College Planning Tips for Native Students by Native Students

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You’re More Than Your Grades

A list of extracurricular activities is an important part of an effective application. These activities give people who don’t know you a glimpse of your life outside the classroom. They also demonstrate your strengths, interests, and skills.

Examples of skills and attributes to include: 

  • Leadership skills: Serving in student government or as an officer for a school club. Determination: Being a member of a sports team.
  • Compassion: Volunteering at hospitals, shelters, and community centers. 
  • Commitment: Participating in religious or cultural events regularly.
  • Time management skills: Working at a part-time job while keeping up your grades.
  • Responsibility: Helping with siblings or family chores.
  • Musical or creative skills: Playing an instrument, dancing in a halau or a youth group, or singing in a choir.

Next: Make a list of activities you participate in or groups you joined outside of school, with the dates you began, the number of hours a week you commit to each, and any leadership positions you hold in clubs or organizations.

Also, write down the names of advisers, coaches, or supervisors who could give you a reference for your résumé or a letter of recommendation.

If you’re interested in continuing your activities, search for colleges with similar student organizations or clubs you can join.

“I was really active in school with sports and extracurriculars, which helped me make many connections leading to jobs and future recommendations. I not only realized what my passions were—I also realized what didn’t interest me as much. While extracurriculars are important, don’t overcommit while in school. Finding time to sleep, eat, and study should be prioritized too.”

Holly (Navajo), Dartmouth (Abenaki Territory)

Find a Mentor

A mentor is a trustworthy adult or older student, and a mentee is a student like you looking for insight. A mentor is available to answer your questions about college life and can also be a role model who will support you in reaching your full potential.

Why seek out a mentor?

Mentors can give you perspectives on how to move forward in your college journey and navigate next steps. They can help you look forward to your life beyond college and open your professional network.

How can I find a mentor?

You can find a mentor through your school, extracurricular activities, or community centers. If you’re looking for someone in a specific career, start by talking to your school counselor.

What can I talk to my mentor about?

You can share your career or college aspirations, academic challenges, and interests. Mentors share their experiences and insights to help you on your college journey.

Remember that mentors offer advice, but they don’t decide your path.

“I would argue that it’s essential for Native students who come from very rural communities to get in touch with someone who understands where they come from in an institution. This type of mentorship has afforded me the chance to be as open as I can, and to not be judged. I have also been fortunate to have mentors that care about my future and provide me with options to enhance my abilities and grow as a professional in education.”

–Monty (Navajo), University of Oklahoma (Wichita & Osage Territory)

Take Challenging Courses

One of the best ways to get ready for college is to take challenging courses like Advanced Placement. They’ll help you build new skills, give you an idea of what college classes are like, and show admissions officers that you set high academic goals.

The College Board AP Program offers college-level classes—you can choose from 40—where students develop and apply skills like reading critically, solving problems analytically, and writing clearly. If you take an AP Exam at the end of the year and earn a high enough score, you can get credit, advanced placement, or both at most U.S. colleges and universities. Go to to learn more.

Honors classes cover the same material as regular classes but in more detail or at a faster pace. You may also be able to take college courses while still in high school, either at your school or on a local college campus.

Next: If you think AP might be right for you, talk to your counselor or teachers about registering for classes. Talking with your family or friends about AP is a good way
to get another perspective on the program. Learn more about the AP experience at

If your school doesn’t offer honors or AP-level classes, don’t worry—admissions officers will take this into consideration when reviewing your application.

“I remember being intimidated when I enrolled in my first AP class, but I am so thankful I did. This class not only prepared me for college coursework but also greatly improved my study skills, my time management, and how I think about the world! Taking challenging courses can be intimidating, but there are so many benefits beyond just college credit! They prepare you to think more critically about the world as well as developing hard skills that are extremely important as you progress in life.”

–Tamah (Meskwaki), University of Oklahoma (Wichita & Osage Territory)

Go to a College Fair

A college fair is a gathering of college representatives looking for the right students for their institutions. They’re there to spread the word about their colleges—and they want to talk to you.

College fairs may be held at your school, a conference center, or a local community center, and the colleges may be local or from around the country. The representatives usually sit at booths or tables and hand out brochures and cards. They can tell you about everything from academics to campus life at their college, and they can also answer more general questions about college. Ask your counselor or a teacher how to find college fairs in your area. If you can, go to more than one to get a good sampling of what’s out there.

Before You Go

  • Find out which colleges will be at the fair. Make a list of 3–5 you want to learn more about.
  • Look at college websites, and then write down any questions you still have about the colleges.
  • Bring a bag to hold all the brochures, pens, and flyers you’ll receive.
  • Be ready to give your email address to representatives!

While You’re There

  • Introduce yourself. Smile. Extend your hand. Give a firm handshake and tell the recruiter who you are.
  • Visit booths and ask representatives questions about their college. For example, you can ask: “What kind of students are you looking for?” or “What make the campus special?”
  • Take a minute to jot down any information you think is important on your phone or a notepad.
  • Be sure to check out other booths when you’re done with the colleges on your list.
  • Ask about information sessions or recruitment programs at each college.

When You Get Home

  • Ask yourself which colleges stood out and why.
  • Organize the materials you collected and review them for things you liked and want to learn more about.
  • Share pamphlets from colleges you’re not interested in with your younger siblings or community members.
  • Do more research on the colleges you’re thinking about. Explore their websites, contact admissions officers, and ask about campus visits.

“Don’t let fear of rejection stop you from applying to your dream college. Most colleges evaluate applications holistically; they look beyond GPAs and test scores to find unique, well-rounded individuals. If your application showcases those qualities, you have a chance.”

–Ashley (Cherokee), Harvard University (Massachusett Territory)