Scholarships for American Indians and Alaska Natives

A girl smiling and reading a textbook outside at her college.

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With the cost of tuition skyrocketing, scholarships can provide some much needed relief for talented college-bound students and their families. To maximize your chances of winning one (or more!), think about the traits that make you unique. If you are a member of a recognized tribe, or a descendant of a member, you may be eligible to apply for multiple scholarships that aim to increase the representation of American Indian and Alaska Native students in institutions of higher education.

The following list is by no means comprehensive, but it can be a great starting point as you start your scholarship search.

For undergraduate and graduate students (undergrads preferred) with financial need and a GPA of at least 3.25:

The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) sponsors an American Indian Scholarship, which can provide successful applicants with a one-time award of $4,000. American Indian students from any tribe are welcome to apply. Your application must include a card or letter issued by a Tribal Council, a letter detailing your family history and situation, three letters of recommendation, and an official copy of your transcript. You can find more information on the application form. The application period closes on February 15.

For full-time students at a two- or four-year college who demonstrate financial need and have a GPA of 3.25 or higher:

The DAR offers the Frances Crawford Marvin Scholarship to one successful applicant each year (though the amount varies based on the endowment). To qualify, you must provide a card or letter issued by a Tribal Council, three letters of recommendation, transcripts, and a letter of family history. Details are available on the application form, which is due no later than February 15.

For undergraduates enrolled in an accredited tribal college at least part-time:

The Tribal College and Universities (TCU) Scholarship Program supports students attending tribal colleges. While funding comes from the American Indian College Fund, each tribal college is responsible for administering the award. This means that you should contact your school’s financial aid office for deadlines. Generally, they open August 1 for the fall semester and January 1 for the spring semester. The date of scholarship award notification varies by school.

To be eligible, you must be a registered member of a federally recognized or state-recognized tribe or have at least one parent or grandparent who is a registered member. (Alaska Natives may use Native Corporation membership to prove their eligibility.) There is no minimum GPA requirement, and you do not have to be enrolled full-time. To submit an application, fill out the online application. It requires you submit proof of your tribal affiliation, fill out three short answer questions, and upload a photo to be forwarded to prospective donors.

For students enrolled full-time in an accredited nonprofit college, tribal or nontribal, who maintain a GPA of 2.0 or higher:

The American Indian College Fund, with the support of generous funding partners, administers nearly 60 different scholarships as part of the Full Circle Scholarship Program. Each scholarship has its own criteria (for example, membership to a specific tribe, residency in a certain state, a GPA higher than the 2.0 general minimum, etc.). Luckily, you just need to fill out one application form to be considered for all of the Full Circle Scholarships for which you are eligible.

All of the scholarships in this program require their applicants to be registered members of federally recognized or state-recognized tribes or have at least one parent or grandparent who is a registered member. (For Alaska Natives, Native Corporation membership is valid.) To apply, complete the online application between January 1 and May 31 of each year. The application asks three short answer questions and requests your contact information, your tribal affiliation documentation, a photo to give donors, and unofficial copies of your transcripts. You will also need to submit a Financial Needs Analysis form. If you attend a tribal college, your financial aid office can complete it for you online. Otherwise, you will need to download the form and give it to your financial aid office. You will be notified of your scholarship decision by August of that year.

For students with financial need who are enrolled full-time in bachelor’s degree programs (economics, business, and tourism fields preferred) at an accredited nonprofit college:

The Wells Fargo American Indian Scholarship Program awards 110 students with $5,000 every academic year. The scholarships are not instantly renewable, but successful applicants are encouraged to apply the following year as well. To be eligible, you must be an enrolled member of a state or federally recognized tribe or have at least one grandparent who is. You must also complete the FAFSA form. The application period opens every January, and you will be able to apply here by clicking “Apply Now.” The system will prompt you to fill out a profile, which will determine your eligibility.

For students committed to pursuing a career in health care after graduation:

The Indian Health Service offers three scholarships for students at varying stages in their educational careers who want to pursue a career in health care. The Preparatory and Pre-Graduate Scholarships are available to members and descendants of federally recognized, state-recognized, or terminated American Indian tribes or Alaska Natives. These two scholarships are available for students in pre-degree or bachelor’s degree programs in the health professions. On the other hand, applicants to the Health Professions Scholarship, which requires them to complete a two-year service commitment after graduation in exchange for financial aid, must be members of federally recognized tribes. All three programs provide a one-time educational award, plus monthly stipends of no less than $1,500 for the academic year. You can find information about your eligibility for all three of these programs here.

A group of students piles their hands together after they receive scholarships for American Indians. /

For students enrolled full-time in any postsecondary degree program that is accredited and nonprofit:

The Cobell Scholars Program is an exciting new opportunity for students who are members of a federally recognized tribe. They can be pursuing vocational or professional certificates/diplomas or any kind of postsecondary degree as long as the college is accredited and nonprofit. Cobell Scholars pursuing graduate degrees typically receive $10,000, while Cobell Scholars at the undergraduate and professional levels typically receive $5,000. The application period will open in February of 2017 and close in the summer of 2017. Candidates must request that their financial aid offices submit a Financial Needs Analysis and that their affiliated tribes submit a Tribal Eligibility Form on their behalf. Scholarships are awarded to candidates who meet eligibility requirements; demonstrate financial need and academic promise; and provide thoughtful responses to application questions. Applicants will be notified if they are selected as finalists, and they will then be required to submit additional documentation.

For students looking for sources of aid specific to their tribes:

Contact your tribe. Many tribes provide financial aid to members who plan to pursue higher education, though each tribe will have its own eligibility requirements, deadlines, and award amounts.

You can find your tribe’s contact information here, thanks to Rosie Dayzie of the Bureau of Indian Education, who compiled a list of scholarships and resources for all American Indian students. Please note that some of the scholarship deadlines in this document are for previous years. If you find an opportunity that interests you, contact your tribe directly to confirm the deadline.

For students looking for institutional scholarships:

If you are a current or incoming college student, check with your financial aid office. Many schools, like New Mexico State University and the University of Arizona, reserve scholarships for students who are members or descendants of members of a tribe native to the area.

For students looking to broaden their scholarship searches:

While your membership to your tribe meets eligibility requirements for some exciting opportunities, you are by no means restricted to those scholarships. You are welcome to apply for thousands of other scholarships open to all students, regardless of affiliation with a tribe. Some scholarships you might qualify for are open only to underrepresented students or to students of color (like the Gates Millennium Scholars Program), while others are available based on gender, academic merit, financial need, and field of study. Some are wacky. There are scholarships for redheads, Star Trek fans, and seniors who wear Duck Tape to prom.

As you've seen, many scholarships want to celebrate your contributions to your tribe; others will want to honor you for your other unique traits. Cast a wide net when applying for scholarships, and you could very well chip away at that tuition bill.

About Gwen Elise

Gwen is an avid traveler who feels most at home in Kentucky and Argentina. Her closet is full of dark dresses, and her walls are papered in colorful maps. She likes to make puns, read, write, and translate to and from Spanish, and she misses Vassar College, her alma mater, which helped her get better at all of those things.

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