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contentsHigh School
Home Schooling
Education and Staying in Foster Care After Age 18
Individual Education Plans (IEP)
General Education Development (GED) Certificate
Sorting out GED Options
After High School
Applying for College and Vocational Schools
Financial Aid
State Tuition and Fee Waiver
Educational Training Voucher (ETV) Program
Other College Financial Assistance
Learning a Profession Outside of College

High School

Finishing high school or earning a GED certificate before you age out of foster care is very important. In fact, this is probably one of the best things that you can do to help yourself prepare to be an adult and improve your employment options, income and future educational and training opportunities. If you are enrolled in high school, you can attend public high school in Texas up until age 21. If you are under 21 on September 1, you can enroll for the school year and complete that school year. If you are enrolled in high school, you can stay in foster care up until the last day of the month you turn 22. While the school district may limit what schools you can attend based on your criminal record or disciplinary history, you should contact the Texas Foster Youth Justice Project for help and guidance if you are being denied enrollment.

Some school districts may have alternative programs to complete your high school education. As a foster youth, you are also entitled to Credit Recovery, Accelerated Instruction, Intensive Instruction, free summer school classes to make up classes before the next school year begins, and access to the State Virtual School programs to help you more quickly complete high school. You should talk to your school counselor about these services. If the counselor is unfamiliar with these programs, ask to speak to the school district’s liaison for foster youth or homeless education liaison.

Some other important things to know about foster care and high school:

  • When you first enter foster care you can continue at the school you attended before entering foster care until you complete the highest grade at that school, even if your new home is in a different school district or attendance zone, and even if you leave CPS custody. However, it is up to you and your foster care placement or whoever you are living with to transport you to school.
  • You can stay in any school you are enrolled in while you are in foster care until you complete the highest grade at that school, even if you move to a new placement in a different school district or attendance zone and even if you leave CPS custody. However, it is up to you and your foster care placement or whoever you are living with to transport you to school.
  • If you change schools due to a change in placements you cannot be kept from participating in activities or sports because you have not lived there long enough. UIL (University Interscholastic League) residency requirements do not apply to foster youth.
  • If you are in foster care and you miss school for a mental health or therapy appointment, court ordered visitation or other court ordered activities or CPS service plan that are difficult to schedule during non-school time, your absence is excused and cannot be used to deny you for course credit if you miss more than 10% of class time due to those absences.
  • Be sure your college has a copy of your tuition waiver and that it is listed on your financial aid award letter and your bill for school. You should submit another copy of the tuition waiver and talk to college staff if it is not and make sure it gets fixed.
  • When you change schools, your new school must get your school records from your previous schools within 10 days. Your new school must have procedures for giving you credit or partial credit for classes you took at your old school. If you are in the 11th or 12th grade when you transfer and your new school has different graduation requirements than your old school, you can get your diploma from the new school as long as you meet the requirements of your old school.
  • Sometimes when you are in foster care you may miss school because you are being moved, or there are issues related to your placement or your case. Your school cannot refer you to court for truancy (missing school) if you are missing school because you are in foster care. The school needs to work with you, your placement and CPS instead. The same is true if you missed school because you were homeless, were earning money for your family, or are pregnant. However, if you are just skipping school because you did not feel like going (not because of a foster care problem, homelessness, pregnancy, or because you were working), you can still be referred to court. If staff at your school has told you that you are in trouble for missing school, be sure to talk
    to someone there, like a counselor or teacher, about your personal situation.

Home Schooling

Your foster care provider can decide to home school you unless the Court finds it is not in your best interest. If you are not happy with the home school setting because you do not think you are getting the education you should receive or you want to be in school with other students your age, you need to speak up to your caseworker, attorney ad litem, CASA and the judge about your concerns.

Education and Staying in Foster Care After Age 18

Extended Foster Care, staying in foster care after you turn 18, is a great way to work on educational goals. It can be very difficult to complete your education if you have to work or struggle to pay for housing and living expenses. There are not financial aid programs to pay for housing for young adults who are finishing high school or completing a GED. Even with financial aid, it can be very difficult to pay for housing and living expenses while you attend college or vocational schools.

Individual Education Plans (IEP)

(If you are NOT in special education, then this section does not apply to you.)

If you are in special education, then you should have an IEP. If you are a student with learning problems or other disabilities and you do not have an IEP, please tell your caseworker, foster parents, CASA, attorney ad litem, and school supervisors and request an evaluation to see if you qualify for special education. An IEP has many benefits that you should not miss.

An IEP is an individual education plan for youth in special education. This plan should be truly individual and specific to each student. Under law, every student who receives special education services must have an IEP to help the student meet his or her educational and social goals. If you are in special education, then your school system should schedule Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARD) committee meetings to review and revise your IEP. The ARD committee generally includes you, someone from the school system, your foster parents, the person the court has appointed to be your surrogate parent for educational purposes, a special education teacher, a regular education teacher, a person to help explain your evaluation results, a person to discuss services that will help you when you leave school, and anyone else with knowledge about you. You can invite people to come to your ARD committee meeting.

The IEP team must review your IEP at least once a year. You and your foster parents or surrogate parent should also talk about your IEP at other times. You and your foster parents or surrogate parent can request changes to your IEP at any time.

If you have a severe impairment which limits your ability to work and you want to apply for SSI (Supplemental Security Income), your school records related to special education, including any evaluations done, can be very important to helping to establish your disability and you should request them within 4 years of leaving school or the school may not have them anymore.

Beginning at age 16, your IEP must list the services that you will need to help you get ready to leave school. These services should focus on your specific needs and interests and can include plans for more education or training, social skills development and help finding and keeping a job. If you do not feel that your IEP is meeting your goals, you should talk to your caseworker.

General Education Development (GED) Certificate

If you don’t finish high school but still want a high school diploma, you should contact your old high school about whether you can take classes that would let you finish. If that option does not work for you, then you should think about getting a GED certificate. If you are struggling in school, you will probably need to take a lot of classes to prepare to take the GED test and do a lot of studying. In 2014 major changes were made to the GED test. It is now more difficult to pass than it was before 2014.

The GED certificate shows that you have learned the skills that would have let you graduate from high school. Most employers and many colleges view a GED certificate the same as a high school diploma. People who do not have their GED certificate or high school diploma usually have a harder time finding a job and get paid less than people who have a GED or high school diploma.


You may take the GED test if you are:

  • At least 18 years old, or meet other special requirements,
  • A resident of Texas,
  • Not enrolled in high school, and
  • Not a high school graduate.

Taking the GED When You are 17 or 16

If you are 17, you must have permission from CPS. If you are 16, you can only take the GED if you are in the Job Corps or ChalleNGe Academy or a judge has ordered you to do so as part of a court case for truancy.

Registration and Costs

The GED exam is offered at many places all around Texas. To find the testing center nearest you, visit MyGED and click on Locate a Test Center in the United States at the bottom of the page. You can’t get your GED certificate over the Internet or by mail so register only at an official GED testing center. There are many dishonest companies pretending to be official test centers—so only pick a center listed on the MyGED website. Test fees are different for each location. Once you choose a testing center, you should ask the center for an application and ask about their fees. You should talk to your caseworker to see if DFPS or another program can pay these fees for you. You should check with the place where you will take the test to see what identification and other things you will need to bring when you take the test.

Test Preparation

As with any test, you should study before taking the GED exam. The PAL program offers help in preparing you for each of the GED tests.

There are many groups that offer free guides on the Internet to help you study for the GED  test, including:

Sorting Out GED Options

To help you figure out if you can take the GED test and what resources are available for you to prepare for it, you can talk to your case worker, PAL worker, Transition Center staff and Aftercare case manager. If you are still in foster care, they can also contact the DFPS Education Specialist for your region about your options.

After High School

If you already have your high school diploma or GED certificate—congratulations! That is an impressive and important accomplishment. You have already increased your ability to get a job and earn more money. But, you may not want to stop there.

You have probably heard that people with college degrees or vocational training earn a lot more than those with high school diplomas or GED certificates. If college or a vocational school interests you, do not be scared of the costs or of going back to school. There are many groups that will help you apply to these schools and there is a huge amount of money available to help you pay for this education.

If you have a physical or mental disability, the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (or DARS) can help you with counseling, training and job placement assistance, as well as other services after you leave high school.  See more information here.

To help get you started on planning for life after high school, visit the Texas Workforce Commission’s website for information about college, vocational school and job opportunities.

Applying for College and Vocational Schools

If you are thinking about going to a college or vocational school, you must apply for admission. The application process will have strict deadlines. To be sure you don’t miss these deadlines and to find out exactly what the schools will need from you, you should contact the admissions department at the schools of your choice as soon as possible. This is important because some types of information, like your Social Security card, a photo ID or immunization records, may take time to get if you do not already have them.

To go to college, you probably need to take either the ACT or SAT standardized tests. Schools usually want your test scores before the application deadline. You should speak with your caseworker and school guidance counselor about registering for and taking these tests in time to meet all deadlines. The PAL program may help you to pay for the costs of getting ready for and taking these tests. Your PAL coordinator can tell you more about that assistance. Most testing programs and college applications have fee waivers for low income youth, which includes foster youth, so be sure to find out more about fee waivers.

Financial Aid

Financial aid is a resource of money to help for college or vocational school. There are many different types of financial aid that you may be able to get. Some aid may be based on need (in other words, based on how much money and income you have). Other financial aid is given based on grades, test scores, activities (like sports) or credit. There are grants and scholarships that don’t have to be repaid, loans that you must repay after you graduate, and work-study programs that let you work part-time at the school. Most Texas foster youth can go to a Texas public college or vocational/technical school for free!

You should not let money stop you from going to college or vocational school. This is true even of private schools that you may think are too expensive. There are billions of dollars of financial aid available, but you will need to ask and do some work to find it. The financial aid departments at the schools in which you are interested in can help you find these funds. For more information, you can also visit Federal Student Aid, EdFund or FastWeb. You may also want to visit Texas Workforce Training & Education and Texas Youth Connection’s Paying for College for helpful information about financial aid programs. Do not be shy about providing information about having been in foster care or other hardships you experienced while growing up- many schools and financial programs have assistance available for students like you and want to provide assistance.

To apply for financial aid, the first step is to fill out one of the following forms: FAFSA or TASFA. FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is free to apply. No matter how many schools you are applying to, you only need to fill out one FAFSA application. Once your application is processed, you and the schools you have selected will be notified of the results. The schools can then start figuring out what financial aid is available to you. It is very important that you return your FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1st for the following school year because the sooner you send in your FAFSA, the better your chances of getting financial aid. It is very important that you get help filling out the FAFSA by someone who is familiar with how foster youth should fill it out. There are some questions about foster care and ward of the court that need to be answered a certain way to help you get the most financial aid. You do not need to include the income of your foster parents or other relatives! PAL workers, your Aftercare case manager, and Transition Center staff should be able to assist you.

Once you send in your FAFSA or TASFA, you should contact the schools of your choice to see if any of them need more information. Applying to school is usually not the same as applying for financial aid—you probably will need to do both.

If you drop out or leave school before the end of the term but you have received cash funds to use for living expenses, it is very important that you return the cash funds. You should talk to the financial aid office about what to do or you risk being unable to get financial aid in the future.

If you are a Texas resident but are not a U.S. citizen and do not have legal immigration status, then you may need to use the TASFA (or Texas Application for State Financial Aid) instead of the FAFSA. There is no fee to apply. To see which form to use, go to College for All Texans and follow the “financial aid application” link on the “Financial Aid” page which you will find in the Student section.

State Tuition and Fee Waiver

Many former foster youth may go to publicly funded Texas vocational schools, colleges or universities without having to pay tuition or fees, including for dual credit high school and college courses (Texas Education Code §54.211). You may be able to get free tuition if you were in the conservatorship of DFPS:

  • On the day before your 18th birthday,
  • On the day you graduated from high school or got your GED,
  • On or after your 14th birthday, if you were eligible for adoption on or after that day,
  • The day you were enrolled in a dual credit course for which a high school student may earn joint high school and college credit,
  • The day before you were adopted, if you were adopted on or after September 1, 2009; or
  • The day before permanent managing conservatorship was given to someone other than your parents, if on or after September 1, 2009.

If you qualify for free tuition and fees, then you must also enroll in a qualifying vocational school, college or university, no later than your 25th birthday. To be sure that you will be eligible for future free tuition, be sure to successfully complete a class by the time you are 25.

Adopted youth who are subject to an adoption assistance agreement that provides monthly payments and Medicaid benefits are also eligible for the tuition and fee waiver. If you qualify under this provision you may enroll in college for the first time at any age and still get the tuition and fee waiver. Keep in mind that, under new Texas law, you continue to qualify for a tuition waiver based solely on an adoption assistance agreement even if you are not making satisfactory academic progress towards a degree or certificate in accordance with the school’s policy regarding eligibility for financial aid. A school can also no longer stop you from using the Tuition and Fee Waiver if it determines you already have more than enough credits to graduate from your degree program.

A list of qualifying schools can be found at College for All Texans – select Students and find the Helpful Information link. Then select Texas Institutions of Higher Education. Schools listed under Texas Institutions of Higher Education/ Public Institutions are ones where you should be able to use your waiver.

To have your college waive the tuition and fees, you must fill out a FAFSA or TASFA form and give the college registrar written proof from DFPS of your eligibility for the program. To find out more about how to get that proof, contact a PAL worker.  The State Tuition and Fee Waiver does not cover living expenses, such as the dorm or your books and supplies.

Warning: Be sure your college has a copy of your tuition waiver and that it is listed on your financial aid award letter and your bill for school. You should submit another copy of the tuition waiver if it is not. This seems to be a problem and several former foster youth end up having to repay financial aid or must get a loan instead.

A new law in 2015 allows certain youth who leave conservatorship to return to a parent, even one who previously had their rights terminated, to receive the tuition waiver. DFPS is establishing rules about when a youth would qualify.

Educational Training Voucher (ETV) Program

The Texas Education and Training Voucher (or ETV) program provides additional money for former foster youth who enroll in a college or training program. You may be eligible to receive up to $5,000 per year under the ETV program to help with housing, food, books, child care, computer equipment, medical insurance, tuition and some other expenses. The best part is that this benefit is in addition to the Texas tuition waiver program. (See “State Tuition and Fee Waiver” above.) If you qualify for both programs, you could go to a qualifying school for free and use the funds from the ETV program to meet other expenses. If you have a physical or mental disability, you may also qualify for financial or other assistance through the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program of the Texas  Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (or DARS). Generally, you should be able to receive funds under the ETV Program if:

  • You are 16 or 17 and in DFPS foster care and likely to stay in care until you are 18,
  • You are not yet 21 but aged out of DFPS foster care,
  • You are not yet 21 and were adopted or entered Permanency Care Assistance from DFPS foster care after turning 16.

If you believe you are eligible, then you must apply for the ETV funds by a deadline.

While you are still in foster care, you can get ETV to cover certain non-housing related expenses including transportation, books, computers, and supplies. As long as you begin getting ETV before you turn 21, you can keep getting it until you are 23 if you are making satisfactory progress toward completing your education.

In order to continue receiving ETV funds, you must send information to the ETV program from time-to-time showing that you are in good standing and you must continue working on your degree or other certification. ETV payments during your first two years in the program will be made to the people providing the services, such as your landlord, the school’s housing office or the bookstore so it will be especially important to apply in advance and be sure to get all the necessary paperwork. You can find out more about the ETV program online or by calling ETV at (877) 268-4063 or asking a PAL worker.

Other College Financial Assistance

You can find information about college and financial aid at Compare College Texas.

Several schools offer additional financial aid and other programs to help former foster youth. The financial aid departments at the schools you are interested in attending can give you information about the financial aid programs. Some colleges have  programs and services to provide foster youth with guidance and assistance as they adjust to college studies and life. Be sure to ask if your school has any program or person you should contact. Every Texas public college is required to have a Foster Care Liaison. If you cannot find out who your liaison is, contact the Texas Foster Youth Justice Project.

You may also be eligible for a scholarship through the Casey Family Scholars Program. This program is operated by the Foster Care to Success (FC2S). It provides scholarships of up to $10,000 per year to people under the age of 25 who have spent at least 12 months in foster care and who were not adopted out of foster care. The scholarships are awarded for college or vocational/technical training and can be renewed each year you are in school based on your progress and financial need. You can visit the “Scholarships and Grants” link under “Our  Programs” at Foster Care to Success for more information on scholarship programs.

If you were released from the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, you may qualify for Aftercare Educational Funding and other educational services. TJJD has education liaisons that help with education issues.

You can also find out about scholarships by visiting Texas Youth Connection, CPS’ web site for foster youth.

Learning a Profession Outside of College

College is not your only choice for learning new skills after you finish high school or get your GED. Other types of schools can also get you ready for a career:

Vocational schools and trade schools offer certifications for many jobs that do not require a college degree, such as welding, computer repair, auto repair, truck driving, cosmetology (which includes hairstylists, make-up artists and beauticians) and other skilled fields.

Technical institutes generally offer two year or shorter programs in skilled professions, such as medical assistant, electrician, dental hygienist and computer programmer.

It is important to remember that you may still be eligible for the ETV program if you attend a
vocational school, trade school or technical institute—so please do not forget to apply for ETV. You
should also look for public community colleges and vocational/technical schools that offer similar
programs. Rather than go to a private school, you can use your Tuition and Fee Waiver at public schools
and avoid expensive student loans. Plus, if you have a physical or mental disability, you could also
qualify for vocational training and assistance from the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative
Services (or DARS).

Also, many high schools now offer classes that let their students earn the same certifications that they could
get through a vocational or trade school. By taking those classes in high school, you could get a certification
and obtain a skill that would make it easier to find a job and earn more money as soon as you graduate from
high school.

You can also learn skills for a trade outside of the classroom. A great way to learn new skills is by
becoming an apprentice. This means that you would receive on-the-job training by working with others
in that field. Apprenticeships are available in many industries, ranging from aerospace to health care
to homeland security. Visit the “Apprenticeships” section to look for Apprenticeship information under
Find Training at CareerOneStop.


During your transition planning process process, you will work with your Circle of Support or transition team to set goals and make a plan for meeting those goals. Those same people can also help you prepare for college or vocational training. You should follow-up with these people after you make the initial plans. Once you go to college or enter a vocational program, your school may offer guidance counselors to help you adjust to your new life. Ask your transition center, placement agency, transitional housing program, PAL worker, Aftercare case manager, and school staff for help finding other mentoring options in your community.


Elementary, Middle and High School Resources

Higher Education Financial Assistance

General Education Resources


*Indicates a resource developed by the Texas Foster Youth Justice Project, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. or Texas C-Bar. Please download, copy, and distribute. Complete Resource List