ILLINOIS (WCIA) — The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is currently accepting applications for the 2023 DCFS Scholarship Program.

A minimum of 53 academic scholarships will be awarded to current and former youth in care for the upcoming school year. Scholarship recipients will receive up to five consecutive years of tuition and academic fee waivers to use at participating Illinois state community colleges and public universities, a monthly grant of $1,506 and a medical card.

“Students who have been involved in the foster care system face a unique set of challenges from a young age that often set them at a disadvantage when it comes to funding their education,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “The DCFS Scholarship Program gives current and former youth in care the opportunity to plan for their future without incurring crippling debt or working long hours that distract from their schooling.”

DCFS said the scholarship program is available to youth who have an open DCFS case, whose cases were closed through adoption or guardianship, or who aged out of care at 18 years or older. Additionally, youth who are at least 16 years old and not yet 21 on the March 31 application deadline date may apply.

“It’s our mission to provide our youth in care with the resources and support they need to succeed as they prepare to enter adulthood,” said Illinois DCFS Director Marc D. Smith. “These scholarships will help ease the burden of paying for school and allow them to focus on their studies and plan for their futures.”

DCFS receives on average 200 applications each year. They said recipients are selected based on their scholastic record and aptitude, community and extracurricular activities, three letters of recommendation from non-relatives, and a personal essay illustrating their purpose for higher education.

DCFS said they have awarded over 1,500 scholarships since the program began in 1971. Additionally, four of this year’s awards will be reserved for the children of veterans.

“This scholarship has allowed me to reduce my work hours so I can stay focused on school and on getting good grades,” said Rileigh, a 2022 scholarship recipient. “With this scholarship, I’m able to pay my bills, buy groceries, make my car payment and afford other necessities.”

Applications for the scholarship programs are available here. They will be accepted until March 31.