Compass: Want to go to college? Better get cracking now

Budget shortfalls and last year's loss of school support staff included career resource counselors -- the folks who help junior and senior high school students develop plans for training and education after graduation. They worked with students to explore options, costs, application processes, time lines and financial assistance related to life after high school.

School officials are growing alarmed that without those guides, many students are falling behind in the process, making it that much more worrisome that many have not yet signed up to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) on Dec. 7, a requirement of most institutions and a prerequisite for many scholarships. Although the SAT can be taken later, those who miss the upcoming date may also miss out on a number of possible scholarships. The deadline for registering for the Dec. 7 test is this Monday, Nov. 25.

There is a growing recognition of the importance of education beyond high school. However, not all families have resources to support their students, and they don't know how to find and earn scholarships, or even how to wisely choose and then apply to schools. The career resource counselors knew of many opportunities for financial assistance, and were able to provide help for families through the sometimes confusing and overwhelming process. We'll break down a few concepts that may be new to both students and parents.

Financial assistance can be in the form of scholarships, grants or loans. Loans must be paid back and have varying interest rates and time frames but are available to all students who qualify regardless of whether they attend college in Alaska or not. Scholarships can be need-based, athletic or merit-based and usually do not need to be paid back. If a family can show their income is insufficient to pay for college tuition, opportunities for need-based assistance are available. Loan repayments can be deferred throughout college and most providers have income-based repayment plans.

Merit scholarships are awarded to students who can show performance in academics or extracurricular activities or who meet the criteria set for any specific scholarship fund. There is a surprising number of scholarship funds, large and small, for students who meet the criteria, including Alaska's Performance Scholarship, a scholarship for academic achievement for students to attend college in-state. Merit scholarships are given without repayment requirements, so competition for these grants can be fierce. Students must work hard and make sure to meet deadlines for limited scholarship money. For more information on the Alaska Performance Scholarship and other scholarships, visit Seniors are advised to complete their college entrance tests no later than January. Registration can be completed by paper application (available in the counseling office) or online at for SAT and for the ACT

Several years ago an Anchorage student whose family could not support her college aspirations completed 75 scholarship applications and was granted more than $550,000. She had worked for years with this goal in mind -- overcoming personal challenges, studying hard, participating in a wide variety of public service projects and taking many leadership roles in the community. She had a plan for her education and worked that plan to achieve her dream. While not everyone can or will do what this young woman did, her story does tell us that college is accessible to everyone right now even in light of the debt that some may have to take on.

And finally, to our students, if you want to go to college, it is possible for you but you need to take action now. Sign up by Monday to take the SAT on Dec. 7. Because of the short window here, you must register online through You will need a photo, a credit card or debit card to pay the fee ($78.50) and your Social Security number.

For more useful information go to:


Applying for college, while certainly information-heavy, is an exciting experience. Don't get stressed and don't give up. Before you take the test, get plenty of sleep and remember to take a picture ID with you.

Sen. Berta Gardner is a state senator representing Spenard, Midtown and the U-Med district. Adrienne Reed is the West High School college preparatory coordinator.