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If You’re Still
It should be simple to figure out what you need to do to get a high school diploma in New York City, but it’s not. First, there are two main kinds of diplomas, a local diploma and a Regents diploma. The Regents diploma is harder to get because you have to pass more tests with higher scores (and there’s even an Advanced Regents diploma). Also, the requirements for a diploma may be different depending on your program, such as general education, special education, career and technical education, or ELL (English Language Learner).
The best way to figure out what you need to do to get a diploma is talk with a counselor at your school and someone at your agency who is responsible for your educational success. Have them explain your situation and what you need to do next.
Behind in credits? Here's your second chance
A transfer school is a small, supportive high school designed to help young people like you finish their required courses and get a high school diploma.
Transfer schools like City-As-School and South Brooklyn Community HS have lots of support for students to make learning easier. Some have the Learning to Work program (see more on that below).
Transfer schools offer smaller classes, which can lead to close relationships with teachers, counselors and classmates. Their guidance counselors can help you make sure to take the classes you need, and you don't have to take classes for which you already have credits. The schools also have many outside learning opportunities, including student internships in New York City businesses and non-profits.
There are 22 transfer schools (some with more than one location) in the five boroughs. Different transfer schools are designed to help students in different ways. Some focus on literacy, math or English as a Second Language (ESL). If you're thinking of transferring to one, visit the schools you're interested in. Each school has a different feel.
Here’s a link to a list of more than 30 transfer schools: schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/F537E468-9C57-4958-B26B-B6586BFD9E71/0/Transfer_Schools_Brochure_v2.pdf. For contact info and admission requirements to various transfer schools in New York City, visit
Requirements: Students must have been enrolled in high school for at least one year. There are different age and credit requirements for each school.
Can't go to school during the day?
If you're thinking about dropping out of high school because you can't attend classes during the day, this program is for you. Young Adult Borough Centers (YABCs) offer evening programs developed by the Department of Education.
The programs provide support for teens who feel the need to drop out because they're over-age for their grade or because they have daytime responsibilities like a job or caring for a child or other family member. The late afternoon and evening classes make it easier for these students to continue their studies.
Students attend classes up to five evenings per week. Although the programs are hosted at high schools around the city, students graduate with a diploma from their original high school once they've earned all their credits and passed the required exams.
Each YABC has a community-based organization that gives students academic support for those who need extra guidance in preparing for class exams or projects. Counseling is also available for those who face personal problems at home or school. Job and career development and college preparation are available at YABCs that have the Learning to Work Program.
Requirements: You must be 17½ to 21 years old, be enrolled (or become enrolled) in a New York City high school, have been in school at least four years, and have 17 or more high school credits to attend this program.
Get a job and your diploma at the same time
If you're on the verge of dropping out of high school or have already stopped going, and you need help developing work skills or getting a job, this program is for you. The Learning to Work program is a job readiness and career exploration program that can be found at certain Young Adult Borough Centers, transfer schools and GED programs. The Department of Education started it to give a boost to teens who are struggling in school and want to figure out what they can do after finishing high school.
In addition to working toward their diploma or GED, students who attend a Learning to Work program participate in activities to develop job skills, like workshops, seminars, lectures and field trips. The program also places students in paid and unpaid internships and helps them make connections to other employment opportunities.
Each Learning to Work program also works with a community-based organization that provides support, career and college counseling and helps with job placement and work skills training. Learning to Work is currently available at nine Young Adult Borough Centers, six transfer schools, and three GED programs.
Requirements: The requirements vary depending on whether you choose to participate in a Learning to Work program at a Young Adult Borough Center, a transfer school or a GED program. See requirements for these options above and below.
About GED Programs
GED stands for General Educational Development (also called the General Equivalency Degree), and is accepted as equivalent to a high school diploma by many colleges and universities.
If you're between 16 and 19, you can take the GED if you have reached maximum compulsory school attendance age (after June 30 of the year you turn 16) and meet certain requirements.
You must be a New York state resident, but you don't need to be a U.S. citizen. You can't have graduated from high school or already earned a diploma.
You’re eligible to take the GED if you’re 19, OR
You’re at least 16 and fall into at least ONE of the following categories:
You’re 17 or 18 and fall into at least ONE of the following categories:
Find out more about eligibility requirements here: www.acces.nysed.gov/ged/app_process.html
There are lots of GED programs in New York City, some with daytime classes and some with evening classes. Some programs are offered by the Department of Education, and that is a good place to start looking. Here’s a link to a GED page on the NYC Department of Education’s Website: schools.nyc.gov/ChoicesEnrollment/
Advocacy: Regular and Special Ed
Advocacy: Foster Care Youth Education Project
If you're not getting the services you need to succeed in school, the Youth Education Project at Advocates for Children can help. They provide free assistance to youth (and staff who work with them), ages 14-21. They may be able to help you:
• Learn about your rights
They can also provide staff workshops and trainings on the educational rights of youth in care. For more information, contact Alice Rosenthal at 212-822-9539 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Special Education Advocacy
The Legal Aid Society's Kathryn A. McDonald Education Advocacy Project (EAP) provides special education advocacy for children birth to age 21. EAP helps students get the special services and support they need in order to succeed in school. EAP might be able to help you if:
For more information, contact Cara Chambers at 212-577-3342 or email@example.com
Convinced? Good! Here are the colleges. Check out the websites of the schools that interest you for more information about each school and how to apply.
ASAP: Help for Community College Students
ASAP stands for Accelerated Study in Associate Programs. It is designed to help motivated community college students earn their degrees as quickly as possible, with a goal of graduating at least 50% of students within three years. ASAP provides tuition waivers, MetroCards, tutoring, and more.
Learn more about ASAP here.
There are 34 community (2-year) colleges in the SUNY system. Some are close to the city, such as Westchester Community College. Others are hundreds of miles away. Many do not have student housing, so you have to find your own place to stay, such as your own apartment or with family members who live in the area. If you want to get out of the city for college, and are not ready for a 4-year school, a community college might be the right thing for you.
Because there are so many schools you must talk with a counselor about which ones might be best for you. Once you’ve identified a few schools, ask your counselor to find a way for you to visit the school so you can see first hand whether it's a place you could see yourself living in for two years. Most of the colleges are in small towns that have a much slower pace than New York City. Some people love that, and others hate it. For a complete list of schools, with links to their websites, go to:
There are more than 20 SUNY (State University of New York) colleges scattered around the state. A couple are within commuting distance of New York City, but most are upstate. You will have to live in a dorm or an apartment if you go away to one of these schools.
There are dozens of 4-year private colleges in New York State (far more than we can include on this website). You can get a quality education at any one of them. So how do you choose?
First, you have to be able to get in. Second, you have to be able to afford them. A few private schools are very competitive (you need very good grades and test scores). However, many of them are not as competitive as the top CUNY and SUNY schools. They are almost always quite a bit more expensive than the CUNY and SUNY schools, so you’ll probably need a scholarship.
Click here to see how the costs of a private college compare to the costs of a CUNY community college and a SUNY 4-year college, plus information on financial aid.
When choosing a private college, there are many things to consider, like whether the school you are attending has a good reputation in the areas of your interest; whether you wish to move far away or stay close to home; whether you want the range of opportunities of a big school or the one-on-one attention of a smaller one; how diverse the school is and whether this is important to you; and how much the school costs. One of the best ways to find out about schools is to talk to people about their experiences. You can also read the stories on this website, including Kizzy Charles-Guzman’s “Minnesota Merengue” about being one of the few people of color on a mainly White campus, and Lishone Bowsky’s story “The College of My Dreams…With No Money Down,” about paying for a private college.
Private Trade Schools
You’ve probably seen ads for private trade schools on the subway which promise that you, too, can learn to make movies, fix cars or become a dental technician. They say (or imply): It’s easy! You can get your high school diploma at the same time! They offer financial aid! They’ll place you in a high paying job! And they have photos that make it look like young people just like you are succeeding at their school.
In our experience, what the ads really mean is: The government will give you a loan to go to our school. We’ll help you get the loan, enroll you, take your money and then—good luck sucker! The classes and equipment that looked so good in the brochure? They don’t exist, or there’s so little equipment (for example, only three cameras for a filmmaking class with 25 students) that it’s impossible to learn. The teachers are all part-time, which means that they have no time for you.
Meanwhile, the school doesn’t have to pay back the loan, YOU DO.
We have seen this situation over and over and over again. (Does that mean that no one ever graduated from a private trade school and got a job that paid well? No. But such happy results are all too rare.) Therefore, we cannot recommend enrolling in a private trade school. Find a nonprofit program that offers similar training. Find the program you want at a CUNY college. Do anything but borrow money for a private trade school education if you possibly can.
The Armed Forces
For some young people in foster care the armed forces are the first step toward independence. There are four branches of the armed forces: the Army, the Marines, the Navy, and the Air Force. Each branch has recruiters in practically every neighborhood, and recruiters often visit schools and subway stations, too, so they are not hard to find.
But what do the armed forces have to do with college? Well, as the recruiters will tell you, the armed forces have programs to help you pay for college. (In some cases they can even help you get a GED.)
An advantage of joining the armed forces is that it can be a first step toward independence. You’re not totally independent, because you are subject to military rule and you will live on a base, at least at first. But if you’ve lived in the system for much of your life, you’re probably used to following orders. (Of course, in the armed forces if you disobey they lock you up!) For some people, the limited and structured freedom of the armed forces is an important first step toward full, adult independence.
There are a couple of disadvantages to the armed forces. First, unlike other jobs, once you’re in you cannot just quit if you don’t like it. Second, like trade school recruiters, armed forces recruiters are known to exaggerate and mislead young people about the benefits they might get and about military life in general. One of the most common deceptions is to tell you that once you get in you can do whatever you “qualify” for. The key word here is “qualify.” Sure, you can become a pilot, or a mechanic, or an electronics expert…if you “qualify.” But remember, there are tens of thousands of other recruits trying to qualify for the same few good jobs. (For example, in the Air Force there are literally thousands of people who wash planes, fill their gas tanks, and hand out uniforms to the pilots for every person who is actually a pilot.) Most recruits do not get the good jobs, because it turns out that they do not “qualify.”
And those college benefits? Well, they’re real, but only if you take advantage of them by actually going to college. And that can be hard to fit around the demands of regular life in the armed services—like getting sent to Iraq or Afghanistan.
To join or not to join? The decision is yours, but make it with your eyes open. If possible, do not rely on what the recruiter tells you. Talk to people in your neighborhood who have been in the armed forces. And know that if you really want to use the armed forces to further your education, it will take a lot of discipline.
College Counseling Services
It’s difficult to figure out what college is right for you. You will need help. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a good college counselor at your high school or your agency. Use them!
If you don’t have people at your school or agency (or even if you do, but you need more attention or information) many community groups run their own college counseling programs. Here’s a list. Look for agencies near your home or school and call them about hours and eligibility.
Remember, the best time to begin the college search is in your junior year of high school. However, you can still get help in your senior year, or even after you’ve graduated.
The Application Process
If you feel stressed when you think about the college application process, join the club. Though there’s nothing about the process you can’t handle, there are many steps you have to get through. First, if the college(s) you choose requires it, you have to take the SAT. Then there’s filling out the applications and writing the essay, which is your opportunity to tell the school who you really are and make yourself stand out from other applicants. You also have to apply for financial aid. This is the trickiest and most technical part of applying to college, so make sure you find someone to help you, like your school counselor or caseworker.
The most important thing is not to let fear stand in the way of getting started. Start early, don’t wait until the last minute to start filing out applications, and keep in mind there are always deadlines.
Because there are many steps to applying to college, it can be helpful to see the process broken down step by step. One of the best resources we’ve found is the New Visions/Citigroup College Planning Guide. If you’re applying to college, we recommend that you print this guide out and use it to help you plan your application process.
The SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test)
The SAT is an exam most students take as part of the college application process. Some colleges do not require the SAT. If the colleges you hope to attend do not require it, then there’s no need to take the test. You’ll have to look in a college guide book, visit college websites, or talk to a guidance/college counselor to know if a college requires the SAT.
If you are planning to take the test there are a couple of things to know. First, you may be able to get a fee waiver so that you can take the test for free [see SAT Fee Waiver]. Even if a young person in care does not secure a fee waiver, s/he should not have to pay the SAT fee—his/her agency should cover that.
The programs listed below offer classes to help you prepare. Like any class, the more you put into it the more you’ll get out of it. To really benefit from a test prep class you’ll have to put in dozens of hours taking practice tests and working in the class to figure out how you can do better. Plan to take a class at least two or three months before you take the SAT.
SAT Fee Waivers
Unless they have suddenly come into a lot of money, teens in foster care shouldn’t have to pay to take the SATs. Students eligible for a free or reduced price lunch are eligible for an SAT Test fee waiver. You are eligible for a maximum of four waivers for SAT tests; two may be used for the SAT Reasoning Test, and two may be used for SAT Subject Tests. (You are allowed to take the SAT Reasoning Test more than once, and should consider doing so if you have reason to think you will significantly improve your score.)
You should speak to your college counselor to obtain a fee waiver card and mail it in with your test registration form. If you register online, you will have to enter your 6-digit school code, found on the bottom of the fee waiver card, which you should obtain from your school counselor. Again, ask your college counselor for help with this.
Application Fee Waivers
Believe it or not, it costs money to apply to college. However, you probably don’t have to pay, if you plan ahead. You should contact the admissions offices at all the colleges you plan to apply to. Tell them you’re in foster care and ask them how to get a “fee waiver” form. Get the form and fill it out and—like magic—you’ve saved yourself $30 to $90 for each school you apply to. A fee waiver itself costs nothing— it is just a form you fill out and send to the college along with your application.
Scholarships and Loans
Most youth in care are eligible for scholarships and loans, including Pell grants given out by the federal government, TAP grants giving out by New York State, and Education & Training Vouchers (ETVs) given out by New York State's Office of Children & Family Services (OCFS). However, learning about scholarships, grants, and loans is complicated and so is applying for them. You definitely need to talk to someone at your school, your agency, or a community-based college counseling program to figure out the best package of scholarships, grants, and loans to pay for your education.
Meanwhile here are several key things you need to know:
1) Scholarships: These are the best because you don’t have to pay them back! For example, ETVs and Pell Grants are scholarships.
2) Work/Study Grants: Colleges often provide what are called “work-study” grants. You work a certain number of hours on the campus and in return you get a grant that you don’t have to pay back.
3) Loans: Loans should generally be avoided. Loans are easy to get, but they must be paid back. And you don’t want to be paying $300 a month on top of your rent and other expenses for the next 10 years! (That’s about what you’ll pay if you borrow just $25,000.) Avoid taking out loans except in a serious emergency, and keep them small. (For example, if you get scholarships and grants to cover $10,000 and your college costs are $12,000, consider taking a loan for the last $2,000.) Taking out a big loan to attend a private trade school is almost never a good idea.
Click here to see how the costs of a private college compare to the costs of a CUNY community college and a SUNY 4-year college, plus information on financial aid.
Meanwhile, to keep things simple, focus on these opportunities first: ETVs; New York State scholarships such as TAP; the federal Pell Grants; and Foster Care to Success. Information on these and more are below.
Pell Grants (and other Federal Scholarship and Loan Programs)
There are lots of "specialty" scholarships, with money available for students who meet very particular specifications (like African-American males interested in architecture). Once you've filled out your FAFSA and applied for an ETV and state grants, do some additional scholarship research. If you know what schools you want to apply to and what you're interested in studying, that's a good start.
Call your schools and search online for professional associations related to your area of interest to see if they offer scholarships. For example, if you have a strong interest in a specific field like journalism or accounting, you are likely to find scholarships for students planning to study those fields.
You should also check out scholarship websites like fastweb, which match your profile to any applicable scholarships. Here are some other helpful websites:
Foster Care to Success
The Johnson Scholarship Foundation
Warning: There are a lot of fraudulent companies that run scholarship scams. Don’t use any scholarship service that charges you money. All legitimate scholarship searches are free.
Note: Winning a scholarship takes planning and discipline. Just gathering all of the forms and recommendations and completing them flawlessly can be a time-consuming chore. A word to the wise: Investigate scholarships far ahead of time so you can get your materials in order.
Guardian Scholars Program
If you are selected you must meet the following criteria to keep the scholarship: a GPA of 2.5 or higher; complete a minimum of 12 credits per semester; work, intern, or volunteer between 10 and 20 hours per week; and participate fully in all aspects of the program.
The New Yorkers For Children Spirit Award will honor a young person in foster care who is attending a two- or four-year college or university and has demonstrated leadership skills. The winner must also be willing to represent the opinions of youth in foster care as a representative to the Board of Directors of New Yorkers for Children. This is a one time, $10,000 educational scholarship.
For more information, contact:
Students are eligible to be considered for a GMS scholarship if they:
Find the application and more information here: http://www.gmsp.org.
The John Seita Scholarship
Adopted After 13? What You Need to Know About Financial Aid
FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)
The College Board Website
The College Scholarships, Colleges, and Online Degrees Website
Hobson’s College View
Free Application for Federal Student Aid – US Department of Education
ACT, Inc.: Education/Career Planning and Workforce Development
CollegeNET – Online Applications and Free Financial Aid Search
If you go away to college you can live in a dorm or in an off-campus apartment, which can be a lot cheaper than the city. Also, many colleges have bulletin boards or housing offices that list apartments for rent or people looking for roommates.
What housing does ACS pay for if you’re in college? If you’re going to college outside of the city and you’re age 18 to 21 and you have not signed yourself out of care, the room and board payment that ACS would have sent to your foster parent or group home is sent to your college instead to cover room and board in your dorm. This can be a complicated issue (where do you stay on vacations, for example?). If you will be attending college outside of the city (congratulations!), be sure to talk with your foster parents and your caseworker to get all of the arrangements straight before you head off to school.