Foster Youth College Planning

Thinking about life after high school? This page will explain the types of colleges and degrees and steps you can take to get there.
9th Grade 10th Grade 11th Grade 12th Grade Summer after High School


Types of Colleges

Types of Degrees

    • 4-year and advanced degrees
    • Also called "Regent universities"
    • Funded by state
    • 4-year and advanced degrees
    • No state funding, usually more expensive
    • Cost is lowered by school-funded aid
    • 2-year, 4-year, and advanced degrees
    • Operated as a business to make money
    • Also called "proprietary" 
    • 2-year degrees, certificates, transfers
    • Public or private
    • Prepare for a specific occupation or trade
    • Many are for-profit
    • 2,000 hours of on-the-job learning
    • At least 144 hours of related instruction
    • Earn a paycheck while you learn 
    • Examples: electrical, construction, plumbing, information technology, health care, food and beverage prep
    • Skills for specific careers
    • Certificates: usually a year or less
    • Diplomas: usually two years or less
    • Community college, career/vocational/technical colleges, or some four-year colleges
    • Examples: chef, paralegal, cosmetologist, welder, X-ray tech
    • Usually earned in two years or less
    • Community college or a career/vocational/technical college
    • Maybe 4-year college
    • Some can be applied toward bachelor's degrees
    • Examples: dental hygienist, registered nurse, veterinary tech, auto mechanic
    • Typically at least 4 years
    • 4-year college or university
    • Examples: teacher, engineer, accountant, dietitian, social worker, criminal justice
    • After bachelor's degree
    • Master's, doctoral or professional
    • Several years, depending on the type
    • Examples: veterinarian, dentist, lawyer, pharmacist, professor, medical doctor

Get Organized

  • Start a folder to hold all information related to college.
  • Keep copies of test scores and/or write down the dates you took tests (ACT, SAT, Iowa Assessments, etc.).
  • Save your login name and passwords for online registrations used for any tests or college applications.
  • Create an email account that is not associated with your high school. A Gmail account or something similar will remain yours through transition periods.
  • Use your legal first and last name for all applications.

Steps You Can Take Now

9th Grade
  • Meet your school counselor and arrange a meeting to talk about your plans.
  • Talk with your guardian(s) about your educational choices and review your course load.
  • Get involved. Many college admissions officers look for well-rounded students who are involved in their schools and communities.
  • Choose the right class schedule. Research college admission requirements.
  • Find out about advanced placement (AP) and other honors courses. If your high school does not offer AP courses, it might provide online access through the Iowa Online AP Academy.
  • Fill your summer with volunteer and work opportunities to get a better idea of the careers you might like to pursue. Check out to find organizations seeking volunteers.
10th Grade
  • Check in with your school counselor. Ask about prerequisites you might need to take now to prepare for advanced courses in your junior and senior years.
  • Talk with your guardian(s) about your educational choices and review your course load.
  • Investigate dual credit for your junior and senior years. Dual credit, also called concurrent enrollment, lets you earn college-credit courses in high school, usually free of charge.
  • Keep your grades up. Stay focused on schoolwork. Colleges will look at the grades from more than just your junior and senior years.
  • Research financial aid options and begin searching for scholarships. Make a list of those you might be eligible for, and take note of deadlines. 
  • Stay involved. Admissions officers like students who keep up with activities throughout high school, instead of starting them at college application time. 
  • Start making campus visits. Call ahead to schedule appointments with financial aid and admissions offices. Also be on the lookout for college fairs in your community.
11th Grade
  • Prep for college entrance exams. Download a free ACT preparation booklet from Find free official test prep for the SAT through the College Board at and Khan Academy at Take practice tests to determine where you might need to improve.
  • Talk with your guardian(s) about your educational choices and review your course load.
  • Focus on career and college research. Assess your skills and interests so you can consider possible areas of study. Determine which colleges offer programs that can prepare you for the career you want.
  • Attend college fairs and college planning sessions with your guardian(s).
  • Take the SAT or ACT in the spring and have the official scores sent to schools that interest you.  You can take these tests in senior year as well to get a better sore.
  • Make a timeline for your college and scholarship applications. Research deadlines now so you won’t be rushed when applications are due. 
12th Grade
  • Review coursework with your school counselor to be sure you have taken (or are scheduled to take) all the courses you need for your preferred colleges.
  • Submit college admission applications. Watch for College Application Campaign events at your high school.
  • Complete and submit the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) at as soon after October 1 as possible. Check with your school(s) of interest for their priority deadlines. Watch for FAFSA Completion Initiative events at your high school or in your community. FAFSA tips for foster youth can be found at
  • File the Iowa Financial Aid Application. To take advantage of some state-funded grants and scholarships (including ETV), you must complete the Iowa Financial Aid Application (  The deadline for the All Iowa Opportunity Scholarship is March 1.
  • Ask your high school to send your official transcripts to all the colleges where you are applying. 
  • Compare acceptance letters and financial aid offers. Upon admittance, each college or university listed on your FAFSA will send you a financial aid offer that shows the aid you are eligible to receive.
  • Take AP exams for any AP subjects you studied in high school. Some colleges might award college credit based on your exam score.
  • Decision time! Choose your college and notify them by mailing your commitment deposit check. Watch for College Decision Day celebrations at your high school.
Summer After High School
  • Make a budget. Review your financial aid offer and pay close attention to the Cost of Attendance, which includes tuition, school fees and room and board. Depending on the school, your financial aid offer might or might not include books, supplies, travel and personal expenses. If these costs aren’t included, be sure to account for them and other living expenses.  Talk with your aftercare worker to see if any assistance is available.
  • Make a payment timeline. When is your admissions deposit (your official decision of where you’ll attend school) due? Your first tuition payment? Housing deposit? If you need to, make a calendar to keep track. 
  • Register and attend orientation. Orientation allows you to meet your classmates and learn about support services on campus. 
  • Complete housing forms. If you plan to live on campus, make sure you know the deadline for filling out all the required housing forms and applications.
  • Register for classes. Ask your advisor for help creating a schedule that balances employment and academics.
  • Arrange transportation. If you do not have a vehicle, look into public transportation options and schedules.