As a child of a broken home, I moved from one state to another to find family that would take me in. When that did not work, I ended up in foster care in a state that was ethnically lacking in diversity. Finding kids my age who could relate to me in ways other than the obvious lack of parental guidance was difficult, but no worse than struggling to be able to communicate with caseworkers about why the homes they attempted to place me in were uncomfortable and not a good fit.
I have 3 sisters and a brother who were all dispersed across state and city lines. Family ties and tradition have always been very important to our family, but those things were never taken into consideration while in care. After bouncing from home to home and the state changing my caseworkers countless times because of the workloads placed on them, the strain between myself and the system was palpable. Obtaining substantial, knowledgeable guidance when it came to applying for colleges was lacking heavily. It seemed as though they were just as eager to take me off the caseload as I was to be free of it.
In the end, it all worked out. I graduated with not one, but two degrees. The reality of it all though, is that if I had the knowledge that I do now, or some guidance to the options available to me, the direction I could have taken would have been much smoother and much quicker saving me time and money.
Now that I am aware of all the options available, sharing the non traditional ways of pursuing a college degree is so important. The other side of that coin are the essential life skills necessary to survive as not only a college student but a thriving adult. Here are the key factors that became essential for me, and I believe that whether you’re a foster child or a parent with a child heading to college, it is a great checklist to reference before they are off to the races on their own. A great place to start is by looking at a list of all the schools in your state or taking a college tour together, but in the end the decision needs to be their own. Here are the five things I found necessary and prepared me for the transition ahead.
I am a true believer that there should be a serious focus on finances and managing a good budget junior and senior year of high school. Generally, kids graduate high school with no knowledge of how to manage their funds on their own. Whether you are able to help your child out financially while they are in college or not, if they do not know how to stretch that money I can almost guarantee there will be a call for more finances or they will decide to take out loans to supplement the help and spend that carelessly as well.
I turned to loans and when I realized I still wasn’t able to sustain myself, I looked for a solution, which turned into a bulleted monthly budget. We live in a digital age. When I was going over a budget I found several great budget apps and even simple excel shortcuts that I always had at my disposal. It also allowed me to begin saving for trips I wanted to take.
You don’t have to be tech savvy to have experienced the heartbreaking realization that you just lost everything you were working on because the computer failed. The blue screen of death is the real deal and is unfortunately something that many college students have a story about.
Finals week, putting the finishing touches on a huge paper and the computer crashes…
Having a backup plan is always important. Purchasing not one but two externals is a huge step in avoiding the looming computer crashing story. Not only does it help to keep the computer fairly clear of unnecessary data so that it runs smoother/quicker, but it allows for saving work often so nothing gets lost in the shuffle.
I say two externals because as any graduate/parent knows there is a good chance that efforts to help with tech issues could be overlooked and used for other things. One external for schoolwork and the other for music and entertainment. A work and play external helped to keep me organized and generally on task.
Basic Life Skills
One day I was borrowing a friends car and I had to stop and put gas and could not figure out how to pump. I called and asked how to put gas in her car. I was dead serious and I didn’t know whether to laugh at myself standing there confused trying to pump gas in her car or be upset with myself for failing such a simple task. In the end we both got a good laugh out of it but it was a good reminder before I was off to college about the need to revisit even the little things.
Double checking whether high school grads are capable of basic life skills may sound silly but it is very necessary. Do they know how to do their own laundry without shrinking everything or turning it another color? Can they cook decent meals for themselves? Do they know how to put gas in their car? These are all very valid questions that a lot of us never think to ask. It’s assumed.
Heart to Heart
It seems as though there is always a headline about young college student fatalities from drunk driving and assaults on college campuses, sexual and otherwise. Overlooking the very real possibility that something could happen in my opinion is irresponsible. A conversation about drinking and driving is one that probably isn’t enjoyable but will appreciated.
Talking about safety and smart choices before going off to college with young girls is so important. Reaffirming to young ladies that it is okay to say no and that her body is not a barter system is necessary. Dinner and a movie doesn’t equate to owing anyone anything. You’re not a tease or a prude, you’re a strong young woman (or young man). For every 1,000 women on a college campus 35 are raped every year. These are very real numbers so educating our sons and daughters about the facts is prudent.
The biggest stressor for a lot of people when starting out in college is working out the financial aid information. This was so confusing and frustrating for me that I almost gave up right there. Parents, set aside time to go over this with your child either from home or with someone in the financial aid department at the university. This will not only take the added stress off of your child but it will give you an opportunity to talk to speak with someone who can explain in detail the different kinds of loans available, and how that process works so that the debt doesn’t pile up.
These five things made the transition from foster care to college living much easier on me. I felt more confident in my ability to take care of myself which made me much more apt to become involved in college campus life and clubs. In the end confidence is key, confidence in self regardless of outside opinions. Allow your high school grad to know that you believe in them and have your full support. That is the most valuable thing you can give them.
I hope that my experience, or initial lack of, has been helpful. From every negative experience comes a positive alternative and life lesson. Now, when my daughter makes it to college I will be excited and ready to help with any and all roadblocks eagerly.