Native Americans have been underrepresented in colleges and universities across the country, partly due to low high school graduation rates among American Indians and the cost of higher education. With the typical college degree costing thousands of dollars a year, many Native American students can’t afford to go to college without significant financial aid. Those who are able to attend college, often do not complete their degree at the same rate as their peers.

Recognizing the unique circumstances and needs of Native American students, many schools, nonprofits and government agencies have stepped in to help. From tuition waivers to scholarships and grants, there are many options for Native Americans seeking to defray the cost of a college education. Below you will be able to explore an array of scholarship and financial aid opportunities and other resources available for Native American students.

Scholarships and Grants Designed for Native American Students

Scholarship Amount Eligibility Deadline Where to Apply
American Indian College Fund Full Circle Scholarship Program Varies Open to students attending non-tribal colleges and universities. Must be U.S. citizen and American Indian or Alaska Native tribe membership or proof of descendancy. May 31 View
American Indian College Fund TCU Scholarship Program Varies Open to students attending tribal college and universities. Must be a registered member of a federal or state recognized tribe or a descendant of at least one grandparent or parent who is an enrolled tribal member. May 31 View
American Indian Education Foundation Scholarships Varies Open to American Indians and Alaskan Native undergraduate and graduate students. Awards are based on need, leadership skills and nontraditional students. April 4 View
The Cobell Scholarship Varies The Cobell Scholarship is available to federally enrolled American Indian and Alaska Native students in higher education as full-time degree seeking students at nonprofit institutions while pursuing vocational certificates or diplomas; associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral or professional degrees. Cobell Scholars are selected by merit through a transcript evaluation and unmet need (not necessarily Pell eligibility). June 1 View
American Indian Graduate Center Wells Fargo American Indian Scholarship Varies Open to American Indian tribe members or Alaska Natives who are pursuing a career related to banking, resort management, finance, accounting and other disciplines. Must be a college junior and senior and have a GPA of at least 3.0. June 1 View
American Indian Graduate Center Accenture American Indian Scholarship Varies Open to American Indian tribe member or Alaska Native student who is seeking a degree in engineering, computer science, and other business related fields. Must have a GPA of at least 3.25 and proven leadership and commitment to American Indian community. June 1 View
American Indian Service Scholarships Varies Open to Native American students who demonstrate academic merit as well as a financial need. Must be one-quarter enrolled member of a Federally recognized Native American Tribe. GPA of at least 2.25. Feb. 15, May 15, Aug. 15, Nov. 15 View
Association on American Indian Affairs Scholarships Varies Open largely to graduates and undergraduates from federally recognized tribes. Some of the scholars are curriculum specific while others are needs based. First week of June View
Continental Society Daughters of Indian Wars Scholarship $5,000 Open to enrolled tribal members who plan to work with a tribe or nation in the field of education or social service. Must have a GPA of 3.0 or better. June 15 View
Frances Crawford Marvin American Indian Scholarship Varies Open to Native American students who demonstrate a financial need and has a GPA of 3.25 or higher. Feb. 15 View
Udall Undergraduate Scholarships Up to $7,000 Open to all college sophomores or juniors who demonstrate leadership, public service commitment to issues related to American Indian nations or the environment. At least 20 scholarships are awarded in Tribal Public Policy and Native Health Care. March 3 View
The Native American Scholarship Fund Up to $10,000 Open to all Native peoples from anywhere in the Americas, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and Indigenous Pacific Islanders. Dec. 15 View
The National Center For American Indian Enterprise Development Business Scholarship Program Varies Open to juniors, seniors or graduate students who are majoring in a business related field. Must demonstrate community involvement and personal challenges that were overcome in the pursuit of higher education. Oct. 16 View
Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation Young Native Writers Scholarship Up to $2,500 Open to Native American high school students currently enrolled in grades 9-12. Must have a current relationship with a Native American community. Award is paid directly to the college or university. April 15 View
Chief Manuelito Scholarship $7,000 Open to Navajo high school graduates. Must have a GPA of at least 3.0. Completed required Navajo Language & Navajo Government courses prior to high school graduation. Varies View
AZ Earn To Learn Scholarship $4,500 Open to high school Seniors and Juniors planning to attend Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona. Varies View
Scholarship Amount Eligibility Deadline Where to Apply
American Indian Science And Engineering Society NextEra Energy-Ford Dry Lake Scholarship Program Up to $30,000 Open to Native American students who are members of one of 11 participating tribal communities in the Ford Dry Lake area. Must be a member of AISES and have a GPA of at least 2.0. Varies View
AISES Intel Scholarship Up to $10,000 Open to American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian AISES members pursing degrees in science and technology. Must have a GPA of 3.0 or better. May 31 View
AISES Burlington Northern Santa Fe Foundation Scholarship $2,500 Open to American Indian high school seniors who reside in 13 states serviced by the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Pacific Corp. Must be pursuing a degree in business, math, science, engineering, education, medicine or health administration. Must maintain a 2.0 GPA April 1 View
AISES Naval Sea Systems Command and Strategic Systems Programs Scholarship $10,000 Open to enrolled members of an American Indian Tribe, Alaska Native or Native Hawaiian or otherwise considered to be an American Indian. Must be an enrolled freshman pursuing a Navy-relevant science, technology, engineering or mathematics degree. Sept. 30 View
AISES A.T. Anderson Memorial Scholarship Up to $2,000 Open to current AISES members who are in a American Indian tribe, Alaska Native, or Native Hawaiian or otherwise considered to be an American Indian by the tribe. Must have a GPA of at least 3.0. May 31 View
Souder Miller & Associates STEM Scholarship $1,500 Open to Native American students pursuing a four-year degree in STEM. Must be an enrolled member of a Pueblo or Tribe. Jan. 16 View
AISES Intel Scholarship Up to $10,000 Open to American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian AISES members pursing degrees in science and technology. Must have a GPA of 3.0 or better. May 31 View
Cherokee Nation Foundation HP Engineering Inc. Scholarship $1,000 Open to enrolled citizens of the Cherokee Nation, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians or United Keetowah Band and declared a major in an ABET accredited engineering program. Jan. 31 View
Scholarship Amount Eligibility Deadline Where to Apply
The ColoHealth Scholarship Essay Contest $500 Open to high school students planning on attending college. Award goes to one student who writes the best essay discussing the relationship between health, lifestyle and the modern healthcare system. Oct. 30 View
Indian Health Service Preparatory Scholoraship Varies Open to members or descendants of federally recognized, state-recognized or terminated Tribes enrolled in preparatory courses or prerequisite courses leading to enrollment in an eligible health professions degree program. Must have a GPA of 2.0 or better. March 28 View
Indian Health Service Pre-Graduate ScholarshipVaries Varies Open to members or descendants of federally recognized, state-recognized or terminated Tribes enrolled in courses leading to a bachelor’s degree in pre-medicine, pre-dentistry, pre-podiatry and other subjects needed by the Indian health programs. March 28 View
Indian Health Service Health Professions Scholarship Varies Open to members or descendants of federally recognized, state-recognized or terminated Tribes enrolled in a qualified undergraduate and graduate students. March 28 View
John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health NativeVision Scholarship $5,000 Open to Native American students entering their first year of college. Must be enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe. Show commitment to the community and a GPA of 3.0. May 4 View
American Indian Nurse Scholarship Program $1,500 Open to one-quarter American Indian students enrolled in a tribe or prove direct tribal ancestry. Must be enrolled in a nursing program. Dec. 1, June. 1 View
National Health Services Corps Scholarship Full tuition Open to students from disadvantaged background who plan on working in underserved areas once they complete their degree. View
Scholarship Amount Eligibility Deadline Where to Apply
American Institute of CPAs John L. Carey Scholarship Award $5,000 Open to students pursuing graduate studies in accounting and the CPA designation. Must be pursuing a CPA certificate. April 1 View
American Indian Graduate Center Wells Fargo American Indian Scholarship Varies Open to American Indian tribe members or Alaska Natives who are pursuing a career related to banking, resort management, finance, accounting and other disciplines. Must be a college junior and senior and have a GPA of at least 3.0. June 1 View
Native American Journalists Association $1,000 Open to Native American high school students or college students pursuing a degree in media. Must be current NAJA members in good standing. April 30 View
National Center For American Indian Enterprise Development Scholarship Varies Open to junior, senior or graduate students who are majoring in a business related field. Oct. 16 View
Catching The Dream Scholarship Varies Open to Native American students who are an enrolled member of a tribe. Must be enrolled in a full time college program. March 15, April 30, September 15 View
The Native American Political Leadership Scholarship Full Tuition Open to Native American undergraduates. Recipients get to patriciate in a semester of Washington Politics program. Nov. 15 View

Am I Eligible? Proving Ancestry

Candidates must prove their ancestry when applying for scholarships and grants that are geared specifically for Native Americans. Proof varies from one scholarship to the next but key documentation bridges many programs and applications, especially for Federal aid.

You will need both your birth certificate and at least one parent’s enrolled tribal documents. If the descendency goes back to the your grandparents, you will also need copies of as many of their birth certificates and tribal enrollment documents as you can gather. Other documents that are often accepted include an official letter from the tribe stating the enrollment status or a copy of the tribal identification card. Applicants may also need a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood which is issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Students will have to provide supporting documents and will then be issued a certificate that shows the student’s blood quantum and tribal affiliation. (Blood quantum is the percentage of your immediate heritage comprised of tribal ancestors.)

If you are unsure of your ancestry you can trace it through family and tribal records; school, church and county courthouse records; and by researching American Indian tribal history in your region (your local library might have sources for this). You can also search the U.S. National Archives to identify ancestors. When searching, make sure to include the name of the individual, date and place of birth and your relationship to that person. And, of course, capture all the information you discover so you can build a compelling case.

Find State Aid

States with large populations of Native Americans offer state financial aid on top of the Federal Financial Aid students for which students might qualify. Sometimes that aid comes in the form of offering American Indians in-state tuition whether or not they are residents of that state. Other states offer tuition waivers and scholarships to cover room and board. Wondering what your state offers? Check out the table below for state financial aid.

Education Aid Offered by States for Native American Residents

State/Organization Eligibility Amount Deadline
Alabama The Alabama Indian Affairs Commission Scholarships $5,000 Must be a member of one of seven federally recognized tribes in Arizona. Preference given to nurse, medical, veterinary and pharmacy majors. March 12 View
Minority Teachers of Illinois Scholarship Program Up to $5,000 per year Must be an Illinois resident and Native American planning on teaching at an Illinois school for which the board of education determines is no less than 30% American/Black, Hispanic American, Asian American, or Native American. March 1 View
New York State Aid To Native Americans Up to $2,000 a year Open to enrolled members or children of enrolled members of a New York State tribe. July 15, Dec. 31 View
University Of Arizona Native American Funding Varies Open to Native American students in Arizona. Must have certificate of Indian Blood or tribal enrollment ID card. Varies View
Minnesota Indian Scholarship Program Up to $6,000 a year Open to one-fourth or more American Indian students who reside in Minnesota. Must demonstrate financial need. July 1 View
Montana State University Native Scholarship American Indian Tuition Waiver Free tuition Open to Montana students who are 1/4 American Indian or an enrolled member of a state or federally recognized tribe located in the state of Montana. Must demonstrate financial need. Varies View
Kansas Ethnic Minority Scholarship Up to $1,850 a year. Open to American Indian or Alaskan Native student who demonstrate financial need. Must have a GPA of 30.0 or better. May 1 View
Massachusetts Tuition waiver Open to Massachusetts Native American residents. Must be a member of a tribe in Massachusetts. Varies View
Michigan Tuition waiver Open to Michigan students who are a quarter or more Native American blood quantum must be an enrolled member of a US Federally recognized Tribe. Must be a resident of Michigan. July View

Tribal Colleges Offer Circles of Support

Many Native American students reside in some of the poorest areas of the country, putting them at a great disadvantage when it comes to assembling resources to attend and graduate from college. To help increase the college outcomes for American Indians, the government has designated some schools as Tribal Colleges and Universities. Currently there are 32 fully accredited Tribal Colleges and Universities in the U.S., located mainly in the Midwest and Southwest.

Tribal Colleges and Universities play an important role in many Native American communities. Often, these are the only postsecondary school around; consequently, many are instrumental in fostering American Indian culture, languages and traditions. Students considering attending a tribal college or university can explore a range of benefits. First, many of these schools offer generous financial aid, scholarships and grants to Native American students. The culture and programs at these schools are intended to create welcoming environments, thus might extend smooth transitions for American Indians, especially compared to non-tribal schools. According to the American College Fund, 86 percent of tribal college and university students completed their degree programs while fewer than 10 percent of American Indian students who went from a reservation high school to a mainstream college finished their degree studies.

Tribal colleges and universities can be a way for Native American students to earn four-year degrees but these schools are not for everyone. Many primarily offer associate’s degrees and certificate programs, which open the door for quick career qualifications but force candidates for bachelor’s degrees to transfer midstream to colleges that offer four-year programs. A handful of larger tribal colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degree programs. What’s more, a lot of these schools emphasize categories of study mainly intended to serve the Native American community and that might not have wider value in the job marketplace. Majors or concentrations in health, administration, addiction counseling, tribal housing, education and preserving Native American language and arts are valuable for tribal culture and advancement, but each student must consider the cost of attaining these degrees compared to the range of careers they might pursue with those degrees

Tribal Colleges and Universities

Student Profile: Merging Tribal Heritage and STEM

Mark Kantrowitz Sasha Rivers

Sasha Rivers is a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and a graduate of Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, Montana. She received an American Indian College fund scholarship after honing a strategy to apply for aid for which she was uniquely qualified. “I knew that being a Native American (minority) student gave me an edge but I was also a woman in the STEM field,” says Rivers. “I took what others may see as a disadvantage and turned it into an advantage. Being a woman in the STEM field, as well as coming from a rich cultural history, I knew I had found my edge.”

As she crafted her scholarship application essays, Rivers highlighted her resilience, leadership skills and status as both female and minority. “I conveyed that I was a hard worker and gave examples of how. I showed diligence and drive with goals, hopes, and dreams to succeed,” she says.

Rivers believes she also had an edge due to her community service, volunteer work, and the network she built in the process. “Volunteering gives a student real world experience (i.e. practice) and skills necessary for future employment such as leadership, teamwork, and effective communication,” she says. In her essay, she credited help she received from mentors, instructors and supporters that assisted throughout the process — and how she has and intends to continue paying it forward

So what does Rivers think students should do to get an edge in their scholarship search process? She says students need to be honest and inspiring.

“Know your strengths and weaknesses and tell your audience the story of how you’ve called upon them to overcome obstacles,” she say. “Remember your identity and where you come from. To my fellow tribal students, be proud of your heritage and use your tribal language.”

Tribal Aid Opens Doors

Tribes often step in with additional financial aid for their members, especially for students who are not eligible for any scholarships or grants from the school they are attending or from the various non-profits focused on Native Americans, While the aid amounts can be small, each tribe handles funding differently in terms of the amount of aid and application deadlines. Each student must check with his or her own tribe to confirm both the availability of aid and the process for winning aid. Here’s a look at how three tribes channel student financial aid to their members.

Cherokee Nation provides scholarship aid to enrolled members who are pursuing bachelor’s degrees. Recipients must perform volunteer hours based on the amount of funding they are receiving: If they receive $2,000 in aid the student would be required to volunteer for 20 hours. The community service can be completed with a non-profit organization or at a Cherokee Nation sponsored event. The volunteer work must be humanitarian or community based.

Navajo Nation offers scholarships and financial assistance to eligible Navajo people. Assistance varies with some scholarships around $1,000 and others $7,000 annually. Upon graduation recipients are expected to return to the Navajo Nation to apply what they have learned to benefit the development of the Navajo Nation.

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe provides assistance in the form of grants. For instance the tribe offers the Adult Vocational Training program that delivers vocational training grants to enrolled Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Members. The tribe also offers grants for enrolled members pursuing a two year or four year degree.

Scholarship Application: Questions and Answers

Mark Kantrowitz

Rafael Tapia, Jr., a member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in Arizona, has been collaborating with Native American students and career candidates for nearly three decades in various leadership roles with social service, government and Native American organizations. He offers a variety of tips for Native American students applying for scholarships.

When it comes to winning scholarships, are there anything Native American students need to get across in their essays for the applications?

First and foremost, tell your story and be authentic. This may sound simplistic, but it’s key. Some students find it hard to talk about themselves and tend to overlook the importance of simple, yet interesting, details — for example, subjects or volunteer activities enjoyed in high school, recognition of someone who inspired them to do better, or being a first generation college or university attendee.

While the American Indian Education Foundtion’s (AIEF) scholarship essays must not exceed four pages, this varies by provider. All students applying for scholarships should be careful to meet the precise essay requirements of each provider as this is not a “one size fits all” application process.

Your essay makes an impression on those who review your application. It provides an opportunity for students to highlight their qualities, experiences, beliefs, goals and other characteristics that set them apart from other candidates. This is not bragging — it’s simply helping the reviewer get to know you. Ensure your essay has correct spelling, word usage and grammar. Proper grammar and writing skills is not obsolete in the advent of email and texting.

How can Native American students increase their odds of winning a scholarship?

First, thoroughly complete the scholarship application. Be sure to fill in all the blanks and questions, unless otherwise instructed. Scholarship providers receive hundreds of incomplete application packages, making them easy to file away in the “do not keep” pile. Remember that your application speaks on your behalf. You will not be there to present yourself in person to the reviewer(s), so be sure you are shining through completely and confidently in your application. Learn more about what the scholarship provider is looking for in students and genuinely speak to this matter.

How can Native American students make their scholarship applications stand out from the rest?

Identify your strengths such as perseverance, loyalty, bilingualism or a special responsibility or volunteer role. Akin to this, Native American students should include in their essays any special tribal traditions and participation through which they give back to their tribal community, as well as any goals in mind to help give back to their tribe through post-secondary education. Students can also leave an impression through their application form and general communication style. A handwritten application should be neatly written and legible. Emails or letters accompanying your package should be crafted with the same care as your essay.

Should Native American students apply for multiple scholarships or just focus on one?

The odds of winning a scholarship increase when students apply to multiple scholarship providers. Submitting only one or two applications limits the chances of success. PWNA counsels Native American students to apply for our AIEF scholarship along with other scholarships because the more applications submitted, the greater the chance of funding.

Most scholarship applications have similar criteria, so after completing two or three, the information needed for completing others is already compiled and the student becomes more proficient at completing applications. AIEF scholarship students routinely apply for numerous scholarships which, when combined, help cover all academic expenses. Native American students should begin by researching college funding available specifically through their tribes. The amount and requirements vary by tribe, so begin early and make this your first stop.

How early should students begin preparing for scholarship applications?

We recommend that high school students begin preparing for the scholarship application process before their senior year. It often takes time to gather the necessary information, including transcripts, tribal identification cards, financials and other necessary documentation. Juniors in high school should also realize there are many steps to get ready for college that precede the scholarship application process.

Do students have to prove volunteer service in their Native American community?

Only some scholarship applications require demonstrated service to a Native American community. Many do not, including AIEF, although we give an extra point in our scoring if there is proof of community service. Students are enriched by engaging in service to their community. Many of our AIEF students participate in a variety of cultural service, not only to serve their tribes but to other groups, as well.

What other advice and tips do you have for Native American students looking for scholarship money?

Share your college vision with your family, friends and community to build a support system and keep you moving toward your goal. If you are in high school, ask your guidance counselor for insights and assistance. If your tribe has a higher education department, connect with someone who can help you with the scholarship search and application process.

In the event you do not receive funding on the first try, do not give up on your dream of a college education. Access to college funding is a marathon, not a sprint. Maintain a steady pace, review and improve your application, rewrite your essay if needed and resubmit, as new opportunities open up every year. Higher education is a lifelong asset and attaining it deserves your best effort. Learn more about AIEF scholarships by visiting and

Additional Resources

Catching The Dream

Helps Native American students find, apply and get into school and provides resources to help find and win scholarships, grants and other aid. Provides students with tips on everything from finding money to crafting a winning college essay.

Trace Indian Ancestry

Provided by the U.S. Department of the Interior, this website provides information for Native Americans to determine if they are eligible members in a federally recognized tribe.

Updated: December 27, 2018