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 7 myths presented below:
Scholarships all require different essays. I hear this all the time and have to tell students what they have seen on two or three scholarship sites does not hold for all of them. I estimate that students can apply to 80 percent or more of all scholarships using the same essay. The other 20 percent or fewer will require an individual essay. For instance, the Daughters of the American Revolution will require students to explain how they are good patriots and support the Constitution. The norm is for students to write a five-page essay, narrow that down to two pages, and narrow that down to one page. Those three will meet about 85 percent of applications. If the scholarship does not set a word limit, submit the five-page essay. If they say 500 words, submit the two pages. If they say 250 words, submit the one page.
The essay should be about the student. We had a classic one of those 25 years ago. He said he wanted to go to college so he could have a good job, a nice house, a nice family, and a nice car. My whole board said: “Throw that one in the trash can. We want people who are going to help Indians in some way.” He didn’t win any scholarships.
A C-level essay is good enough. A student contacted me in September with a request that I critique her essay. I said sure. She sent it to me and I told her it was about a C-, not good enough to win. I told her how to fix it and send it to me again. She sent it to me a week later and it was still a C-. I then asked her if she had submitted it anywhere and she sent me her list of 40 scholarships. She had submitted that C- essay to all of them, and had not won any scholarships.
My English teacher or counselor can help me with the essay. Unfortunately this is rarely the case. Most of the time, the teacher or the counselor has not been a scholarship winner. So they may think they know how to do it, but they may not. So if you are going to use them, make sure they know the process. Don’t be afraid to ask if they won any scholarships.
My first draft of the essay will be good enough. Isaiah Rodriguez came to us seven years ago to try to win scholarships. He was from Laguna Pueblo and had been a high school dropout from the ages of 16 to 21. On his 21st birthday he asked himself as he worked at his restaurant job: “Is this what I’m supposed to do for the rest of my life?” The answer was: “No, you’re supposed to get an education.” So he took the GED and started back to school. After a year at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute he had a 3.86 GPA. I helped him find 102 scholarships and told him to send me his essay. His first draft was a C+. By his fifth draft, he had an A level essay, which won him 70 of the scholarships. Almost none of the essays we get as first drafts are good enough. They usually need to be critiqued and edited. The mistakes they make are very similar. They will say “My mother” without giving her name, age, tribe, occupation or location. They will not put their high school name, their GPA, or ACT score, or name of high school, or date of graduation. They will give an ACT or SAT score without giving percentiles. Almost no one knows what a 1600 on the SAT means. But if they put percentiles everyone will know what they mean.
I can win scholarships without trying. Too many Native students think they will win scholarships just because they are due to win. The concept of competing for them, of putting forth their best effort all the time, is foreign to many of them. Most of these students are frustrated in their attempts at winning scholarships, if they try at all. We want them to try very hard.
I don’t need scholarships. I can get financial aid and that will be enough. Unfortunately, it is not. The typical Indian student on financial aid will get a degree only 18 percent of the time. Dr. Ted Jojola, Dr. Ardy Sixkiller Clarke, Dr. Susan Faircloth, and several other researchers have demonstrated the high dropout rate for the typical Indian student. In high school, 50 percent of Indian students drop out. In college, 82 percent drop out, as I document in my next book on the Indian dropout. In contrast, students who are tough enough to complete our application process at Catching the Dream have a 78 percent chance of completing college. The differences are startling.
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 originally published December 13, 2015.