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Paying for college is top of mind as Alaska high school seniors prepare for graduation

When it comes to financial aid, the Anchorage School District has a list of scholarships students can apply for on its website.
Published: Apr. 12, 2022 at 7:40 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Graduating debt-free is the gold standard for any student and these days, there are numerous choices for Alaskan students to pay for school.

For parents like Michelle Rizk, saving money for college was a priority, and she began saving when her two sons were 3 and 5 years old.

“I knew that the cost of college is expensive and I didn’t want it to be a barrier for my kids to be able to go to school,” Rizk said.

Rizk worked for the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and began by putting $50 into an Alaska 529 plan, and over time she put more money in along with contributions from family members.

“Pretty much as soon as they could ask about how come they don’t get to go buy toys with their PFD, and we said well, because we’re putting it away for your college savings program,” Rizk said.

The investment paid off and Rizk’s two sons started in college after they graduated from West Valley High School. One of her sons graduated from Yale University last fall and the other is currently studying computer science at Boise State University.

When it comes to financial aid, the Anchorage School District has a list of scholarships students can apply for on its website. The district said Alaska Performance Scholarship and the Western Undergraduate Exchange are two of the big aid options students explore.

“The first is finding the right school that fits and then hopefully the finances come back later,” Service High School counselor Dan Ruffner said.

The longtime counselor said the most important piece of paperwork students need to fill out is a FAFSA, or free application for federal student aid to see what they qualify for. Ruffner said the FAFSA can help students secure aid for Alaska colleges, or if they decide to come back after studying out of state.

“So we always encourage, even if you know you’re going out of state, fill out the FAFSA and put UAA or UAF or any school in Alaska so you’re in the system,” Rufner said. “It’s actually payable … it pays four years up to six years.”

Rufner said that on average, 67% of Service High School graduates go to a four-year school while 15% attend trade or two-year schools. A lot of financial aid opportunities or saving plans apply to junior colleges and vocational schools as well.

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