Vol. 6, No. 1• November 2001

Financial aid for foster kids
to college
by Jennifer Painter

Most of the time, foster youth aren't talked to about attending college. Generally, we are not expected to succeed. As a foster youth, I knew I wanted to go to college, I just didn't know how I would pay for it. I knew the money I had saved through high school was only going to go so far. Luckily, I had a high school guidance counselor who showed me everything I needed to know. Here's some advice based on my experience.

First and foremost, always start early. Try to get admissions and financial aid information from schools at least one year before you plan to attend. Keep in mind specific deadlines for turning in any needed forms and applications, and be aware of whether or not you need to follow up with anyone.

In addition, remember to reapply every year in case of changes in tuition costs, financial circumstances, and eligibility. Never assume that your information will automatically carry through to the next year!

The first step in applying for financial aid is usually the most difficult. You must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year. Your FAFSA results are reported to the schools you choose, explaining your eligibility for federal grants and loans. Remember to check "yes" where it asks if you are an orphan or ward of the court. The FAFSA tends to be confusing, so if you need help filling it out, call 1-800-4FED-AID.

In addition to the FAFSA, most colleges require additional paperwork to determine your eligibility for institutional funds. One such application, the Profile, helps to decide your qualification for funds from the school you choose to attend. It is important to remember that these are institutional, not government funds, and do not have to be repaid. However, in cases of emergency, most schools will give you an emergency loan to pay for books, meal plans, or other emergency needs. Find out about any and all forms needed by calling or writing the financial aid office of the schools you are interested in.

Most foster youths are eligible for Pell Grants, federal money that does not have to be repaid. Stafford loans are also available; however these do have to be repaid, so never borrow more than is necessary. The amounts you are eligible for will be determined by the FAFSA, and may change from year to year depending on your financial situation.

Besides federal and institutional funds, check out local organizations or groups that offer scholarships, such as your church, employer, or a local business. High school guidance counselors receive information about private scholarships, so check with them often. Apply for all you can, and remember to report the money you recieve from scholarships to your school as soon as possible.

Two additional sources of financial aid include the Orphan Foundation and Casey Family Programs, both of whom have partnered to give scholarships specifically to foster youths. Check them out at <www.orphan.org>. Another website to look into is <fastweb.com>. At this site, you just enter all your personal and background information, and they notify you of scholarships you are eligible for. They also send out deadline reminders and periodic notification of new scholarships. They are connected to a national database, so you may find plenty of scholarships you didn't even know existed. What more could you ask for?

Jen Painter, a former foster child, attends UNC-Chapel Hill.

Copyright 2001 Jordan Institute for Families