Application Tips

Strengthen Your Scholarship Application

Explore these tips to learn how to strengthen your scholarship application.



Complete the Application in 3 Steps

Once you set-up your profile in our application system, you will have to complete 5 steps BEFORE you can submit your scholarship application for consideration by the College Fund:

· Scholarship Application

· Extracurricular Activities

· Honors and Distinctions

In the first step, Scholarship Application, you will provide academic information such as your grade point average (GPA), school, major, and more. This is the section where you will answer the reflection questions, which are important for your overall application score.

While you work on the Scholarship Application step, you can save your work as a “draft.” When you have completed the Scholarship Application step and proof-read all your responses, you will click “mark as complete,” and then return to the application dashboard to complete the remaining steps.

In the remaining steps, you will add information about yourself, such as activities you participate in and any awards or distinctions you have received.

In the Extracurricular Activities and Honors & Distinctions steps, you will click on the green “+New Item” button to add a new entry. Under these sections, add as many new items as you like. You must add at least one item in each step. You can save individual entries as “draft.” Please note that the application will not let you submit if you have any entries saved as “drafts” when you go to submit. If you make a mistake, entries can be deleted using the “delete” button. When you are done with all your entries in either step, click the white “close” button at the top right, and that will take you back to your application dashboard.

The last section, Resume, is optional – but we encourage you to complete it if you are interested in internships or career development opportunities.

Once you complete each of these steps and have reviewed all of your responses, you can return to the application dashboard and click the green “Submit Application” button. The green submit button will only be highlighted and clickable if you have completed all the application steps. You must click on the green “Submit Application” button to have your application reviewed by the College Fund and to be considered for scholarships.

*** Warning – you will not be able to change your application once it has been submitted! ***

We are here to support your success. Please email us at, or give us a call at 1-800-987-3863 from 8am to 4:30pm (MST), Monday through Friday, if you need assistance with your application.

Reflection Questions

The Scholarship application has three reflection questions that resemble mini essays.
These questions give you a chance to share your story. The reflection questions prompt you to discuss three subjects: an obstacle that you have overcome to get to where you are now; your educational goals and how this scholarship will help you achieve them; and how your education will help the Native community.

We recommend that you type out your responses to the reflection questions in a Word document or similar text editor. This way you can edit freely and utilize spellcheck or grammar check functions.

To enhance your responses, start by creating an outline of your thoughts and initial answers to each question. The outline does not need to be exhaustive, but it will allow you to start organizing your thoughts about the questions. You will need to choose your words carefully, as there is a limit of 300 words per question. It is very important that you think deeply about the questions and provide a thorough responses. As always, don’t forget to check your grammar and spelling!

For scoring, the reflection questions count heavily compared to other sections of the application. A high scoring essay will be clear, complete, and compelling. Thoroughly answer each question with the details of your unique story in a way that will engage reviewers. Pay attention to the help text below each question text box for additional guidance.

Formatting & Editing

These tips for formatting, editing, and proofreading make sure your application is PREPPED for excellence. You can apply these tips throughout your application.

Start with the basics:

  • Creating descriptive and appropriate responses
  • Writing in complete sentences
  • Ensuring that answers flow cohesively
  • Using correct grammar

In your Reflection Questions, Extracurricular Activity entries, and Honors & Distinction entries, use full sentences that allow your personality and passions to come forward. For example, if your educational goal is to complete a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and teach on your reservation, it is recommended that you respond with a full sentence like the one below:

It is my dream to complete my bachelor’s degree in early childhood education in order to teach the next generation of leaders on my reservation. I believe that foundational life skills can be taught at a young age, and I want to be a part of empowering these learners through my degree.

Do not answer the reflection questions with bullet points or fragments. It is not recommended to format your answer like this:

  • Educational Goals: B.A. in early childhood education, plan to teach on the reservation.

If you need help editing, just remember PREPPED.

PREPPED stands for Prepare, Readability, Every Question, Punctuation and Grammar, Passion, Examples, and Double Take. Here’s how to be PREPPED on your application:

  • Prepare: Gather necessary information prior to starting the application. Prepare your response by thinking critically about the questions and creating outlines when appropriate.
  • Readability: Do your answers flow? Are the sentences and thoughts laid out in a cohesive way that leads the reader through your answer from start to finish? Are there any parts that sound awkward or out-of-place?
  • Every Question: Did your answer completely address a every part of the question?
  • Punctuation and Grammar: Is your grammar correct? Did you place commas in the correct spots? Do your possessive nouns include the apostrophe properly? Have you used the correct form of commonly misused words, such as they, they’re, their, and affect or effect?
  • Passion: Read over your words and ask yourself if your passions are evident in your writing. Are you writing something because you think it is what the readers want to hear or are you genuinely passionate about your goals and dreams?
  • Examples: Did you provide specific examples to better explain your statements? Are these examples relevant to the question and the point you are trying to make?
  • Double Take: Once you have gone through the finer details of editing and proofreading, ask a friend, instructor, tutor, or family member to read through your responses. Ask them to use the PREPPED checklist. After they have read them over and provided feedback, edit your answers once more to reflect any changes. Then go through this checklist one last time.

Congratulations! You are now PREPPED and your application responses are ready for submission!

    Application Photos

    The American Indian College Fund may use your application photo in donor reports, direct mail appeals, and marketing opportunities. Students will need to upload a photograph in their application each year.

    Try to focus on the following things when selecting a photo for your application:

    • Your photo or headshot should feature you above all else
    • Your face should be clearly visible (avoid ball caps, sunglasses, or heavily pixilated or dark images)
    • Headshots are preferred but full-length photographs are acceptable
    • Traditional regalia is encouraged but not required
    • Please have someone else take the photo and avoid selfies
    • Consider the lighting. It is better to have light in front of you than behind you
    • Don’t forget to SMILE!

    Proving Descent

    For students who are not enrolled tribal members themselves but are able to prove that their parents or grandparents have tribal enrollment, the following is very important.

    The graphic below illustrates an excellent example of how to prove descent through a paper trail:

    Examples of tribal documents may include:
    – Official letter from the tribe stating the enrollment status of the parent and/or grandparent;
    – A copy of the Tribal ID card;
    – CIB (Certificate of Indian Blood)

    Enrolling in Your Tribe

    Each tribe has their own unique requirements and process for becoming an enrolled member. The best first step is to reach out to your tribal government to learn more. If you need help contacting your tribe, visit the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) website at to learn more.

    As each process is unique, and tribes of differing sizes and administration have varying capacities to handle enrollment requests, you shouldn’t assume that your request will be processed quickly. Many smaller tribes with limited staff are completely unavailable to complete this work due to seasonal subsistence activities and other cultural practices.

    Extracurricular Activities

    Extracurriculars are any activities that you do outside of your required schoolwork. This includes, but is not limited to, traditional and cultural activities, clubs, sports, volunteering, work/employment, faith-based activities, community-based activities, and hobbies.

    Extracurricular activities set you apart from other applicants and increase your chances of receiving a scholarship. For these reasons, we encourage you to add a complete history of your extracurricular involvement.

    Don’t be discouraged if you do not have time for sports or a dozen bake sales. The American Indian College Fund encourages you to think outside the box when it comes to your time spent away from school work. Many of our students are nontraditional students, returning to school later in life when they have full-time jobs and families. For this reason, employment and family duties can be Extracurricular Activity entries on your scholarship application. More entry types are:

    • Volunteer and/or service-related activities
    • Athletics
    • Student Government
    • Academic and Professional Organizations
    • Multicultural Activities
    • Employment
    • Work Study
    • Family-related activities

    Updating Your Profile & Application

    Applicants can view their profile and scholarship application whenever they wish. Students will be able to update their profile as needed. However, the scholarship application cannot be edited once it is submitted.

    Profile – It’s important to keep your profile information up to date in our system. If your contact information changes, it is your responsibility to update your email and phone number with us. This is important, as we will notify students of awards, opportunities, and next steps via email.

    Full Circle Scoring Insights

    What happens to my application when I submit it? How will my application be scored?

    When you click “submit,” your application is stored securely in the online application system until scoring begins. Students who submit their application between February 1 and May 31 will have their application scored by the end of July.

    Applications are scored by independent reviewers who have experience in Native higher education. Each application submitted between February 1 and May 31 will receive three scores by three separate reviewers. We then take the average of those three scores to assign the application its final score. American Indian College Fund staff members do not score the applications.

    For scoring consistency across the applications, all readers use a rubric system to determine how many points to allocate for various portions of the scholarship application. Higher scores are more likely to receive a scholarship. As a merit-based scholarship program, the rubric scores applications based on thoughtful responses and a student’s ability to demonstrate merit. The reflection questions are the highest scoring portion of the application. There is also a preference for students attending tribal colleges and alumni of tribal colleges.

    Typically, scholarship awards are determined by the end of July. You can log in to your online application profile at any time to see if you have received an award. If the word “pending” appears beside the application, that means your application is still under review, so keep checking back!

    We hope this has been helpful in outlining how scholarship applications are scored. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us by email or at 800-987-3863.

    If you have additional questions about applying for scholarships, be sure to read through our Frequently Asked Questions.

    News & Events

    Our Internal Library: The Importance of Sorting through our Experience

    Danielle’s family – Brandon, Edwin, Danielle, and Nicole Carley.

    Danielle’s family – Brandon, Edwin, Danielle, and Nicole Carley.

    Danielle Carley, LCOOU, Associate Dean of Students

    2023-2024 Indigenous Visionaries Fellow

    Boozhoo, my name is Danielle Carley. I am a wife and mother of two, and soon to be grandmother to my first grandchild. I am a daughter, sister, auntie, cousin, and friend to many. I was born and raised on the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation in a traditional household. I have five brothers and two sisters but was only raised with one brother. Our father raised us. I am from the New Post community, and I am Bear Clan. Professionally, I am the Associate Dean of Students and Work-Based Learning Program Director for the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe University located in northern Wisconsin.

    I love books. There is something so calm and orderly about reading a book. You can experience things in books that you may never experience in life. Books contain pages of wonder and anguish, much like the experiences of real life. In a way, each of our experiences are like books that contain all of the things we’ve seen, heard, touched, felt, or tasted. Some of our books are beautiful and some are devastating, and all hold lessons for us. We all have libraries within ourselves filled with all of our books of experiences. In my own life I’ve had many experiences that I’ve had to find a way to make sense of. This is likely true for everyone. We want to hold onto the good experiences and forget the bad experiences. Sometimes, we want to sweep the worst under the rug. I’ve tried myself, but that only resulted in tripping over past experiences under a lumpy rug. I realized that all our experiences, good and bad, serve a purpose. It is up to each of us to pick up each book and decide where it belongs within our library.

    LCOOU Library with open books: sorting experiences.

    Edward Smith and Danielle Carley, Danielle’s father (deceased).

    One of my books details the story of how education changes lives. I am living proof of that. I always knew I would earn my bachelor’s degree, but I just didn’t know how long it would take or all the opportunities I would miss without it. I spent too much time waiting for the right time to seek my degree. It took a long time to understand that there will never be a “perfect” time, because life has a funny way of happening when you least expect it. I waited too long to get serious about my education and could not share my achievement with my father. My number one supporter and one of my biggest motivators. I encourage you to start organizing your internal library if you haven’t started already. It’s well worth the work that it takes to revisit those old experiences. Review that book, decide what it means to you, and decide where it belongs in your library.

    LCOOU Library with open books: sorting experiences.

    LCOOU Library with open books: sorting experiences.

    Century of Citizenship

    June 2, 2024 marks the 100th anniversary of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, which granted full citizenship to American Indians and Alaska Natives. Indigenous people have been key figures throughout the history of the United States from influencing the underpinning principles of American democracy to defending the nation through military service in every armed conflict. The long overdue granting of citizenship to the original inhabitants of this land was merely one more step on the road to equity for Native people. 

    Yet members of federally recognized tribes would not be allowed to exercise their right as United States citizens to vote in all 50 states until 38 years after the Indian Citizenship Act passed. The Tribal College Movement took off shortly thereafter in the 1960s, serving as both a symbol of tribal sovereignty and means to ensure that Native students had access to the same educational opportunities as all other Americans. 

    American Indian and Alaska Native communities have achieved a great deal in the past century. Here at the American Indian College Fund, we look forward to what successes the future will bring as we encourage Native students, scholars, and communities alike to use the tools of citizenship to make their voices heard and their peoples prosper. To that end, the College Fund has launched a campaign to encourage Native students to register to vote and help others in their communities cast their votes. The campaign, Make Native Voices Heard: Vote!, features a web site that details where and how to register to vote, create a voting plan, and share videos about why voting is important for students and Native communities. Check out the site at

    Don’t just take our word for it. Hear Dr. Twyla Baker, President of Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College, share her personal thoughts on why voting is important.  

    Graduation: A Time to Celebrate Your Achievements and Culture

    Congratulations! Whether you are a high school graduate or you have earned a college degree, graduation time is right here. Graduates are lining up on stages across the country to celebrate years of hard work and receive their diplomas and college degrees.

    Many Native students choose to personalize their graduation regalia with Native cultural elements. Some replace the graduation tassel with a ceremonial eagle feather, which, in many Native American cultures, is a sign of high achievement. Others choose to add a Native cultural touch to their mortarboards by beading them or to wear sashes and neck cords from their tribes.

    Unfortunately, sometimes restrictive dress codes or uninformed administrators have interfered with Native students’ celebration of their cultural heritage and achievements in a culturally appropriate way.

    Graduates Summer eNewsletter Class of 2021

    In 2019, the American Indian College Fund teamed with the Native American Rights Fund to gather content Native American students need to work with school administrations in advance of graduation to ensure they can celebrate their graduations in a traditional way. We have updated this blog for 2024 but many of the principles are still the same.

    First, determine your school policy regarding Native American regalia at graduation. The sooner you communicate your plan with administrators to participate in your graduation ceremony in a cultural way, the fewer snags you will encounter along the way.

    If your institution has a strict graduation dress code, explain the significance of wearing an eagle feather in a letter to the school board and administrative leadership at your school.

    We created the following guide for formatting your letter:

    1. Intro

    Dear (Insert Name or Names of Recipients)

    Many Native American cultures consider eagle feathers to be spiritually significant. They believe that as eagles soar in the sky, they have a special connection with the Creator. Their feathers represent honesty, truth, strength, courage, wisdom, power, and freedom. The federal government has long recognized the importance of eagle feathers for Native American religious and spiritual beliefs. In Native American communities, individuals are honored with the gift of an eagle feather to mark an important accomplishment such as a graduation.

    As a member of the (insert your tribe’s name here) tribal nation, I am writing to notify you of my intent to exercise my federally protected religious right and cultural heritage in this way on graduation day.

    2. Share the legal reasons that Native Americans are permitted to possess and wear eagle feathers (other groups are prohibited from doing so by federal law).

    I am enclosing a flyer written in 2015 by the attorneys at the Native American Rights Fund, a national non-profit organization specializing in Indian Law and titled: Wearing Eagle Feathers at Graduation: A Guide for Schools. This guide explains the religious and ceremonial significance of wearing eagle feathers at events such as graduations, as well as how and why federal law recognizes the sacredness of eagle feathers to tribal nations and the right of tribal members to wear them.

    I plan to participate in my cultural traditions while participating in your institution’s graduation ceremony, as provided for in federal laws including:

    3.  If you attend high school, college, or university in California, Oklahoma, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, include the following in a new paragraph:

    Our state also offers Native Americans protections under state law in addition to federal protections. I have included the name of the law and a link to it here: (Include the name and link to the law from the list below).

    California law: Education Code § 35183.1 – Wearing of Traditional Tribal Regalia or Recognized Objects of Religious or Cultural Significance as an Adornment at School Graduation Ceremonies

    Montana law: MCA § 2-1-315 – Tribal Regalia and Objects of Cultural Significance – Allowed at Public Events (2017)

    North Dakota law: House Bill No. 1335 (2019) – Inclusion of traditional tribal regalia and objects of cultural significance, passed March 2019.

    Oklahoma law: Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act (2000)

    Attorney General Hunter letter about eagle feathers at graduation (October 23, 2018)

    South Dakota law: SDCL § 13-1-66 – Wearing of Traditional Tribal Regalia or Objects of Cultural Significance at School Honoring or Graduation Ceremony to be Permitted

    4. Thank the officials for their support.

    Thank you for your support of my right to participate in my graduation in a culturally significant way, making this day one my family and I will never forget. Thank you also for your commitment to creating an equitable, diverse educational environment and experience for myself and other Native Americans.

    5. Request a written confirmation of your ability to wear your requested regalia in writing in a new paragraph.

    I respectfully request a written confirmation that I may wear the eagle feather at graduation in writing by xxx date (insert date you would like to hear from the officials) so that I may make the appropriate preparations to do so.

    6. In the very last paragraph, welcome a conversation and thank the officials.

    My parents and I welcome the opportunity to discuss this if you have questions, so this event is a smooth and joyful one for all. You can reach me at (provide contact information). Thank you in advance for your assistance and time.


    Your Name, Your Tribal Name

    For detailed information, check out the Native American Rights Fund’s blog.  There you will find these links to pertinent federal and state laws as well as the downloadable copies of brochures you should provide to your school’s administration when you request to wear traditional regalia at graduation, and a brochure for you about wearing an eagle.

    The brochures include:

    Finally, congratulations on your upcoming graduation and this great achievement!