The pathway to self-sufficiency begins with access to special resources created to help foster children go to college. Foster youth are at a disadvantage when it comes to gaining the skills needed to become fully independent because they may not have the network of supportive family and friends to guide them as they make appropriate life choices. Additionally, many of these young people have to cope with various forms of trauma, absence of financial support, inadequate academic preparation and a lifetime of low expectations. Applying for college admissions typically comes at a time when foster youth are aging out of the system, leaving them to navigate the process on their own.

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Issues Contributing to Inadequate Preparation for College

Many young people who have spent their formative years in the foster care system have a history of trauma due to the circumstances that put them in the system in the first place. These events may include family loss or disruption due to death, divorce, incarceration or abandonment. Many of these children may experience a lack of stability in their social relationships and academic history due to being transferred from one foster family to another.

Foster youth are not lacking in ambition, but many are burdened with learning disabilities made worse by inadequate care during the critical growth years. A report from foster-youth advocate Promises2kids.org indicates that only 55 percent of foster kids end up attending college. Of those who manage to get in, only 8 percent will eventually earn their degrees. Lack of financial resources is one of the primary deterrents to getting into college and staying in school. These students often have to work full-time jobs to support themselves, which makes it almost impossible to thrive in the college environment.

Pre-admission Resources

College preparation is an all-consuming process even for students in traditional school and family settings. Much of the information and support needed to navigate the admissions process will come from secondary schools through guidance counselors, teachers, college prep coordinators and volunteer mentors within the system.

Community organizations such as Foster Care to Success provide much-needed guidance for college-bound foster youth through academic coaching, educational vouchers to access training programs and long-term mentorships. The U.S. Department of Education coordinates various campus-based programs that provide specific services, including mentorship and providing housing for foster youth transitioning out of the system.

Scholarships and Financial Aid

The DOE in collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and other agencies and private organizations created the Foster Care Transition Toolkit that provides a wealth of resources for foster youth aspiring to attend college. It includes information on housing assistance, other youth organizations supporting college-bound students and financial assistance programs. Many of the state colleges and universities offer tuition waivers and other forms of financial aid for students who have spent time in the foster care system.

The best way to find scholarships would be through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. Self-identifying as a foster child will help yield information available to this group, including a host of private scholarships that are slated specifically for anyone who has been in the foster system. There are many special resources that will help foster children go to college, but access to this information may be easier to find with the assistance of a mentor or counselor from schools and community groups who are familiar with these initiatives.