Being the First in My Family to Go to College
Lori interviewed Lexandra to discuss what was like for her to undergo the college application process as a child within the foster care system. While Lori relied on her family for support, Lexandra depended on online resources. Their conversation also covered life as a college student, through topics like choosing a major and taking classes that mirror a desired career path. While they have experienced different application processes, both Lori and Lexandra share an understanding that it is okay to not know what academic or career paths to take. For more content about careers and education, don't forget to check out our new Education & Career Toolkit.
Disclaimer: the information shared here reflects the opinions of the host and interviewee and do not reflect the views of the Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs.
Lori: You are listening to Youth Engaged 4 Change radio, an internet program where youth empower youth by sharing their stories and experiences. This is your host for today, Lori. In this interview, I talk with Lexandra about how she decided to go to college and how she chose her major. Lexandra is a college sophomore from Huntsville, Alabama, and she'll be sharing with us how she, as a youth in foster care, navigated the college application process.
Lexandra: Thank you, Lori. As she stated, my name is Lexandra. I am 19 years old and a college sophomore. I've been in foster care for three years.
Lori: Thanks, Lexandra. To start, can you share when you decided you were going to college?
Lexandra: I decided I wanted to go to college a long time ago, but I knew that with me going to college, I would have to graduate high school first. I found all of that to be overwhelming because I was going to be the first in my family to graduate high school and even be the first to go to college.
Lori: Was there anyone or anything that influenced your decision to go to college?
Lexandra: I don't really think that there was someone in particular that influenced it besides wanting to be a better example for my siblings given that I was the first to go to college in my family and the first to graduate high school.
Lori: As a college student myself, I would definitely agree that it requires a huge support system to be able to apply, choose, and attend college. In my experience, it was really my sister who helped push me to apply to schools and who edited all of my applications before I sent them off. I'm really appreciative of her help, and I know I wouldn't be where I am today without her, but I was also very fortunate to have a very typical high school experience with typical high school guidance. As a student in foster care, did you feel as though your experiences applying to college were different than your peers?
Lexandra: I do feel that my experience is a little bit different. My senior year, I transferred into a new school so it was making new friends and getting to know that college counselor or the high school counselor different. And so it was just a big mix up for me, and it was definitely hard trying to find my place in that.
Lori: Were there any specific resources that you sought out when applying to college?
Lexandra: Being that I was in foster care at the time, I didn't have family I could ask for help. I seeked help from my school counselors and career coaches that were available at our school. They both made sure I met all of my deadlines for school admissions and scholarships such as FAFSA.
Lori: Counselors and career coaches are very valuable resources that can really make your applications go smoothly. That is definitely true. And FAFSA deadlines are often very tricky to meet, so I'm sure it was very beneficial to have people coaching you through that process. Were there any resources that you used that were online?
Lexandra: When I was applying to some of the colleges, they did virtual tours on their websites so it was easier for me to look on there, granted that I found out really late that I was going to graduate a year early. So it was crunch time to figure out what school I was going to go to, and so the virtual online tours made it really easy and emailing the different admissions for each school. They were very responsive.
Lori: I definitely agree. I also used a lot of websites in applying to college just to do extensive online research to see what was the right choice for me and if it was worth my time. So how did you choose what college to go to and what college or colleges to apply to?
Lexandra: When I was applying for colleges, like I said before, it was really crunch time to figure out what school I was going to. The only school campus that I actually physically visited was Troy University in Troy. And when I visited there, I kind of just fell in love with the school there. And it was close to my foster family, and I felt that that would be the best decision for me. But I did do some research on their website to see what programs they offered and what their graduation rate was and reviews for their professors.
Lori: It's also important to take into consideration what you want to major in when you're applying to college. So what is your major currently?
Lexandra: Well, my major was pre-medicine but I recently changed it to pre-engineering after doing some different programs to see what I wanted, what my interests were in school.
Lori: And what type of engineering is that? Do you have a specific type yet?
Lexandra: I don't think I've really decided on what specific type. I do still want to do something in medicine as well, so I might go the route of biomedical engineering or just keep engineering and then just go back to school for a pre-medicine thing. But right now, my main focus is just doing a pre-engineering and then figuring out what type of engineering I want to go into afterwards.
Lori: That's exciting. So do you have a career goal or a career path that has inspired you to choose these majors?
Lexandra: I did a course. It was a technical course in Huntsville, and that basically opened up a new mindset for me and striked my interest towards engineering that I didn't know that I personally had. So I feel that it's important to look at different ways to figure out what you're really interested in, whether that be shadowing a job or just trying to figure out what career path you necessarily want to go into, because after a few times of being in the classroom and different classes, you start to realize that that's not really what you want to do or that is something that you're really interested in doing. So at the time, being at Troy and being away from family, and I didn't really have the stronger support system that I wanted or that I thought I had. So that's why I decided to change my career path.
Lori: I think changing your major or changing your career path is definitely something that is common. When most youth go to college, it's very difficult to know what you want to major in when you first attend, and it's even harder to stick with that choice. In college, I've changed my major at least three times before deciding on my current major, and I'm still not sure if I'll change it again before I graduate in two years. Having so many classes and meeting so many people really opens your eyes to all the potential opportunities that you can have by picking a major. And so you were talking about it earlier, but why did you change your major?
Lexandra: Well, I felt that I didn't have much exposure to the options of career choices, so after selecting my major, I went to the certification program that I mentioned earlier that really dealt heavily in manufacturing and different industries in manufacturing. And so I wanted to be able to work in industry and go to school and have extra money. So upon finishing the program, I decided that I also wanted to do something in engineering. So before I changed my major, I decided to take a practice ASVAB test because youth in foster care in the state of Alabama are allowed to take the ASVAB test for free. I was able to see where my interests were basically at, and after taking the test, medicine and engineering were among my top choices.
Lori: Can you elaborate on what the ASVAB or A-S-V-A-B test is, and how can that help other youth decide their career goals?
Lexandra: ASVAB testing is the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, and it's basically a multiple choice test that most people take when they're thinking about going into the National Guard or the military. And then it will tell them what basically their career choices ... like if they score high enough, what they're able to pursue. So it basically is your interests and what they think that you would be capable of.
Lori: That's interesting, and it sounds like a really good resource for youth who are unsure of what they want to study or where they want to work. Do you have any final remarks or anything else you'd like to share?
Lexandra: Yes. I think it is important to explore all of the options before making a decision. It doesn't matter if you go to a two-year, a four-year, a technical school, or even just a certification program. You should find out what resources are available to you to make decisions such as practice ASVAB or shadowing programs. Also, it's sometimes helpful to look at the demand in the job because so many people get degrees in fields that aren't in high demand, and it's okay to change your mind and your major as well. The average person changed their major four times in their undergrad years.
Lori: Those are definitely good points. It's okay not to know what you're doing, and it's almost expected to change what plans you do have. And there are plenty of resources out there if you're struggling to decide what path to take with college majors or careers. Lexandra, thank you so much for sharing your story with us today. You've given some great advice, and I think that will be very useful to youth in foster care or any youth who are struggling to decide what to do for college. Your story is very inspiring, and I hope the rest of your college experience goes well.For more information, resources, or stories from your peers, visit engage.youth.gov. And you've been listening to Youth Engaged 4 Change radio.
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