For Native American students, the journey toward a college degree can be fraught with pitfalls, from a lack of Native representation on campus to accumulating way too much student debt.
Fortunately, there are many Native American college scholarship opportunities especially geared to helping American Indians and Alaska Natives pursue their education — you just have to know where to look. Here’s a look at 11 great scholarship awards for college, along with how to find more:
1. Tribal college & university (TCU) scholarships
2. Full Circle Scholarships
3. The Caleb Scholars Program
4. Frances Crawford Marvin American Indian Scholarship
5. American Indian Services
6. The USET Education Committee Scholarship Fund
7. The Chickasaw Nation
8. Catching the Dream Program
9. The Cobell Scholarship
10. Association on American Indian Affairs Scholarships
11. Indian Health Service Awards
Avoiding student loans with Native American scholarships for college
Without enough Native American scholarships on the table, American Indians and Alaska Natives leave school with an average education debt of $52,172, more than any other racial group, according to a 2020 study by Student Loan Hero.
That level of borrowing shouldn’t be surprising when you consider that the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey noted that one in three Native Americans are living in poverty, and only an estimated 17% attend a college or university, according to the Postsecondary National Policy Institute.
For: Students attending a tribal college or university
The nonprofit American Indian College Fund gives out TCU Scholarships for 35 tribal colleges and universities in the U.S. These awards are given by each individual school every semester.
Contact your school’s financial aid office to learn more about these awards. All application periods are by semester and open starting on January 1 and August 1.
For: Native American and Alaska Native students
The American Indian College Fund’s Full Circle Scholarships (for full-time college enrollment) are a wide variety of awards for Native students. Once your application is submitted, the American Indian College Fund will review it and determine if you meet the criteria for one of their many Native American scholarship programs under the Full Circle program. The American Indian College Fund administers the funds for the scholarships to your school.
To qualify, you must provide proof of:
- Tribal enrollment in a federal- or state-recognized tribe
- Descendancy by submission of your parent’s or grandparent’s tribal enrollment card or number, along with your birth certificate
The scholarship is also available to Alaska Native students through membership of or descendancy from a member of an Alaska Native village.
You must also have a grade point average of 2.0 or above; high school students will need to show their transcripts or GED scores.
Award amounts vary, but according to the website the program “provides academic year-long scholarships (two semesters) and is administered by the American Indian College Fund.” Applications are accepted from January 1 through May 31 every year.
For: Alaska Native students
This Native American scholarship program honors the late Caleb Pungowiyi, a lifelong conservationist and leader for Arctic indigenous communities.
To be eligible for the $5,000 per-semester Caleb Scholarship, you must:
- Be an enrolled member of a tribe located in the Northwest Arctic or Arctic Slope Borough or in Norton Sound
- Hold a 2.5 GPA to be eligible
- Respond to three scholarship essay questions on marine conservation, cultural values and how best to protect Alaskan Native lands
The application deadline is usually in late July (fall semester) or early December (spring semester).
For: Students with tribal heritage
Offered by the Daughters of the American Revolution, this Native American college scholarship is awarded to one recipient each year who is enrolled at a 2- or 4-year university or college.
Financial need and academic merit (students must have a 3.25 GPA or higher) are among the requirements, and applicants must be Native American and able to show proof of Indian ancestry.
The amount of the scholarship varies year to year, and applications are due in late fall.
For: Students who are at least one-quarter Native American
American Indian Services is a nonprofit offering financial and educational support to students. This organization offers Native American scholarships in varying amounts to undergraduate students who need financial support to attend and stay enrolled in college.
If you are a Native American woman, they offer a list of specialized college scholarships, as well.
Eligibility for their awards include:
- One-quarter enrollment in Native American tribe recognized by federal government
- A GPA no lower than 2.25
- Completing the FAFSA
The American Indian Services scholarships are made up of need-based funds, which vary annually and are sent directly to the awarded students’ schools. Applications for scholarship funds are dependent on the start of term, and more information can be found on the American Indian Services website.
For: Students who are members of the 30 USET member tribal nations
The United South and Eastern Tribes Committee (USET) in Nashville, Tenn., offers Native American scholarship awards to students based on their academic merit and tribal membership.
Entries must be postmarked or hand-delivered by January 15, and interested applicants may download the application from the committee’s website.
For: Chickasaw students
The Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma provides grant awards and financial support to young tribal members who want to pursue higher education.
Its general scholarship grant is available to Chickasaw students with a 3.0 GPA taking three or more credit hours in a term at a university or college. Award amounts are based on various criteria, including enrollment, and the deadline for application varies. For more information about additional grants and programs, consult the Chickasaw Nation’s website.
Additional scholarship opportunities are available on the Chickasaw Foundation’s website, as well.
For: Members of American Indian communities nationally
Students from all tribes and regions are invited to apply for grants via the Catching the Dream nonprofit aimed at improving the quality of life in American Indian communities through education. Awardees receive funding for four years and graduate school (if the student attends).
The application for all grants for college includes an essay writing section calling for applicants to discuss their academic success and leadership activity, future career plans and how they will support American Indian communities after college. In terms of eligibility, Catching the Dream emphasizes that applicants must have at least one-quarter Native American heritage and membership with a recognized tribe. The application deadline is dependent on the start of term.
For: For any enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe
This need- and merit-based award is offered to Native students who have graduated from high school and plan to pursue (or are currently pursuing) vocational certification or an undergraduate, graduate or doctoral degree.
Interested students will need to complete a six-step application process online. Cobell offers a variety of scholarships including one for vocational students and a summer research fellowship. The application deadlines vary per program.
For: Native American students
The Association on American Indian Affairs has been offering Native American college scholarships since 1947, and its mission is focused on helping students afford and stay in college. This award provides funds for fall and spring semester classes until graduation, contingent on students keeping a 2.5 GPA.
These scholarships are open to any full-time undergraduate or graduate Native American student who are citizens or members of their Tribal Nation — even if the Nation is not recognized by the federal government. This is unlike many Native American scholarships that require applicants to be members of the 560-plus federally-recognized tribes.
The application deadline is at the end of May. Visit the organization’s website for additional details.
For: Native American and Alaska Native students studying health care
The Indian Health Service (IHS) awards scholarships to Native American students to support students studying for degrees and careers as health professionals, with the hope that they may one day serve Native American communities.
There are three scholarships offered — two for undergraduates and one for undergraduate and graduate students studying in health-related fields.
The application deadline is dependent on the start of term, and more information can be found via the IHS website.
|Not sure if your heritage qualifies you for Native American scholarships?|
|To confirm your eligibility, you can trace your ancestry using the U.S. Department of the Interior’s resources. Depending on the scholarship requirements, your family or tribe’s records could also suffice.|
The list above represents only a percentage of scholarships for American Indians and Alaska Natives, but there are many scholarships available to minority students, plus myriad grants and scholarships open to all students.
|Beyond Native American scholarships, check out these opportunities for…|
|● High school students
● Current college students
● First-generation students
● Minority students
● Community service
● Military service
● Professional development
● Single parents
● Single moms
● Studying abroad in Japan
● Studying abroad in Canada
|● Nursing school
● Medical school
● Criminal justice
● Computer science
For additional Native American scholarships and resources, visit the Bureau of Indian Education website.
In addition, reach out to your tribal council leaders, who may offer individual grants or scholarships, or direct you to tribal colleges that offer financial assistance.
|Examples of Native American scholarships found locally:|
|The Red Lake Nation College in Red Lake, Minn., offers the Rose Marweg Scholarship, that honoring a departed community member of the tribe.||The Oglala Lakota College on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota offers several institutional scholarships.|
Plus, the American Indian College Fund offers access to thousands of other opportunities for all students via their website, in addition to the three Native American scholarships mentioned in our list above.
Make sure to map out all of the potential scholarships and grant opportunities from your state, university or a nonprofit in your area, no matter what the amount. A few hundred dollars in multiple awards can add up to big savings.
When Native American scholarships aren’t enough
If you can’t find enough money for a full ride, seek other forms of financial aid, including, tuition waivers and other college discounts.
And if you must borrow federal or private student loans to cover remaining costs, remember that there are loan relief programs (such as the IHS Loan Repayment Program) that can help Native American students. These options for student aid may help keep student debt load low after graduation.