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From Foster Care to College Scholarships & Support That Can Help

Foster youth face huge obstacles, including a lack of financial and emotional support. Despite many having dreams of attending college, just 10 percent enroll in a degree or vocational certificate program. Of those 10 percent, just 26 percent will graduate. Fortunately, help is available for students who need it. This guide highlights the challenges foster youth face in their journey to getting a college degree and provides resources to help them find success.

Meet the Expert

Kesha Rashed

Foster Care Caseworker, Department of Social Services Family and Children Services

Written By

Why Foster Youth Need Help to Get to College

Foster youth often age out of the system right when they need to begin preparing and applying for college. Without the financial and emotional support students often receive at home, foster youth can face many challenges. Here are some of them:

Financial Aid & Scholarships for Foster Youth

  • Type of Aid Scholarship

  • Amount $1,000

Two awards are offered to New Mexico residents who have been in the foster care system a minimum of one year. Recipients must be undergraduates with a minimum GPA of 2.5.

  • Type of Aid Scholarships

  • Amount $10,000

Casey Family Services awards up to $10,000 to foster youth who received care through their agency in seven states: Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. The funds can be used for college or a training program.

  • Type of Aid Scholarship

  • Amount Up to $5,000

Up to $5,000 is available to multiple recipients under the Change a Life Foundation Scholarship Program. Applicants must be high school seniors pursuing four-year degrees with full-time status at colleges and universities in the U.S.

  • Type of Aid Scholarship

  • Amount $3,000

An annual appropriation from the State of Vermont’s general fund is responsible for the Emily Lester Vermont Opportunity Scholarship. Applicants must attend an accredited Vermont post-secondary institution and be under the custody of the Vermont Commissioner of the Department for Children and Families (DCF) to be eligible.

  • Type of Aid Scholarships

  • Amount $1,000-$5,000

Up to $5,000 in funds are awarded to students through multiple scholarships from FC2S. Scholarship funds come from nationwide donations to help foster youth afford college tuition and fees.

  • Type of Aid Grant

  • Amount $6,000

Funded by the Massachusetts Legislature in 2001, FCG provides grants up to $6,000 per year for foster children. The grants can be applied to college and university costs throughout the continental U.S.

  • Type of Aid Scholarship

  • Amount $750

Child Support Lawyer L.A. offers $750 to a student in care of gay or lesbian parents. An additional $250 is given to a foster-related non-profit organization. Applicants must write an essay.

  • Type of Aid Scholarship

  • Amount Varies

NFPA provides scholarships to foster youth for post-secondary studies including vocational/technical school. Applicants must have a foster parent who is a member of NFPA.

Depending on the college or university, students may qualify for institutional scholarships for foster youth. Students need to fill out the FAFSA to determine eligibility for these funds. For example, the Kentucky Foster and Adopted Children Tuition Waiver is open to eligible students at state schools in Kentucky. In Ohio, Cleveland State University offers The Sullivan-Deckard and Helen Packer Scholarship Opportunity Programs for students aging out of foster care. West Virginia is one of several states that provides full tuition waivers to foster youth.

Students interested in state programs can check with the Financial Aid Office on their campus for similar opportunities.

While grants and scholarships can reduce the costs associated with attending college, they are not the only option. The Educational and Training Voucher (ETV) Program was created in 2002 by the federal government to provide post-secondary education funding for foster youth to be administered by the states. Up to $5,000 per year is available to eligible students for five years through this program.

The Foster Care 2 Success website publishes updated information for each state. Students can also contact childwelfare.gov to learn more about education vouchers.

Resources & Programs for Foster Youth

Foster youth who want to get a college degree often struggle against social, emotional and financial roadblocks. The following resources can help them succeed in enrolling in a college program and completing the requirements needed to graduate.

The U.S. Dept. of Education Foster Care Transition Toolkit  is a comprehensive guide for foster youth. The education section covers Avoiding High School Diploma Scams and What to Consider When Choosing a College, as well as tutorials on financial aid, academic assistance and standardized tests.

Foster Youth Educational Planning Guide from California College Pathways contains college preparation guidelines and resources for community college and four-year college students in California including financial assistance.

Some colleges provide programs to help foster youth while attending school. Two examples are the Sullivan-Deckard Scholars Opportunity Program at Cleveland State University and Seita Scholars Program at Western Michigan University. Students should check in with the financial aid department or advising center at their school about these types of programs.

The Federal Student Aid Prepare for College Checklists detail the steps necessary to get into college as well as strategies to help pay for tuition. There are checklists for each grade to ensure students have all the information they need to be successful.

FosterClub Transition Toolkit is a free workbook designed to help foster youth plan and manage finances, housing and education as they leave the system. The education section includes checklists for leaving high school and preparing to apply to college.

The FosterClub All-Star Internship is a 7-week summer residence internship in Seaside, OR. Participants learn leadership skills and train to represent the rights of foster youth at conferences and events. These experiences can help prepare students for college.

How You Can Help Foster Youth

Often, the key to achieving success for foster youth is receiving support from the community. The following list includes suggestions for how you can help foster youth in their path to obtaining higher education.

Volunteer

Serve as a mentor and role model by volunteering through organizations like Together We Rise, Foster Care 2 Success and Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

Tutor

Become an after-school tutor for middle or high school students. Contact a social worker or counselor for the school you’re interested in tutoring in for more information.

Contribute

Make a financial donation to scholarship funds such as FosterMore.

Donate

Foster care agencies need clothing, furniture and household supplies. Find an organization at childwelfare.gov. And because access to technology can be an issue, Foster Care Counts also collects laptops.

Send

Order a college care package from Foster Care 2 Success to lift a student’s spirits.

Give

Goods for Goals in Los Angeles, through Guardian Scholars’ programs, visits college campuses with new and gently-used clothing in mobile shopping boutiques. Students can pick out clothing to dress for success.

Support

LifeSet Network volunteers provide emotional support to former foster youth.

Fundraise

Raise money for foster youth by creating a fundraiser through Together We Rise.

Purchase

Canvas beanies, tote bags and notecards designed by children in foster care are available for purchase from Foster Art Company. A portion of the proceeds is given to foster youth organizations.

Expert Advice for Foster Youth

Kesha Rashed is a Human Services Board Certified Practitioner and currently works as a foster care caseworker for the Department of Social Services Family and Children Services. She’s also the Founder and CEO of Fostering Footprints Inc., which provides parenting and life skills as well as mentoring for teen mothers age 17-24 who are in out of home placements or have aged out of foster care system.

What types of struggles do foster youth face while planning for college and after enrollment?

Once a foster youth has decided to attend, and after they have enrolled, there are many obstacles that they have to overcome. Foster youth, unfortunately, don’t have the additional support from family members that a child who is not in foster care have access to.

The reality is that once a child reaches the age of majority, whether it is considered 18 or 21 in most states, the foster family no longer receives the financial assistance to support the child and do not want anything more to do with the child. Those times when the foster youth needs to make a decision, there is no one to turn to.

When their roommate receives a visit from a family member or friend, the foster youth does not have that visit. During holidays and vacations, most college students return home to spend time with their families where foster youth struggle to find somewhere to go. The dorms close during the holidays and vacations, but there are some colleges who have become more aware and sensitive to this fact and have decided to keep the dorms open.

Foster youth don’t have the luxury of being sent a care package or even extra money to spend when the meal plan has run out, or they become hungry during the night. For one of my clients, it was a struggle to find additional funds to pay for the books needed for classes. The financial aid received was just enough to cover the cost of tuition and room and board.

Luckily, we were able to determine that the insurance coverage the University required as part of the tuition was able to be waived due to the child having insurance coverage through the state. The fee was significant enough that it was able to cover the cost of his books.

What financial resources are available for foster youth who are interested in attending college? Where should they look for help?

The first step in paying for college is applying for federal financial aid, and this can be done by completing and submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FASFA. As a youth in care or a former youth in care, you are more than likely to be eligible for Independent Student Status. What this means is that your custodial parent’s financial information is NOT considered, and therefore NOT required on the FASFA. Make sure you check the “Ward/dependency of the state or courts” box on your FASFA form so you can receive all the aid you’re eligible for.

In New York State, The Fostering College Youth Success Initiative (FYCSI) is a new program specifically for foster youth who are either already in college or about to enter college. This program is designed to provide foster youth with the necessary supports and financial assistance to help them achieve academic success and meet college expenses.

Any student preparing to enter college, and who is currently in foster care or was in foster care after their 13th birthday is eligible and should immediately contact the College Opportunity program offices at campuses they have applied to, or which they are about to enroll to request more information.

FYCSI provides support that includes but is not limited to the cost of tuition and fees, books, transportation, housing and other essential supports on campus. FYCSI works through New York’s Opportunity Programs such as Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) at State University of New York (SUNY) colleges, College Discovery (CD) & Search for Education Elevation Knowledge (SEEK) at City University of New York (CUNY) colleges, Higher Educational Opportunity Program (HEOP) at private colleges and universities.

Not all colleges and universities operate opportunity programs, eligible students are encouraged to contact the University they want to attend, and inquire if the University has an Opportunity Program AND is participating in FYCSI.

New York State also offers an Educational Training Voucher (ETV) that provides up to $5,000 a year for college and vocational training. Youth eligible for this program are foster care youth and former foster care youth who have not yet attained the age of 21. A youth that is participating in the program once they reach the age of 21 remains eligible until the youth reaches age 23 provided that the youth is still enrolled in and attending a postsecondary educational or vocational training program.

The ETV has to be applied for each year and is available online through Foster Care to Success.