As a Foster transitioning into college, the journey has been both extremely freeing and also a daunting task. While I’ve enjoyed my experience and am grateful for all the opportunities I’ve received, I’ve also struggled with unique challenges that stem from my experience in foster care.

One of the most difficult aspects of college life has been navigating peer relationships. College campuses buzz with energy as students form friendships and create tight-knit communities through clubs, organizations, and social events. Yet, for me, stepping into these social scenes has often felt like tiptoeing into unfamiliar territory.

Growing up in foster care meant experiencing constant changes in my living situation and being separated from my biological family. These experiences left me with a lingering sense of isolation and a fear of not belonging. As I walk through campus, surrounded by students laughing and chatting, I can’t help but feel like an outsider, unsure of where I fit in.

The stigma associated with foster care only adds to the challenge. I worry that my background will set me apart from my peers. During my experience in foster care, my peers were composed of other Fosters. Because there is a small population of Fosters who attend college, I was one of the only Fosters at my college. I went from being in a space with only Fosters who had experienced abuse, neglect, and other family issues to non-foster peers who had always had a stable home and family. This became extremely isolating when trying to build relationships or engaging in conversation. They couldn’t relate to my experience, and I couldn’t relate to theirs.

The absence of a traditional family support system weighed heavily on me, especially during holidays, weekends, and school breaks. While my peers were talking about their fun holiday plans with their families, I did not share those sentiments. My options were attending a friend’s family gathering or being alone on the college campus.

And then there are the everyday challenges of college life: managing finances, juggling classes and homework, working multiple jobs, and still trying to maintain a healthy social life on top of trying to navigate the complexities of adulthood without any familial support.

Constantly, we hear language at colleges that center around the assumption that everyone has a family and is supported by them. This language perpetuates a norm that isn’t a reality for Fosters. It also creates harm and division among students, excluding Fosters or those who have non-traditional family systems. The language used often negatively affects Fosters, accentuating their sense of isolation due to the lack of family.

My hope for future Fosters is that college will become more accessible to their experiences, that there will be an increase in access to college, and more community networks for Fosters to connect with each other. I believe that if the Fostering Independence Grants were to be expanded nationwide, it could fill a huge gap within Foster representation at colleges. With this representation, the ability to create pathways into success for the next generation of Fosters will be greater.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR - Travis Matthews
Travis Matthews is a driven senior at Hamline University, pursuing a degree in legal studies. As the student body president, he leads with passion and dedication, advocating for the student body. Matthews is deeply committed to making a difference in legislation and policy within child welfare and youth advocacy. His role as a Senior Youth Policy Fellow at Youthprise underscores his dedication to empowering young people and creating positive change. With a strong focus on social justice and equity, Matthews strives to amplify the voices of young people across the state of Minnesota. Outside academia, he enjoys outdoor adventures and listening to Taylor Swift.