Scheme, helping other young adult carers and students access the support they need through her work. The scheme can look at providing support such as reduced contextual offers and guiding students in their transition to university.

I’m so happy this change has happened as it will make it easier for any young person that faces barriers to access support and let people know that they need support.

Ticking that box can take away not knowing who to contact as we can reach out to you and means the support should be ready for you when you start university.

My caring role started as young as I can remember.

My dad was unwell, but we didn’t know that it was Huntington's until I was around 14.

It is a disease that affects your cognition, your memory, your physical movements, your mood and I provided lots of different care for dad until he passed away.

Just before I took my GCSEs my dad went into a mental health hospital.

It was a massive stress just before the biggest exams I’d ever had before, and it was difficult to manage my own emotions during that time.

He was released into shared accommodation with carers. He was on some very high-level medication but as he got worse, he wouldn’t let his carers go in, so it became my responsibility to take care of him.

That was during my A-Levels. I’d go to college and then go and look after my dad.

It was a weird role reversal, as the things that dad should have been doing for me, he couldn’t, and I was doing for him.

The first line of my UCAS personal statement was about how growing up with my dad’s illness and his involvement in the mental health system inspired me to study psychology.

I knew I had limitations in my choices of university as I knew I’d need to stay at home and commute due to my caring commitments.

I’m from Coventry and I’m lucky that Coventry University has a great reputation for psychology.

When I came to visit it felt really welcoming and somewhere I could see myself belonging, but it was difficult to balance dad’s needs and my needs while I was at university.

It was important to me to find someone who could listen to me and try to understand what I was handling away from my studies.

I reached out to our Widening Participation Outreach team, and they were really helpful and put me in touch with the right people.

I was able to get a scholarship and I also had a lot of support from our welfare team and through my work with local charity Warwickshire Young Carers.

Being a young adult carer did not stop me from getting a good degree and starting my career.

Now I want to help other young adult carers access the support I had, and I encourage any student to tick that box, because it means the university will be able to support you.

Bethanie Downing, Outreach Specialist at Coventry University

Bethanie feels the new addition to the UCAS application form will help universities across the UK gain a greater understanding of the barriers and challenges young adult carers face during their higher education journey.

My advice to any young carer thinking of going to university is to go to open days and look at what student support the university offers. Do they recognise that young carers have barriers to enter higher education, and do they appreciate that young carers might need some extra support?

That is what I really like about Coventry University because my whole role is about recognising those barriers and supporting young carers and other students who face barriers to continuing in higher education.

If you are a young carer or are encountering barriers that are impacting your education, please contact our Fair Access team and let us help you start your university journey.

Discover more about how Coventry University can help young adult carers and about the Fair Access Scheme at one of our open days.