The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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How I Overcame My Fear of Applying to College
Debra Samuels

Let's face it when it comes to applying to college, many foster care youth are bound to be a bit nervous. I know that I was.

You may feel that you're not smart enough to go, or you may want to go and don't know where or how to start.

Then there are those of us who start to apply and give up because we let the application process get us down. I had all of these fears but I overcame them, and you can too.

Now that I'll soon be entering my third year at college, I can look back at my senior year in high school and share some tips that might make the application process less frightening.

At the beginning of senior year when everyone was rushing to get their applications ready, I was...well, chilling! In the hustle and bustle of helping all the other students, my college counselor failed to realize that he had not seen me at all since the start of the year.

Soon, I realized how far behind I had fallen. At this point my counselor tried to give me a jump start by rushing me through the application process. During this time I wondered why it had taken me so long to get started. Then I finally realized the answer I didn't think I could get into college, so I decided not to apply at all.

Fear of S.A.T.

Most of the college-bound students in my school had extremely high grades and S.A.T. scores. This led me to believe that unless my scores were as high as theirs, I probably wouldn't get into a decent school.

The mistake I made in thinking my scores weren't high enough is one of the many that are made when students are applying to college. This is especially true when students observe what other students are doing and then base their actions on this comparison. One thing that I learned is that everyone's situation is different and what's good in applying to college for someone else might not be good for you.

Before I took the S.A.T., I was almost positive that I wouldn't do well. I didn't take one of the $100 preparatory courses that almost everybody in my high school took.

Many people said if you didn't take one, then you might as well not take the S.A.T at all. The counselors would even tell horror stories about past students who had done terribly on the S.A.T. because they didn't take the prep classes.

But when my results came back, I was surprised to see that I had done better than some of my friends who took the prep courses!

Another thing that caused a constant uproar among the seniors was having to get teachers' recommendations. This was a hassle, because at the start of the school year many of your current teachers don't know you well enough to write a letter. This means hunting down teachers from years before, who usually don't remember us well enough to write pleasant things.

To Stay or Go?

Thank goodness that I did some detective work and discovered that the letters weren't restricted to just teachers. Some schools asked for recommendations from just about anybody -- friends of the family, adult acquaintances -- as long as they knew you well and supported your application. So I used one from my music instructor and from the school counselor I was close to.

One thing that came to mind while choosing colleges was that I wanted to get as far away from New York as possible.

Then again, I didn't want to go too far because our school warned us that everywhere was not like New York. Some colleges are in small towns that are not racially diverse and open-minded.

I think students who are in foster care sometimes have an extra worry when it comes to deciding to go away or stay. Many of us are afraid of losing our spaces in the group home if we go away to school.

I was lucky because when I came home from college on break, there was always an empty bed for me in my old group home. I always called my agency a few weeks before Christmas or summer vacation to make sure they knew I needed a place to say. But not all agencies can do this (see "Know Your Legal Rights", p. 34), so it's important to keep this in mind when choosing to go away to school.

Once I took my S.A.T.'s and decided to go away to college I had to begin convincing the schools that I was the student for them. If you didn't do too well on your S.A.T.'s and your grades are sort of borderline, the student essay that most colleges require can give your application that extra push.

Writing the Essay

The essay is an opportunity for you to make yourself stand out from among all the other applicants. You may not think there is anything interesting to write about yourself, but you'd be surprised. Anything that you do outside of your schoolwork is important to the colleges you are applying to. They are looking for well-rounded students, not bookworms or goof-offs.

If you feel stuck or are convinced that there is nothing interesting about you, then ask around. You'd be surprised at what some people know about you that you don't even know yourself.

Another thing that can help is describing anything that has had an impact on your life. If you are in foster care, I'm sure you have pages to write on that topic. It doesn't have to be a sob story just a brief description of an event that altered your life in some way.

Make Foster Care Work For You

Maybe you want to talk about how being in foster care has made you determined to achieve as many goals as possible, despite the odds that are against you. That's something that I chose to write about and it worked for me!

When it comes to applying for financial aid, almost everyone runs into a few problems. One benefit that I had was that I didn't have to run around looking for my parents' tax forms to prove that I needed money for school. All it took were four simple words, "ward of the state," to describe my financial condition.

Another important thing to remember when applying for financial aid is to have someone help you. The whole process can be confusing and very frustrating at times if you try to do it I did.

Well, I learned my lesson and I rushed to my college mentor for help after the forms came back from the colleges for the third time because I had left out information! After all the mistakes I made the first few times, I really needed help.

If there isn't anyone at your school who can help you, there are many other places where you can go for free college counseling, such as libraries, community centers, and even your agency.

All you have to do is ask around and find them, because they won't come to you!

Start Early

Looking back, I just wish I had started the whole process a bit sooner so I could take my time with some of the decisions I made. The sooner you start the process, the less complicated it will seem.

Even if you're just a freshman in high school, it doesn't hurt to begin looking around and deciding what you want to do.

On the other hand, it's really never too late to begin applying to school. All you have to do is make up your mind that starting from this point on, you're going to try your best to achieve what you've already set your mind to do. And you'll be just fine.

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