6 Myths About Native American Scholarships

What do you think when you hear "Indian scholarship?" Think that's all Native students can/should apply for? Think they are all based on financial need. Read on for these and other common myths about Native American Scholarships.

Students should look for more than just Native American Scholarships

There are many myths about Native American scholarships, some of which are persistent and never seem to go away. It’s frustrating to have to live with them, as I have done for the last 29 years, since the founding of Catching the Dream. Check out these 6 myths presented below:

Indians should look for Native American scholarships. This is the most persistent myth. Indian students should look for scholarships, period, which is a much bigger category than Indian scholarships alone. There are only about 150 Native American scholarships, plus the tribal scholarships, or about 350 altogether. But when you divide 350 by 3 million, the total number of scholarships in the U.S., the result is just above zero. In other words, Indian students are looking at one-hundredth of one percent of scholarships and ignoring the other 99.9 percent.

Students should take a lesson from Marianne Ragins, a black girl from Macon, Georgia, who finished high school in 1991. She started looking for scholarships in the seventh grade, when there were no computers to help her. She found 200 scholarships, finished high school with a 4.0, planned to go to medical school, scored very high on the SAT, and won all 200 scholarships. She is apparently still the all-time champion. She has since written at least three books on how to find and win scholarships, which every Indian school library should have.

Indian students should use the booklets on Native American scholarships published by colleges to find scholarships they are eligible for. Unfortunately, I have not been able to get any of the dozen or more colleges that publish these directories to stop publishing them. Students will get these lists and think these are the only scholarships they are eligible for. This is just wrong.

Indian scholarships are based on financial need. While a few are, most are based on merit. In other words, students have to earn them.

Native American scholarships are easy to earn. Ironically, the few Native American scholarships are over-subscribed. Students will find them harder to earn than the non-Indian scholarships. The Gates Millennium scholarship is notoriously hard to win. Three years ago I helped three girls refine their eight essays (yes, eight) and none of them won. Unfortunately, this is the last year students will be able to apply for the Gates. Thirty years ago the Navajo Nation was giving 75 percent of its applicants a scholarship. Then in 15 years the percentage dropped to 50 percent. In another ten years it had dropped to 25 percent. This is very competitive. We funded 100 percent of our applicants this year.

Indian students should start applying for scholarships as soon as they finish high school. This is in fact almost a year late. They should start before they start their senior year in high school. They should have their essay written and make sure it is at the A or A+ level. They should do their scholarship search before the start of their senior year.

Scholarships are hard to find. In fact, with the advent of the Internet, they are amazingly easy to find. We recommend that students go to three websites—Fastweb, Scholarships.com, and Sallie Mae Scholarships to find them. There are dozens of other scholarship websites. But after about three searches students find lots of repetition and duplication. Students can still make errors. For instance, while I was working with a high school three years ago, one of the students put down: “first year high school” on her Fastweb profile. She was a senior in high school, and should have put down “first year college.” When she fixed it she found lots of scholarships. There are a dozen ways to make mistakes with the profile, most of them having to do with intended field of study. Students will put down one intended field, and they should put down all related fields. For instance, if they are intending to go to medical school they should put down biology, science, medicine, health, and so on. All websites are simply word searches. If you do not have that word in your profile, the website will not bring up scholarships in that field.

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We really want Indian students to succeed. They are sorely needed in Indian country. Doctors, nurses, biologists, pharmacists, teachers, social workers, business managers, accountants, lawyers, and many other professionals are sorely needed. And we want them to win enough scholarships to avoid loans. They will be employed the rest of their lives. The unemployment rate of our graduates is zero.

Dr. Dean Chavers is director of Catching the Dream, a national scholarship program for Native college students. He can be reached at CTD4DeanChavers@aol.com. His latest book is “Racism in Indian Country.” His book before that was “Modern American Indian Leaders” from Mellen Press.

This story was originally published December 9, 2015.

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