Amidst one of the most competitive years in college admissions history, I was accepted to Rutgers University, my dream school. Despite this win, I had a few financial hurdles to jump: cross-country relocation and out-of-state tuition. In order to bridge the gap, I connected with every program I could find that assists foster youth in pursuing higher education. The responses I received were disheartening.
From being limited due to my age, to being turned away for choosing an out-of-state school, it seemed like more doors were being closed than being opened. I started to feel helpless and like my dream was out of reach. I had more people advising me against my choice than congratulating me for my acceptance.
Another discouraging response was from a program that offered a monthly stipend to foster youth attending four-year institutions and specifically stated they were open to helping students out of state. After an hour-long interview dissecting every major financial decision I had made as an adult, their response was that I was not an ideal candidate because helping me wouldn’t make a big enough difference. They were more focused on maintaining their savior image than on the impact they could have on my life.
Not long after that, I accepted my spot at Rutgers and applied for a private loan to cover the remaining costs of school. Without a credit-worthy cosigner, I was declined. As a foster youth, I didn’t have a lot of people I could turn to who would be willing to cosign. This is a common barrier for many foster youth that can keep them from accessing the resources that they need to thrive. As I scrambled to find help, the panic started to set in — it felt like the dream was slipping out of my grasp. I asked anyone I could think if they might know of someone willing to cosign or if they could recommend any resources. I even created a crowdfunding campaign, hoping to raise the much-needed funds.
Over the past four years, I had worked with a program whose mission was to help foster youth access higher education through mentorship. I reached out to the program director who I had come to trust. To my surprise, I received the opposite of support: “You should have taken our advice and stayed in state. Maybe not being able to go and taking a year off will be a learning experience.” I was dumbfounded and devastated; this had been a source of stability for so long. I felt abandoned.
There is an unrealistic expectation for foster youth to be successful and shatter glass ceilings while at the same time upholding barriers that are extremely harmful. As foster youth, we grow up hearing “You can’t do that” at every turn, so even the smallest bit of doubt can make the trauma bubble to the surface. Although many people can be careless with words, words can make a significant impact on someone’s likelihood of success. As young people, we are encouraged to go to college, but the proper infrastructure to help us do so doesn’t exist. There needs to be more support for college-bound foster youth and more programs that do not pick and choose a very select group of youth that are deemed worthy arbitrarily. I have seen no consistent pattern on how these programs choose who to help and who to turn away. In order to create equitable access, we need to remove bias and create universal guidance and best practices for distributing resources amongst foster youth in need.