With about 46% of Alaska graduates saddled with student loan debt, it's important to know the many resources available to Alaska students who need money to attend college. Alaska offers a state-based student loan as well as numerous scholarships and grants.
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Students in Alaska have a variety of options to help pay for college. Most students will apply for federal student loans, but there are state-based student loans, scholarships and grants are also available in Alaska.
Among Alaskan students, federal student loans that need to be repaid, Alaska students should explore all of their options.
Getting Financial Aid for College
The first thing a student in Alaska needs to do to get student loans is complete the FAFSA. This application is used to determine federal student loan eligibility, but it’s also used for other purposes. For example, the FAFSA may be used for state-based student aid, as well as to determine qualifications for certain scholarships, grants, and work-study programs.
The FAFSA should be completed as soon as possible following the Oct. 1 opening date. A students’ financial aid eligibility is determined by looking at their Estimated Family Contribution. Then, the Estimated Family Contribution is taken from the Cost of Attendance at the school. The difference may be the amount of financial aid a student receives. There may still be gaps that exist in funding, and students can fill them by turning toward scholarships and grants.
Be proactive in filling out the FAFSA and start to apply early for available scholarships and grants because many options have strict application deadlines.
Alaska Student Loans
Students and their families interested in Alaska student loans should visit the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education. This is the primary state-based resource for students who want to fund their education. The main state-based student loan in Alaska is called the Alaska Supplemental Education Loan or the ASEL. This loan has a fixed-rate APR of 5.15% to 8.50% for the 2018-2019 school year.
With this state-based Alaska loan, students can get rate discounts when they use the loan to study in Alaska. It’s touted as an alternative to the federal PLUS loan, and there are no fees or payments while a student is in school at least half-time. Aggregate loan limits for undergraduate students can reach $56,000.
Alaska also has exchange programs. These programs provide options for Alaska undergraduate students to study outside of the state but still have the benefits of residency. For example, at participating schools outside of Alaska, students pay a reduced tuition rate.
Alaska College Scholarships
College scholarships are considered gift aid used to pay for school because, unlike loans, they don’t have to be repaid. They can be an excellent way to reduce the debt burden you face after graduation. It does take time to find and apply for scholarships, however.
Scholarships are offered by a variety of public and private organizations, and they are available for different reasons. Some scholarships may be offered to students who have an excellent academic record, while others are for athletic ability, or because of a specific interest or career objective.
The following are some college scholarships available to the students in Alaska.
- The JJ Klein Scholarship is granted by the Alaska Community Foundation for $10,000 each year. This scholarship is for high school students who are going to college and have shown a desire to succeed even with financial setbacks. The funds are renewable, and the application deadline is April 29. Applicants should have a GPA ranging from 2.0 to 3.2; applicants with a GPA above 3.5 aren’t considered.
- The William Hunt Scholarship provides awards of up to $2,000, and it’s from the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the American Society of Travel Agents. The deadline is April 1, and students should have above a 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale. It’s specifically for students who plan to declare a hospitality or tourism-related major.
- The Alaska Performance Scholarship is administered by the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education. There are three levels of scholarship funding available, and students must graduate from an Alaska school and have a minimum high school GPA of 2.5.
- The UA Scholarship Award is offered through the University of Alaska Anchorage. It’s available to students who graduated from a public high school in Alaska, and they should have at least a 2.5 GPA. This program provides both need-based and merit-based options. Preference goes to first-generation college students.
Alaska Grants for College
College grants are similar to scholarships in that they are gift aid that doesn’t need to be repaid. However, grants are often provided by the federal and state government.
A big difference between scholarships and grants is the fact that grants are more often need-based as opposed to merit-based. Scholarships are more often merit-based, although need may factor into the equation. The following are some grants available in Alaska:
- The Alaska Advantage Grant was created by the Alaska legislature. It’s funded through the Alaska Higher Education Investment Fund. Awards range from $500 to $4,000 per academic year. The grant is for students with financial need. There are certain criteria used to determine priority for the award including the date the FAFSA was filed, the financial need based on the Estimated Family Contribution of the student, and school enrollment status. Students with the highest level of financial need are awarded funding first, and then it goes from there until the funds are gone.
- The Bureau of Indian Education has a Higher Education Grant program that provides financial assistance to Native Alaskans and American Indians. To be eligible, students need to be enrolled in an accredited school, and they have to complete the FAFSA. Eligibility also requires applicants prove at least one-quarter degree Indian blood. It’s not an entitlement grant.
- The Gear Up! Alaska program is technically a scholarship, but it’s similar to a grant in that a FAFSA needs to be completed for eligibility. Gear Up! is an Alaska not-for-profit program that helps students make it to college. Awards are available up to $7,000 per academic year, and it’s renewable for four years. There are also partial scholarships for part-time students. The program focuses on certain districts and schools in Alaska that are at or above 50 percent poverty.
- The University of Alaska Completion Grant is a program designed to encourage students to complete their degree more quickly. Students have to meet certain credit and academic requirements and should be an Alaska resident.
Author: Ashley Sutphin