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On the hunt for a cheap college education in the Last Frontier? We recommend you get creative! The University of Alaska system offers a variety of scholarships and grants to low-income students, but you’ll probably need to supplement this with federal aid, state financial aid such as the Alaska Education Grant (AEG) and private scholarships. Don’t forget, too, that you have the option to look outside Alaska’s borders—WICHE programs allow you to pay reduced tuition rates in certain Western states.
UAF students can choose from the 145 degrees and 31 certificate programs offered by the university's nine colleges and schools. Twenty-nine percent of beginning first-time students received the average Pell Grant amount of $4,074 for the school year 2013-2014. Incoming freshmen with excellent academic backgrounds are automatically considered for the UAF Nanook Gold Scholarship (full tuition), UAF Chancellor's Scholarship (from $4,000), and the UAF Cornerstone Scholarship (from $2,500). Transfer students may be eligible for the UAF Academic Achievement Award or the UAF Human Achievement Award. Both scholarships are for $2,500 each. Alaskan high school students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class can apply for the University of Alaska Scholars Program, which awards $12,000 over 8 semesters.
Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
Alaska has only a few public colleges, and they are all within the University of Alaska system. This makes it easy to transfer most credits between University of Alaska campuses, including community colleges within the system.
General education requirements will transfer between University of Alaska universities and community colleges. Additionally, the University of Alaska has begun to develop a statewide common course numbering system. In addition to four year institutions, all public community colleges in Alaska are within the University of Alaska system. Students can use the Student Transfer Credit Resource Site to determine whether courses will transfer to individual campuses.
While individual college credits are not guaranteed to transfer, Alaska does guarantee transfer of associate degrees. Within the University of Alaska system, common core coursework for the General Education Requirements of baccalaureate degrees will transfer among campuses.
The path to a cheaper college degree starts with a visit to your higher education agency. In Alaska, it’s called the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education (ACPE) and its website is full of useful resources for students and parents. In addition to detailed information on state grants and scholarships, you’ll find advice on budgeting, understanding credit and the student loan game. You can also apply for affordable state loans using the streamlined online loan application.
Confused about the FAFSA? Want to talk to a real person about college choices and financial aid? Visit an ACPE Success Center or call 1-800-441-2962 (option 4) to chat to an ACPE college & career specialist. These specialists make visits to schools around the state.
One thing to note—Alaska has a limited amount of state financial aid, so it pays to explore all your options (federal, state, university and private grants & scholarships). For example, the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) has a long list of scholarship opportunities for students of American Indian and Alaska Native descent and the University of Alaska has a helpful directory of Private Scholarships on their website.
Summary: AEGs are given to low-income Alaska residents admitted to an undergraduate program or vocational certificate program at a qualifying Alaska institution. These grants range from $500 to $4000 per academic year, and are awarded in order of highest financial need and the date your FAFSA was filed (so file early!).
Eligibility: You must be an Alaska resident admitted into an undergraduate degree or vocational certificate program at a qualifying Alaska institution, enrolled at least half-time, have a high school diploma or GED and meet satisfactory academic progress requirements.
How to Apply: The ACPE will use your FAFSA information to determine if you’re eligible—no separate application form is necessary. You can monitor your AEG application and eligibility status through your Alaska Student Aid Portal account. Once you’ve received notification of the award, you must contact the ACPE to accept the grant.
Summary: APS funds are awarded to Alaska residents who graduate from an Alaska high school, meet all the eligibility requirements and attend a participating college or university in Alaska or an approved career and technical education program.
Eligibility: Scholarships are split into three levels—the higher your GPA and test scores, the higher the annual award amount. For example, a GPA of 3.5 or more and a SAT of 1680 could qualify you to receive up to $4,755 per year. Public, private and home school students are all eligible.
How to Apply: You can apply for the APS by filing your FAFSA; you need to file a FAFSA each academic year you plan to use the award.
Summary: The ASEL is intended to help Alaska residents pay for education costs not covered by savings, grants, scholarships or federal Stafford loans. The ASEL has a 6.25% (5.94% APR) fixed interest rate; no payments are required while you’re attending school.
Eligibility: You must be an Alaska resident or a student at an eligible school in Alaska enrolled at least half-time in an education certificate or degree program and meet credit score requirements in order to qualify for this state loan.
How to Apply: You can apply for the ASEL online.
Summary: The Alternative Consolidation Loan is intended to help students consolidate current ACPE alternative loans (minimum of $3,500 eligible debt) into a single fixed-rate loan. This may reduce your current interest rates or it may not—compare your terms and rates before deciding to consolidate. The Alternative Consolidation Loan has a fixed interest rate of 6.25% (6.25% APR).
Eligibility: You must 1. Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen and Alaska resident. 2. Have two or more alternative loans with ACPE. 3. Have a minimum of $3,500 of eligible debt to consolidate. 4. Be less than 60 days past due on any loan you wish to consolidate.
How to Apply: You can apply for the CL online.
Summary: The Brindle loan is available to students enrolled full-time in fisheries-related programs (e.g. fisheries, fisheries science, seafood processing, etc.). Your program could be a career vocational-technical program or an associate, baccalaureate, or graduate degree program. In addition to the low 5% (3.35% APR) fixed interest rate, the loan has no annual maximum limits. You may also be eligible for up to 50% loan forgiveness if you return to Alaska and are employed in a fisheries industry.
Eligibility: You must be an Alaska resident with a high school diploma or equivalent (GED) enrolled in a fisheries-related program (see above).
How to Apply: You can apply for the Brindle loan online.
Summary: The FEL is a low-interest state loan that can be taken out by a spouse, parent, foster-parent or grandparent on behalf of a student who is enrolled at least full-time in an eligible post-secondary school. The FEL has a 6.25% (6.25% APR) fixed interest rate and no minimum credit score requirement.
Eligibility: In addition to full-time enrollment requirement, both the borrower and student must be Alaskan residents. Borrowers cannot be delinquent or in default on an Alaska education loan or be past due in Alaska child support obligations.
How to Apply: You can apply for the FEL online.
Summary: Interested in completing an out-of-state professional program (e.g. dentistry) that’s not available in Alaska? The PSEP loan allows you to borrow money to pay for education expenses at an eligible WICHE PSEP institution in one of the following fields: Dentistry, Occupational Therapy, Optometry, Physician’s Assistant, Podiatry, Pharmacy and Physical Therapy. The loan has a 6.25% (6.25% APR) interest rate and rates as low as 5.50% in repayment with borrower benefits.
Eligibility: You must be an Alaska resident with a high school diploma or GED enrolled in an eligible PSEP institution (see above).
How to Apply: Detailed instructions about applying for the PSEP loan are available on the ACPE website.
Summary: To help more Alaskans to become medical professionals, ACPE offers a 2.75% fixed interest rate loan to WWAMI participants. WWAMI is a collaborative medical school among universities in five northwestern states: Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. Aspiring WWAMI participants begin by applying to the University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine. If they’re accepted into the program, WWAMI students living in Alaska take classes at the University of Alaska Anchorage for 18 months and then rotate through medical specialty areas in various locations. As a WWAMI participant, you may be eligible for up to 100% loan forgiveness if you return to Alaska and are employed in a professional medical practice.
Eligibility: You must be an Alaska resident with a high school diploma or GED who has been accepted to the WWAMI Medical Education Program.
How to Apply: You need to apply for the WWAMI program at UW and complete a WWAMI Promissory Note with the ACPE to be considered for a loan.
Summary: Active members of Alaska’s National Guard are eligible to receive a 100% state tuition reimbursement when they attend a University of Alaska system school. The maximum annual benefit is $4,500; the lifetime maximum is 144 semester credits.
Eligibility: To remain eligible for the award, you must continue to serve in the National Guard during your education.
How to Apply: If you’re in the Army National Guard, you should first apply for Federal Tuition Assistance (FTA). Contact your unit’s full-time representative and visit the UAF Tuition Waivers & Assistance website for more info.
Summary: The University of Alaska System offers in-state tuition rates for active-duty military personnel, spouses or dependent children of active-duty personnel, veterans and members of the National Guard. If you are an eligible, active-duty member of the U.S. Armed Forces, you may even be able to receive 100% reimbursement on tuition.
Eligibility: See above. Qualifying students need to remain in Alaska during the course of their studies.
How to Apply: For more details, visit the UAF Tuition Waivers & Assistance website.
Summary: The tuition waiver is available to the spouse or dependent of an Alaskan armed services member who died in the line of duty or died as the result of injuries in the line of duty or who has been listed by the Department of Defense as a POW or MIA. The benefit waives undergraduate tuition and fees at a state-supported educational institution in Alaska.
Eligibility: See above.
How to Apply: Contact your school’s Financial Aid Office or the Alaska Department of Military and Veteran’s Affairs for more information.
For more detailed information on state-focused military benefits, contact the Alaska Department of Military and Veteran’s Affairs. The ACPE also has a useful section on military benefits for state education loans.
Summary: Like the WUE, WRGP is an exchange/access program administered by WICHE. It allows master’s, graduate certificate and Ph.D. students who are residents of WICHE member states—a list that includes Alaska—to pay resident tuition for programs at 60 participating institutions outside of their home state.
Eligibility: In addition to being a resident of a WICHE member state, WGRP students must fulfill all the usual requirements of the department/institution concerned, and meet all admission deadlines.
How to Apply: Contact the department or graduate studies department at the WGRP institution(s) of your choice.
Summary: In addition to state aid programs from the ACPE, we wanted to let you know about WUE, which is administered by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). Students who are residents of WICHE states—a list that includes Alaska—are eligible to request a reduced tuition rate of 1.5 times the in-state tuition (i.e. 150%) at participating two- and four-year college programs outside of their home state.
Eligibility: Residents of one of WICHE’s 15 member states or the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands are eligible for consideration.
How to Apply: Contact the WUE institution(s) of your choice. You should be aware that many schools require that you request the special WUE rate at the time of application for admission, or ask you to apply for the WUE rate through your Financial Aid Office. Apply early!
Even the cheapest degree can bust your budget. If you and your family are having any trouble paying for basic services like power, food and housing, help is available from the state government. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has an entire section on social service programs, including Food Stamps, the Subsidized Rental Housing Utility Deposit (SRHUD), emergency relief and more.
For more links to affordable community resources, visit the website of Alaska 2-1-1. Here you can search for programs in all kinds of areas, including child care, educational opportunities and employment assistance. To talk to someone about your specific problem, call 2-1-1 or 1-800-478-2221 (Monday-Friday; 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.).
The University of Alaska (UA) system dominates the college landscape in the Last Frontier, so it’s no surprise that it has built a fair amount of on-campus housing for its students. UAA (Anchorage) has 3 residence halls and 12 apartment-style buildings; UAS (Southeast) has 2 residence halls, apartments and family housing; UAF (Fairbanks) has 10 residence halls and 7 apartment complexes.
You’ll find rates listed on UA’s university housing websites—UAF is generally the most affordable. If you’re considering Alaska Pacific University (APU) as an alternative to UAA, be aware that APU requires all students to live on-campus for their first two academic years.
On-campus housing rates usually include utilities, phone and Internet—you don’t have to pay for these bills separately. However, most universities require you to purchase the meal plan when you live on campus, so just remember to factor that into your budget. You can compare on-campus costs (meal plans, dorm fees, etc.) with off-campus expenses (groceries, utilities, etc.) by using budget calculators on MappingyYourFuture.org and CalcXML.com.
Unfortunately, federal and state financial aid doesn’t always cover living costs. When in doubt, talk to your school’s residential life/housing coordinator or the Financial Aid Office. You may be eligible for private scholarships or university jobs that will help pay for room and board.
Sometimes campus housing is out of the question. You may be working, taking care of your family or going to a school with no student housing options (e.g. Kachemak Bay Campus at UAA’s Kenai Peninsula College). U.S. News & World Report notes that 71% of UAF students live off-campus.
If you’re going to UAA, the first place to look for advice on off-campus housing is your university. UAA has a large page devoted to Off Campus Housing in Anchorage, with a list of housing websites, links to important utilities and advice on landlord/tenant relations.
Alternatively, you might want to explore apartment websites that allow you to target your school. Examples of these include ApartmentGuide.com, CampusRent.com and MyApartmentMap.com. If it comes to a crisis, you can also browse through the Alaska Homeless Shelter Directory. This resource includes emergency shelters and transitional housing opportunities.
Utilities like power, water and Internet are not always included in your monthly rental payment. And in a state like Alaska, heating bills can be impressive. Always ask your potential landlord what your rental agreement covers before signing anything! You can also request a monthly estimate of utility bills.
Already struggling with living expenses? The government is doing its best to ensure low-income Alaska residents survive the winter. Open to home owners and renters, the State of Alaska Heating Assistance Program (HAP) is designed to help eligible applicants defray their heating costs.
Cheap medical care can usually be found in your university’s health center. For example, UAA’s Student Health and Counseling Center offers routine immunizations, birth control and contraception options, STD treatment, free HIV screening and even free lunches during final exams. For more options, you can browse FreeClinicDirectory.org and NeedyMeds.org to find Alaskan community clinics and health centers that offer free or affordable medical care. Alaska Natives and American Indian peoples living in Anchorage, Matanuska-Susitna Valley and surrounding areas may also wish to visit the website of Southcentral Foundation to learn more about their healthcare services.
College can be an extremely stressful experience. If you’re wrestling with mental health issues, check out the list of Alaska Community Mental Health Centers from the state of Alaska. These affordable centers provide emergency mental health services 24-hours a day, seven days a week. UAF’s student health center has also added after-hours counseling services for those who need immediate mental health care.
When it comes to free or low-cost dental care, cities are naturally going to have more resources. For example, UAA offers students limited dental care through its Dental Hygiene and Dental Assisting Clinics and AKMOM.org hosts free dental events in Anchorage and Fairbanks. But there are other options. Check out the free and low-cost clinics listed on FreeDentalCare.us: Alaska.
Unfortunately, university-based child care centers in Alaska are practically non-existent. That means you’re going to have to look elsewhere for places to put your kids. ThreadAlaska.org maintains an up-to-date directory of licensed child care centers. Along with searching by age, distance and type of care, you can also specify whether financial assistance (tribal, military, OCS or state child care assistance) is accepted by the center.
As part of its transit services, UAA offers a free bus service (Seawolf shuttle) to all its students. UAA students can also use a valid Wolf Card ID as a substitute for the People Mover bus pass. Alternative transportation options in Anchorage include Zimride (a social rideshare community) and Anchorage Share-A-Ride.
UAF students should check out the university shuttle bus service and the city’s Metropolitan Area Commuter System (MACS) routes. Travel on MACS buses is free for students holding a current Polar Express Card (i.e. your university ID card).
Low-income students and families often go hungry in order to pay for their education. Seeing the need for action, UAF has opened its own on-campus food pantry for Fairbanks students. You’ll be welcome at any time of the year.Living in Anchorage or other parts of Alaska? FoodPantries.org has an up-to-date directory of Alaska Food Pantries and HomelessShelterDirectory.org has a long list of AK soup kitchens, pantries and food banks. These organizations will be happy to provide assistance. Expectant moms and current moms may also wish to see whether they qualify for the Alaska WIC Program.
SEE ALSO: our Encyclopedic Guide to Saving Money as a College Student.
UAA and APU students who live off-campus may have to pay a pretty penny for apartment rent—Sperling’s Best Places cost of living data suggest that housing costs soar above the national average. Thankfully, Anchorage’s prime position means that utility and transportation costs are significantly cheaper than Juneau and Fairbanks. For additional day-to-day info on living in the city, check out the Municipality of Anchorage website.
Finding it hard to put a roof over your head? Worried about getting into college? There are a number of non-profit organizations in the Anchorage area that can help you achieve your educational dreams.
If you’re experiencing a specific challenge like hunger or eviction, try searching by city and type of Alaskan non-profit organization (e.g. health, emergency, youth & education, etc.) on Pick.Click.Give.org.
UAS students come prepared for two things: rain and tight budgets. Goods have to be shipped in by ferry, boat or seaplane—there are no direct roads to Alaska’s capital. According to Sperling’s Best Places, utilities and housing are the costliest indices in Juneau and prices for regular items are often steep. On the plus side, it’s drop-dead gorgeous. More detailed info about the city and residential life can be found on the City and Borough of Juneau website.
Do you and your family already live in Juneau? Are you having difficulty paying for bills or cutting corners in order to afford your college education? There are a number of non-profit organizations in southeast Alaska who can lend a hand.
The Juneau Coalition on Housing and Homelessness also has a long list of useful organizations where you can get help for everything from food & housing to employment, education and legal services.
When you live in a place as cold as Fairbanks, you can expect off-campus heating bills to be sky high. Sperling’s Best Places cost of living index puts utilities costs at over twice the national average and significantly higher than Juneau. On the up side, housing is cheaper than Anchorage, there’s an excellent summer farmer’s market and UAF has a strong presence. For more info on the city and its services, see the City of Fairbanks website.
Sometimes life gets in the way of college dreams. Crippling bills, housing struggles, lack of training—all of these can conspire to prevent you from going to university. If you’re living in Fairbanks and having trouble affording school, have a look at these non-profit organizations.