We talk a lot about how difficult it is for youth with experience in foster care to get to and through college, and that's really important, but what happens after graduation? Young people with experience in foster care graduate at very low rates (3-10% estimates) compared to the general population, and the need for support extends beyond college after gradution. This blog focuses on "what comes next" after graduation and provides ideas for next steps to success in career and life!
Life After Graduation: Becoming the 3%
Getting to college seems to be the main focus of foster care scholarships but not as much as staying in and graduating. We can see this translated through the fact that only about 3% of foster youth graduate college nationwide. Because school was the way that I coped through my struggles and my trauma, I unconsciously (and sometimes consciously) neglected areas such as my mental health as well as my identity outside of always being a student. I started college at the University of Michigan-Flint but after a year and a half there, I decided that I needed something more for myself. That’s when I decided to transfer to Western Michigan University to be closer to my foster parents and to gain more opportunities.
When I initially transferred, I decided not to join the Seita Scholars Program because I wanted to live off campus, so I could live with my then-boyfriend. Once I noticed that my scholarship funding was running out, I applied for the Seita Scholars Program. It was then that I was placed with a campus coach and I realized the gap in development that I still needed to work on. The Seita Scholars Program differs from other scholarship programs because each student is paired with a campus coach who challenges students to reflect on the 7 life domains. This process was not easy for me as I like to stay busy with work or classes so that I don’t have to face the things that I ultimately need to heal from to be successful.
Even though I took advantage of all the resources offered to me, which I know that at WMU, it is far more than what’s offered at other institutions, the transition from graduating out of college was more difficult than transitioning into college. When you enter college, you have some comfort in knowing where you’re going to sleep, if you’re a part of a program, you know you have a support system, and you know that if you mess up, you have those that can catch you. However, the thought of getting together my cover letter to apply for jobs for post-graduation gave me anxiety attacks for at least 2 months. It wasn’t until I had several people close to me and my campus coach encourage me to start with one and work up from there. For so long, my entire identity was wrapped into being a successful student. I had no idea what life was like outside of that.
After college, everything is unknown and because I didn’t have a job, or any form of income lined up, it caused extreme anxiety. This signified instability. It signified foster care. The transition out of college can be much more stressful for youth who’ve experienced foster care than transitioning into college. I know that I am not alone in this experience and if we hope to raise the meager 3% graduation rate, then we need to ensure that graduation and the transition out of college is an exciting time and not a reminder of the unknown in foster care.
My biggest piece of advice for anyone, not just foster youth, is to seek out mentors. We will have different mentors throughout the seasons of our life. These are people in your community that has a skill, quality, characteristic or a position that you aspire to obtain. These are people you can learn from and are willing to challenge you and your growth.
bout Alexis L.:
Alexis L. graduated from Western Michigan University in 2019 with a BBA in Entrepreneurship and a BA in Global and International Studies, a certificate in Nonprofit Leadership, and a minor in Political Science. She has studied abroad 6 times and is completing programs in Senegal and Hong Kong over the 2019 summer. In 2017, Alexis was selected as her university’s sole nomination for the 2017 Newman Civic Fellowship. From this, she was one of only two students to receive a full scholarship from the Ronald Reagan Foundation to participate in the Leadership and the American Presidency program in D.C. She was inducted into the Lee Honors College, the National Society of Leadership and Success and Phi Beta Kappa; she received scholarships from the Seita Scholars Program, the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, and the Horatio Alger Association. She was awarded the Presidential Scholar Award from the Management and the Global Studies department at WMU. Alexis is a TNFC Ambassador and aspires to be a positive example to other foster youth and seeks an international career.
Fostering Success Michigan is a program of Educate Tomorrow that aims to increase access and success in higher education and post-college careers for youth with experience in foster care. Learn how you can contribute to building a holistic network that insulates (i.e., strengthens protective factors and reduces risks) the education to career "pipeline."Make a Donation