I was in the homestretch of completing high school and filled with a mix of excitement for the future and stress over having to make big life decisions. Decisions like what to do next.
My more grounded parents wanted me to plan for college, evaluate options and discuss choices. During those talks I never -- not even once -- considered the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) as a destination. My head was telling me, "I need to get out."
My entire life had been centered in Anchorage, Alaska. My best friend and I were united in our mission to leave. Our senior year included a tour of public and private universities throughout the Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Colorado areas. Both of us had applied and been accepted elsewhere. During that tour I was schooled on varying state university tuition rates and fees, scholarships and loans that were available to me and the general financial picture of how my future educational choices now were going to affect me and my family. I clearly remember being okay with the knowledge that my parents and I would be assuming debt of approximately $30k per year to attend one of these schools. All of this information about financing and loans versus scholarships versus grants was all mixed up, and the realities of those choices took awhile to solidify in my head.
By the time high school graduation came, I began to take notice of other's choices and the repercussions those choices had on their future and families. After more thoughtful discussions with my parents, I decided on a whole new direction and enlisted in the Army Reserve. My dad is in the Alaska Army National Guard and I had thoughts about serving in the military too. At this time the reserve's had a significant enlistment bonus and a tuition assistance program available after the initial training. This took huge pressure off. I returned from a winter of training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri in the spring of 2010 financially and personally prepared to attend college.
Now UAA was the obvious best choice. I was shocked that I'd completely dismissed it earlier. After a year Outside, my feelings about life in Anchorage had changed - I knew this is where I wanted to be and I could get a bachelor's degree at home in Alaska. I had also missed the things I took for granted: immediate access to the fishing, hunting, hiking, snowboarding and skate skiing. Even more importantly, I discovered that UAA was affordable. I could imagine, because of my situation, getting through college debt free. With the military tuition assistance and a CIRI Foundation scholarship I was in good shape. These two funding sources almost completely covered the cost of my full-time tuition for these last three years.
There is a very strong culture at UAA of students who work while attending college. Along with fulfilling my obligations to the Army Reserve, I was also employed. I started working at a car rental counter, moved to working at the CIRI Foundation and finally got an internship with Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. The experience gained by working has been just as beneficial for my future as going to school itself. I would encourage every student to pursue internships early and often to obtain the invaluable work experience employers are looking for.
Although it wasn't clear in the beginning, UAA was the perfect choice for me. I'm a career-focused individual that values an affordable, quality, and no-nonsense education. Choosing UAA has allowed me to live in the state I love, earn a bachelor's degree and graduate debt free.
Eric Francisco is a senior at the University of Alaska Anchorage pursuing a bachelor's of arts degree in economics.