As of September 30, 2014, there were over 415,000 children in foster care throughout the United States. In over half of foster care cases, the ideal outcome is for a child to be reunited with their parents, but this isn’t always possible. Other options include adoption, living with nonparental family members, legal emancipation, or “aging out” of the system. Nearly half of the foster children in 2014 were living with a foster family unrelated to them, while close to 30% were living with nonparental family members. Much smaller percentages (less than 10% each) are institutionalized, live in group homes, or are preparing to be adopted or return home.
A child’s stay in foster care can range from less than a month to a number of years, depending on their personal circumstances. This, then, can potentially interfere with their education and their collegiate prospects when it comes time to pursue education past high school. The stress of moving around or being separated from family may push college planning to the back burner, not to mention the common concerns about money, location, and housing. The good news is that there are specific programs aimed at providing financial assistance to current and former foster children for college.
This program is part of the John N. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, a federal program that intends to provide foster children with the support they need to transition between childhood and adulthood. Educational and Training Vouchers are available to current and former foster children (including those who were adopted after the age of 16, those who are under 21 but have aged out of the system, and those who will remain in foster care until they turn 18). Students who qualify for an Educational and Training Voucher may receive up to $5,000 annually for five years or until their 23rd birthdays. This money does not need to be repaid.
Foster Care to Success is a nonprofit organization that focuses on foster children who aspire to attend college. Their scholarships are available to students who:
- Were orphaned for at least a year as of their 18th birthday
- Were adopted or placed under guardianship after the age of 16
- Were in foster care for the 12 months before their 18th birthdays
- Are planning to attend an accredited college that participates in the Federal Pell Grant program
Students may receive anywhere between $1,500 and $5,000 annually depending on their financial need. Awards are renewable for a maximum of five years. If students complete their degrees in fewer than five years or lose their academic good standing, they are no longer eligible to receive scholarships.
The National Foster Parent Association is an organization that firmly believes all foster children should be placed in loving homes and that both the children and their foster families deserve support. This scholarship provides financial aid to students who want to attend any sort of postsecondary institution: four-year colleges, community college, and vocational or technical schools. In order to qualify for this scholarship, students must be adopted, fostered, or the biological children of foster parents; parents must be members of the National Foster Parent Association.
The International Student Foundation aims to support students who have been part of the foster care system and those who were orphaned. They believe that there is a leader inside every student and that it can be cultivated through mentorship, leadership training, and education. The scholarship provides tuition assistance to undergraduate students who were in foster care or orphaned as children and who have not been adopted at the time of their application. Students who have reunited with and are financially supported by their parents are not eligible. Students must be younger than 23 years old. The scholarship application includes questions about a student’s circumstances and also requires the submission of an essay.
These scholarships are awarded to students with great financial need who have overcome adversity at some point during their lives. There is no specific criteria for adversity, but applicants are expected to have overcome significant obstacles to get to where they are. Within their applications, students have a chance to expand on their specific circumstances and experiences. In order to be eligible for these scholarships, students must be in high school with plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree or a technical education at an accredited institution immediately following high school graduation. Students who win the national scholarship will also receive a trip to Washington D.C. to attend the National Scholars Conference. Attendance is mandatory.
The scholarship programs listed here are only national programs. Many states and individual schools also have scholarships specifically aimed at current or former foster children. A quick internet search or an email to the financial aid office at your prospective schools should reveal whether you have other options for financial aid. Don’t forget to fill out your FAFSA to maximize your federal financial aid package!