Helping Your Foster Child Choose a University

Helping Your Foster Child Choose a University
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Deciding where to go to university is an exciting yet daunting time for any young person. For children in foster care, this transition can be particularly challenging as they may lack the family support networks that other students rely on during this process. However, with care and guidance, foster carers can play a pivotal role in empowering their foster child to make this big decision.  

Speak to Your Foster Agency

As a first step, have an open discussion with your fostering agency about the support available for further education. They may be able to provide useful advice and access to additional assistance like grants, bursaries and accommodation options. Make sure you fully understand the financial help your foster child is entitled to and any application deadlines. This will allow you to have realistic, budget-focused conversations about prospective universities.

Encourage Them to Consider What They Want from University Life

Moving away to university is about far more than just getting a degree. Have broad conversations about what your foster child hopes to gain from this experience – more independence, trying new things, meeting people from different backgrounds? What environment would help them thrive – a buzzing city campus or a tight-knit community in a rural setting? Avoid letting your own university experiences overly influence their preferences. 

Compile a Long List of Potential Options

Sit down together and make a big list of universities across the country that seem like they could be a good fit, based on course offerings, location, size, etc. At this early stage, the aim is simply to gather possibilities – there are no right or wrong answers. Encourage your foster child to include some “dream” options as well as more realistic targets. 

Research Each University Thoroughly 

You should now have a substantial list to work from. Take time to properly research each university, looking beyond the prospectus at elements like student satisfaction surveys, accommodation options and support services. Resources like the Complete University Guide can help compile key info and rankings across institutions. Encourage your foster child to make their own notes about what attracts them to each place. 

Schedule Campus Tours and Open Days

Whittle the list down to a shorter selection of top contenders. Make sure your foster child gets to actually visit these universities on organised open days and/or informal campus tours. Being there in person gives a much better feel for the environment than any brochure. Take advantage of opportunities to speak to current students about their experiences. 

Guidance on Choosing Course Options

Discuss which subject(s) your foster child is keen to study and why these appeal to them. Look at course modules and teaching methods – would they prefer continual assessment over high-stakes exams? What facilities and experience will they get? Ensure their choices align with their longer-term career goals. Be supportive if their interests change – many young people switch courses, especially in the first year. 

Help Weigh Up the Pros and Cons

As decision time approaches, balance emotional responses with practical considerations. Finances may dictate picking a university that offers the best support. But also acknowledge if your foster child has fallen in love with a particular place – this passion can outweigh other factors. Avoid imposing your own bias. The final choice must be theirs. 

The Road to University as a Care Leaver

Leaving care to start university is a bigger transition than for most students. Your ongoing emotional support is vital. Reassure your foster child that they can call on you for advice and encouragement, even when they are no longer living under your roof. As their foster carer, you have already helped guide them through life challenges – now help empower them to take this next bold step into independence.

About the author

Tom Bernes

Tom Bernes is the Editorial Director at The Next Hint Inc.

Prior to joining The Next Hint Inc, Tom had a hand in a number of online and print publications, including as chief copy editor and Government Technology Magazine as managing editor. He also did a stint in Sydney as group editor of RBI Australia's manufacturing group, which is when he also developed an affinity (a love, really) for cricket.

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