Advice to Foster Youth Pursuing Higher Education
As a foster youth, graduating high school and finally obtaining a diploma was a huge step toward my success. There were a plethora of times I felt I could not earn my diploma, let alone deserve it. Facing trauma, mental health symptoms and several placements, it was difficult to ever focus my attention strictly on my education. Any individual able to push through the roadblocks and barriers of being a foster youth while balancing education and other stressors deserves significant validation.
As students leave high school and turn the page to a new chapter in life, roadblocks can be a recurring problem. Frequently, young people who want to pursue higher education have assistance from parents, scholarships and other resources, while some foster youth do not have the same luxuries.
Before learning about resources for my postsecondary education, I was questioning whether college was something I would want to go tens of thousands of dollars into debt for. However, there are various grants, programs and federal resources that foster youth can utilize for their success. These resources let me earn my undergraduate degree with minimal student loan debt.
Although college isn’t everyone’s dream, foster youth who are interested may not know the resources available to them, which alone can hinder their goals. Regardless of who we are, where we come from or the weight we carry on our shoulders, all foster youth deserve the opportunity to explore their higher education interests.
The first place to begin is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Those who were in foster care do not need to disclose parental income and typically qualify for a Pell Grant, a need-based grant for low-income undergraduates. Depending on tuition rates, this alone can cover all expenses. I myself am currently attending a two-year college without having the financial burden of student loan debt. Applying for the FAFSA is critical to securing financial aid and laying a foundation for success.
Separate from federal aid, there are federal programs that support foster youth interested in exploring higher education. These programs do not impact eligibility for FAFSA. I am enrolled in a federal program called the Education Training Voucher (ETV), which grants me $5,000 a year to use toward a multitude of expenses, including books, course materials, a laptop, living costs, car insurance and personal hygiene products. While FAFSA funding is provided through your school, federal grant programs such as ETV provide money via checks or direct deposits. Although the application can be somewhat tedious, there is a huge incentive for allocating time toward it. Investing your time and energy into acquiring different funding options can save you stress and financial burdens in the long haul.
In addition, scholarships are another resource. Young people who still have caseworkers, social workers or other professionals in their life should use these individuals, as they are typically educated on scholarship options. There are even specific scholarships for foster youth, among thousands of others. Since scholarships are application-based, with no guarantee of receiving money, narrow down which ones you apply for. Determining how much time you would like to dedicate to this is critical. There needs to be a healthy balance, as time management is an imperative skill in pursuing higher education.
Professionals who work with foster youth can guide them in writing their scholarship applications and teach them how to stand out from other applicants. If you do not have professional support, contact the institution you’re interested in; employees are trained in finding resources and support for students on campus.
Advocating for ourselves starts with exploring our resources. Learning to advocate for our future and our optimal success is key to developing into our best selves. This journey can begin with exploring education interests. We all deserve fulfillment and to ultimately achieve the aspirations we may not have always thought we were capable of.
If you take anything away from this article, know that you are worth it, and that it’s worth it to invest in yourself long term. Your past hardships do not need to shape your future. You have the strength, power and resources to achieve anything and everything you desire.