Foster Care to College: Online Resources

From national scholarships and state tuition waivers to housing assistance and on-campus programs, see where to find help getting to and through college as a former foster care youth.

STEPS Staff
Written By

STEPS Staff

Judi Alperin King
Meet the Expert

Judi Alperin King

Updated

08/14/2020

Foster youth face unique challenges, especially those who are aging out of the system and are considering what comes next. For many, the goal is higher education. But the opportunity is often tough to grab and keep hold of. Without the traditional family support most of their peers have, applying to schools, affording tuition, finding college housing, and getting academic help can be incredibly difficult.

These challenges are apparent when you look at college graduation statistics. Studies show that nationwide, only 3 to 11 percent of foster youth earn a bachelor’s degree compared to the national completion rate of about 33 percent. The good news is that there are many resources out there designed to help foster youths succeed in their pursuit of a college degree or vocational training. In this guide, we highlight and show where to find the best of these resources, from financial aid and housing assistance to on-campus support programs and foster alumni groups.

Scholarships, Tuition Assistance, and Other Financial Aid for Foster Youth

Foster youth face an uphill battle affording higher education. But numerous scholarships, grants, tuition assistance, and other financial aid programs are in place to help.

Foster Youth College Scholarships

Scholarships are a very valuable form of financial aid because they don’t have to be repaid – that essentially makes them “free money” for students who receive them. But because they are such a great way to pay for school, they’re quite competitive. Let’s take a look at a few of the scholarships available for foster youth going to college.

ORGANIZATION

Umps Care Charities

AMOUNT

Up to $10,000

DEADLINE

5/15/2020 (Annual)

ELIGIBILITY

Prospective students must be less than 20 years of age and an incoming freshman, show financial need, and have been adopted at or after the age of 13.

HOW TO APPLY

The application will consist of three letters of recommendation, a high school transcript, four short answers/essays, and a copy of the student’s FAFSA Student Aid Report.

ORGANIZATION

Foster Care to Success

AMOUNT

Up to $10,000

DEADLINE

Applications are accepted throughout the year

ELIGIBILITY

Students between the ages of 16 and 49 who received foster care from Casey Family Services in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, or Rhode Island. Applicants must be attending or planning to attend any post-secondary program, except PhD programs.

HOW TO APPLY

Applying for this scholarship requires signing up for an online account and completing an online application.

ORGANIZATION

National Foster Parent Association (NFPA)

AMOUNT

Varies

DEADLINE

4/5/2020 (Annual)

ELIGIBILITY

Applicants should be currently or previously in foster care through a U.S. child protection agency and be currently enrolled in a post-secondary institution.

HOW TO APPLY

The application is submitted online and requires an essay as well as proof of post-secondary enrollment.

ORGANIZATION

Michael and Susan Dell Foundation

AMOUNT

$20,000

DEADLINE

12/1/2020 (Annual)

ELIGIBILITY

Applicants need to participate in an approved college readiness program, show financial need, have a 2.4 minimum GPA, plan to enroll in an accredited bachelor’s degree program, and demonstrate a drive to succeed despite facing obstacles in life.

HOW TO APPLY

The first step requires completion of the online application. During the semifinal round, semifinalists will submit a Student Aid Report, online recommendation, and high school transcript.

ORGANIZATION

Foster Care to Success

AMOUNT

$2,500 – $5,000

DEADLINE

3/31/2020 (Annual)

ELIGIBILITY

Students who have been accepted or expect to be accepted into a Pell-eligible postsecondary school may apply. They must have been in foster care for 12 consecutive months leading up to their 18th birthday.

HOW TO APPLY

Complete an online application after creating an online account. Awards are based on a combination of financial need and academic and personal merit.

ORGANIZATION

National Foster Parent Association (NFPA)

AMOUNT

$500

DEADLINE

4/5/2020 (Annual)

ELIGIBILITY

Applicants must have a parent or supportive adult who is a member of the NFPA. Those planning to attend a four-year college must be a senior in high school. Students planning to attend a two-year school must be between the ages of 17 and 21.

HOW TO APPLY

Applications must be submitted online and include two letters of recommendation and an essay.

ORGANIZATION

Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Inc.

AMOUNT

$25,000

DEADLINE

10/25/2020 (Annual)

ELIGIBILITY

Students who show financial need, overcame a substantial obstacle as a child or young adult, are pursuing a bachelor’s degree, and agree to attend the National Scholars Conference in Washington, D.C.

HOW TO APPLY

Application materials may be obtained and completed online; students must be U.S. citizens and have significant financial need.

ORGANIZATION

International Student Foundation (ISF)

AMOUNT

Varies

DEADLINE

3/31/2020 (Annual)

ELIGIBILITY

Must be a full-time student under the age of 24 and have aged out or will age out of foster care.

HOW TO APPLY

The application process requires completing the FAFSA and the online application, write an essay, submit proof of foster care status, provide a digital photograph, and get at least one letter of recommendation.

ORGANIZATION

The Nsoro Foundation

AMOUNT

Varies

DEADLINE

4/15/2020 (Annual)

ELIGIBILITY

To apply, applicants must have been in public or private foster care for 12 consecutive months leading up to and including their 18th birthday. Students must also be attending or planning to attend an undergraduate or graduate program.

HOW TO APPLY

The online application requires submission of ACT/SAT scores, proof of foster care status, and letters of recommendation.

ORGANIZATION

The Orphan Society of America

AMOUNT

Varies

DEADLINE

Varies

ELIGIBILITY

Applicants must be U.S. residents and have lost one or both parents due to an act of violence.

HOW TO APPLY

The online application requires a high school transcript. Applicants must be a junior or senior in high school, accepted into a post-secondary institution, and provide the necessary documentation to show financial need.

State and Local Scholarships for Foster Youth

National scholarships are not the only ones out there. Scholarships are also available through the state, local organizations, area businesses, and more. For instance, California College Pathways specifically provides scholarships for foster youth, as does the College Success Foundation of Washington State. Here are a few more options to consider:

  • State Department of Education
    (Find information specific to your state through this U.S. Department of Education site.)
  • State Child Welfare Agencies
    (Find a list of these agencies on this U.S. Department of Health and Human Services page.)
  • State Department of Social Services
    (This website from the Missouri Department of Social Services offers links to the DSS sites of all 50 states.)
  • High school guidance counselor
    They are there to help you find the resources you need to succeed not only in high school, but in the transition to college as well.
  • Financial aid office
    College financial aid officers have leads on a wide variety of scholarships and other financial aid that you might not find elsewhere.
  • Social worker
    During your time in foster care, there were likely many social workers who followed your progress. Now is the time to reach out to them for help navigating the next steps in your life.

Foster Youth Tuition Waivers

One of the great ways to help foster youth pay for college is the tuition waiver. These waivers can cut down the cost to a very manageable amount and thus open up the doors to higher education.

Tuition waivers are offered by many states and provide for students who were in foster care, and the funds typically kick in after all other financial aid is accounted for. They cover some or all of tuition and other required fees to help lessen the financial burden of college. Each state has its own way of handling the waivers, so to apply, you’ll need to check with the state in which you reside or the state in which you plan to attend college.

Grants and College Financial Aid for Foster Youth

Federal and state grants are also a great way to pay for school. Like scholarships, grants do not have to be paid back. It’s important to note, however, that to receive most grants, students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Since many grants rely on the FAFSA to determine financial need and thus eligibility, completing the FAFSA opens the door to voucher programs, Pell Grants, state educational grants, some scholarships, and more.

Federal & State Grants

Grants are funds designed to help pay for college, especially for those who demonstrate financial need. Since eligibility for grants depends upon financial need, students begin by filling out the FAFSA; this can then be used by the federal and state governments, as well as the schools themselves, to help determine how much a student should receive. Learn more about grants here.

Grants usually don’t have to be paid back; however, there are some circumstances, such as dropping out of school mid-semester, that could lead to a repayment request.

Education and Training Vouchers (ETVs)

The John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program helps foster youth with paying for school through the Educational and Training Vouchers program. ETVs are funded by the federal government in the form of grants, which can cover up to $5,000 per academic year. Generally, you’re eligible if you are likely to remain in foster care through the age of 18, a young adult of 18 to 21 who has aged out of the foster care system, or someone who was adopted or under kinship guardianship at age 16 or older.