Many young people who are transitioning out of foster care find that those last few steps into adulthood are more like a steep, mountainous climb. The Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS) and its partners are working to smooth that journey so youth can reach their highest peak.
For those whose peak includes a college education or other post-secondary training, youth with foster care experience can get support. Youth can connect with a coach who can help students navigate the college process, from applying for admission to completing scholarship applications that will pay for housing and other expenses. Youth who were in care at age 16 are able to attend college at no cost (tuition only) at accredited schools in Pennsylvania up to age 26.
Here are a few steps to help keep youth with foster care experience moving towards their academic goals:
Step 1: Meet your AIC coach
The Achieving Independence Center (AIC) is a safe and communal space for teens and young adults, ages 14-22. It provides support for youth with current or former foster care experience. Through AIC, youth have access to an independent living life-skills coach.
AIC coaches help youth build independent living skills, understand college opportunities, and complete college applications and financial aid forms. They can also help with personal development needs, which will prove important in college.
There are two ways to get an AIC coach. The student or their DHS or Community Umbrella Agency case manager can place a referral by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Or they can call AIC directly at (215) 574-9194.
Step 2: Complete the FAFSA
Youth may qualify for financial aid. To determine this, youth will need to fill out and submit the all-important Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form will determine eligibility and the level of financial assistance that may be available.
Step 3: Explore educational aid available only for youth with foster care experience
Youth can check the websites and information below for eligibility requirements and application details for programs that can assist with the cost of a post-secondary education or training.
Pennsylvania Chafee Education and Training Grant (ETG) Program. The award amount for the 2024 academic year is $5,000 for college tuition and other education expenses, including rent.
The Fostering Independence Tuition Waiver (FosterEd) Program covers any tuition and mandatory institutional fees that remain after a student has received financial aid. After a student’s account reflects all aid received, the waiver is applied, “erasing” the leftover tuition balance. This does not cover room and board.
Note: Youth should also reach out to the Foster Care Point of Contact at the schools or programs that they want to attend. Youth should inform the contact of their interest in applying for the foster care tuition waiver. Search this website for a list of participating schools and programs.
To be considered for the ETG and FosterEd programs, youth must:
- Be aged 16 – 26; and
- Experienced foster care at age 16 or older; or
- Exited care at age 18 or extended care up to age 21; or
- Exited care through adoption or legal guardian after attaining age 16; or
- Exited care through reunification at age 16 or older
Step 4: Get support for expenses beyond tuition
The finances of day-to-day life on a college campus extend past covering tuition. Other expenses include food, healthcare, books, rent, childcare, etc. Check out these three helpful resources.:
- Food access: Get SNAP for access to low-cost food when in a pinch.
- Medicaid: Maintain health coverage until age 26 through Individuals are eligible no matter how much money they make.
- Daycare: Get help paying childcare fees with the Child Care Works Subsidized Child Care Program.
Step 5: Other beneficial supports
Youth can never have too many supporters on their team! Although not administered or contracted by DHS, several other local resources are worth checking out to help prepare youth for their future:
- Lenfest Immensitas Scholarship: Provides scholarships for students who want an on-campus living experience (room and board). Funds are also available to cover some college expenses.
- I-LEAD’s Achieve College Education: Offers youth with foster care experience free coaching with college and financial aid applications. Email CClyde@i-leadusa.org.
- Philadelphia Education Fund and the Brook J. Lenfest Foundation’s Fostering College Readiness: Supports the process of applying to, paying for, and succeeding in college. Email MBirkner@philaedfund.org.
- Philadelphia Education Fund’s Scholars Advantage Summer Program: Pays youth to improve their skill level in English composition, anatomy/physiology, computer coding, or skilled/mechanical trades.