10.13.2017

How I Support Youth in Foster Care During the College Application Process

By Merissa Humes, Treehouse Education Specialist

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Applying to colleges can be a daunting experience, especially for youth in foster care already facing so many barriers. When working with my youth, I let them know attending a college or university is possible if they have the desire. Their past and current circumstances shouldn’t hold them back from future opportunities.

Below are a few helpful tips that I use to shape conversations about college as youth navigate the process:

Start Early. Whether a student is just beginning middle school or finishing up their junior year, college conversations are important. In middle school, much of the dialogue is about connecting their dream job to a major or area of study, as well as telling them about all the fun opportunities they could have. In high school, these conversations continue but are more focused around graduation requirements, funding opportunities and college options. The earlier these conversations happen, the better.

If possible, I try to expose my students to pre-college programs and conferences, college visits and preview days. These can happen at any age, and many colleges and universities provide these opportunities at no cost.

Find Motivation. For a handful of my youth, college isn’t at the forefront of their minds. They’re simply trying to survive the day-to-day tasks and find some sense of balance and normalcy. Many youth in foster care will be the first in their family to attend college. Most are concerned about how they’ll pay for it, how they’ll be supported during school and if it’s even worth the effort.

It’s important to meet youth where they’re at and remind them this isn’t a system they have to navigate on their own. The best thing we can do for our youth is remain consistent, make sure their needs are met and their voices are heard, while instilling hope and encouragement in spaces where there seem to be none.

Treehouse has great resources that are always accessible to Education Specialists to better support our students, such as Student-Centered Planning Tools, which help our youth identify what they want to do and assist us in working with them to set the necessary goals to get there. Treehouse also provides worksheets that give tips on completing the federal and state applications for financial aid, FAFSA and WASFA, as well as two-year and four-year college checklists.

Great scholarship and funding opportunities for youth in foster care are available through the College Bound Scholarship and the Passport to College Promise Scholarship.

Explore a Variety of Options. I constantly remind my students that their journey is their own, and it will look different from their peers. This is a beautiful thing. As long as they’ve come to a college decision that is the best fit for them, that’s all that matters.

Post-secondary education takes on many different forms: technical and vocational institutions, trade school and certification training, community college, as well as four-year (public/private) colleges or universities.

For youth in foster care, there are many decisions made without their input and actions taken that are outside of their control. The college application process should not be one of them.

More college and career resources can be found in Treehouse’s Academic Resource Center.

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About the Author

Merissa Humes is an Education Specialist at Treehouse, serving youth in the Kent School District. She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Washington and more than eight years of college admissions experience. She also has a heart for service and hopes to motivate and empower our next generation of leaders.


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