Recently we were asked about the factors that make for a top college for Native Americans students. It is a great question and it really depends on individual student needs and goals; however, that does not make for a great blog. So I will answer this with a top ten list of things that Native American students should consider when choosing a college. This list not based of some elaborate survey or research, just lessons learned from my perspective of what was helpful for me while in college and what I observed was helpful to Native students in my work with Native students on college campuses. Before I get to the list let me get this disclaimer out first, yes there are things I missed. And yes, I left out key things like academic major, graduation rates, retention rates, etc. I believe you can find this on any college fit list; my list is about the finer details of college resources for Native American students.
OK, so here it is:
1. Having other Native American students on campus. You may not think it is important in the process of choosing a college, but once you are on campus you will realize that it matters. I have been told many times by Native students how exciting and unusual it is when they meet other Native students on campus. Be wary of the advertised number of Native American students on campus in college web sites, because when you get on campus it may have a different feel than you expected. Just the other day, I had a student say that there is supposed to be 200 Native American students on campus, but they have yet to find one. Why advertised numbers on college websites may not be entirely accurate is a blog for another day, but visit the campus, spend a day or two walking on campus and get a feel for campus life as a Native student.
2. Having a Native American student center on campus. The best way to find other Native students is to locate the Native American student center on campus. Some Native American student centers will be a small office in the basement of a building and some will be an entire house. Generally you can expect to find a staff person who is dedicated to helping Native students find academic and career success. You may also find a great place to study and most importantly, other Native students.
3. Having Native American faculty, staff, and/or Native American studies department. At institutions other than tribal college and universities, you may have a difficult time finding Native American faculty on campus. Finding a college that has the major you want (it is OK if you do not know what you want to major in right now), a Native American faculty member teaching in that major, and fits your other important criteria for a college like location or distance from home would be a home run! For many of us that might not happen, so the next best thing would be to find a college with significant number of Native American faculty on campus to serve as role models or mentors.
4. Free tutoring services. This is not just for Native students to consider, but all students. It is important to ask what you’re the college offers in the way of free tutoring. Most colleges will have a writing center or even a math center, but what about for other courses like those more difficult upper division courses? It is not only important for your college to have a great tutoring system, but students also need to take the initiative and go to tutoring when they need help. Do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it; there is nothing wrong with getting help.
5. Emergency funds. Are there programs or centers at your potential college that offer emergency funds to cover things like buying books until your financial aid comes in or paying for stitches because you fell off your bike on the way to class? For many students, life happens and you may find yourself needing a little extra help to stay in school. Also ask if your potential college has a food bank. There are colleges that have food banks on campus where you can get things like cereal and canned foods. Do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
6. Free food events. Who does not like free food? I worked at a college where they would send text alerts about free food events on campus. Yes, you may have to listen to a lecture on mid-century Europe and yes you may get tired of pizza, but hey, it’s free and you might learn something new and cool. So in the grand scheme of things, free food events are probably not most important thing to consider when selecting a college, but it does speak to the outside-the-class learning a potential a college may offer.
7. Native American keynote speakers. Learning outside the classroom is a key experience for college students and it is even better when you get to meet national Native American leaders and artists. Take a look and see who your potential college has brought in from previous years. The number of departments on campus willing to dedicate resources to Native events will give you an idea on the value your potential institution places on Native knowledge and students.
8. Native American graduate student group and undergraduate student group on campus. Native American Student groups are a great way to connect with other Native students socially and culturally while on campus. Some colleges will have general Native student groups and others may have multiple Native groups, including the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), which are Native student groups connected to national organizations. Native American graduate student groups are becoming more popular on college campuses and the graduate groups I have worked with make attempts to connect with Native undergraduates to form mentoring relationships.
9. Funds available from various academic departments to help students with travel to conferences. No matter your major, there is likely to be a national conference devoted to your field of interest. National conferences are a great way to find jobs, internships, and mentors. The cost for students to attend national conferences can get pricey, but there are departments that will help students present and attend conferences. Asking about the availability of conference travel scholarships is a great question to ask your potential college.
10. Scholarships, tuition waiver, in-state tuition for Native American students. Some colleges will have Native American-specific scholarships and some will not have any. A few states like Michigan and Montana offer American Indian tuition waivers for public institutions (please see their guidelines for eligibility) and other states may offer in-state tuition to Native American students who are from a tribe that borders their state.
Making your college choice is fun, exciting, and can be a little scary. Stay the course and enjoy your journey to college. If you find yourself needing resources along the way, please check out the Native Pathways to College web page, and follow us @nativepathways on Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, and Native College Pathways on Facebook.
Matthew Makomenaw is the College Pathways Administrator at the American Indian College Fund.