“Supporting College Preparation for Foster Youth” by Joel Uruza

Image12I was part of the foster care system for three years and I am now participating in Foster Club as one of the Core Leadership Team members in California.  While in high school, I was reluctant to apply for a 4-year university because I did not feel prepared enough, especially because I couldn’t speak English very well, since I had been in this country for only 2 years. All I wanted to do was to finish high school and start working as soon as possible. Fortunately, I had great friends and teachers who believed in me and motivated me to apply to university. I am now in my third year of studies at California State Polytechnic University Pomona majoring in Political Science and Spanish.

I’d like to share a few useful tips based on my own experience as a foster youth to those working with foster youth in high school so you can begin to prepare them for college.  It is important for high school students to keep on track with schoolwork, attendance, and deadlines. Encourage young people to create positive relationships with a special teacher or counselor who is invested in their success. Remind youth to check in with those people at school and ask them how things are going.  Creating strong relationships with friends, teachers, and counselors will help youth stay motivated and feel connected.  Getting involved in extracurricular activities is another way for youth to stand out and discover their talents and abilities.

Many foster youth do not know what is required for them to graduate high school and the difference there is between graduation requirements and college admissions requirements, especially if someone is interested in applying to a four-year university.  Help them understand these differences.  Since there are so many details to remember, it would be helpful to have these tidbits in writing, graphically or pictorially. For example, when I was in high school, I organized all my responsibilities in an agenda to keep myself on track and this helped me to complete all the requirements to qualify for a 4-year university. Although I had very little hope of getting accepted to college because of my limited English proficiency, I got accepted to all 4 universities I applied to! I couldn’t believe it.  It taught me that we never know what we’ll achieve until we try.

Before getting to college there are a number of important deadlines that must be met.  The SAT is a vital exam that every student has to take if they plan to attend a Cal State or UC.  Although youth may not say that they need help preparing for this exam, nearly all young people do, so please help a foster youth find a SAT prep program well in advance.  Of course, applying for FAFSA is critical to pay for college.  Take the time to help youth complete the FAFSA or find someone who can.  In a youth’s first year of college, keeping motivated is extremely important to succeed.  Encourage youth to enroll into support services programs like the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) or Extended Opportunities Programs and Services (EOPS) at community college, and if available, a foster youth support program such as Renaissance Scholars or Guardian Scholars. These programs are not only beneficial to help a young person connect and engage on the campus, but it is a place where they can qualify to receive additional financial assistance, personal counseling, and one-on-one tutoring.

Connecting with the Renaissance Scholars at Cal Poly Pomona has been extremely rewarding for me. Faculty have taught me great values such as: learning, resiliency, wellness, integrity, responsibility and relationships. I have been applying those values in my life in order to have a successful education. Thanks to this program, I did not feel alone in my first year because they made me feel part as a family. It was amazing for me to be around youth who went trough what I went through as a foster youth because I though I was the only one. Sometimes youth create long-lasting friendships with other students, which is helpful in staying motivated.

Reminding youth to work with integrity and to take advantage of all of the support available to them will help them to be successful.  Remember, nobody can stop youth from accomplishing what youth want, but themselves.  They are the key to their success. With encouragement and inspiration from you, they can and will achieve greatness.