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Native American College Planning Considerations: Part 1

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Native American College Planning Considerations: Part 1 - Academic Opportunities

Native American college planning is a specialized area of concentration in school counseling and college counseling.  Providing this type of service requires specific training and expertise in culturally responsive counseling. Consider this recent Minnesota School Counselor Association article entitled Cultivating Cultural Responsiveness addressing this practice.

"Culturally responsive counseling means that school counselors identify, recognize and utilize the cultural strengths of students to increase positive outcomes."

In this CollegeBound Journey article series, we will address the four areas that support Native American college planning.  Part one explores academic opportunities with Native youth and how to integrate this concept into the college counseling practice.

Cultural Understanding for School Counselors in Native American College Planning

The Creator gives everyone a PURPOSE.

For many of Native youth, there is a belief in a Creator who gifts everything on Earth with a purpose.  The following quote explains this concept in depth:

“Everything on the earth has a purpose, every disease an herb to cure it, and every person a mission. This is the Indian theory of existence.”

This concept is the foundation for Native youth and whether college will be a part of their future.  Students need opportunities to focus on self awareness and cultural identity to be able to link to their purpose.

Everyone’s purpose sustains, builds, and empowers their community.

Native American College Planning importance of culture in the process

Understanding the contrasts between Native American and Western Cultures is key for culturally responsive college counseling. When providing college guidance to Native American youth, it is crucial to acknowledge the fundamental differences between Native American and Western cultures. One significant distinction lies in the emphasis on interdependency versus independence. In many Native communities, mutual support forms the backbone of their society.

When guiding Native American youth towards college, it is crucial to prioritize their community needs. Counselors should be knowledgeable about professions that contribute to, strengthen, and uplift Native communities. This may include roles like language instructors, Tribal governance positions, and managers in sustainable energy and food systems. Moreover, counselors should have the means to connect students with colleges that offer pathways towards these careers.

Cultural knowledge acquisition is a life-long journey.

The core components of any culture are language, belief systems, and traditions. These elements are interconnected and contribute to a harmonious and fulfilling existence. Moreover, passing down these elements to the next generation ensures the preservation of the culture. The acquisition of cultural knowledge is a lifelong process.

College should offer personal growth along with career preparation. Native youth can expand cultural identity through Native language courses, Elder in Residence programs, culturally specific majors, and cultural clubs at colleges.

Cultural Considerations & Native American College Planning

Link students to college with Native language opportunities.

There are nearly 8,000 enrolled members of the Ho-Chunk Nation, most of whom live in Wisconsin. But tribal leaders estimate there are fewer than 40 native Hoocąk speakers left in the entire country.

In college counseling for Native youth, a key focus is finding colleges that offer Native language courses tailored to individual students. Unfortunately, most colleges do not offer Native language courses as a major, let alone as an elective. Learning their language not only helps Native youth connect with their cultural roots but also contributes to preserving their language within their Tribal community.

Colleges that provide Native language courses or programs of study, will also provide additional cultural supports on campus, like Native student specific support centers, cultural events, and cultural scholarships.  Identifying these colleges can be challenging; however, CollegeBound Journey’s College Search provides a filter to easily find colleges that provide specific Native language courses.

Identify programs of study that directly support/impact Native American communities.

As previously mentioned, culturally specific college majors have a positive impact on Native communities as a whole.  The difference between culturally specific majors and traditional majors is that culture is embedded into the curriculum and overall experience.  Supporting Native youth towards colleges that provide these programs of study.

Some examples of culturally specific majors include:


  • American Indian and Indigenous Studies

  • Equine Studies Program

  • Native American Art

  • Sustaining and Advancing Indigenous Nations

  • Indigenous Nursing and Healthcare

  • Tribal Business/Enterprise Management/Casino Management

  • Tribal Environmental Management and Planning/Forestry

  • Tribal Governance

  • Tribal Historic Preservation/Museum Studies

Consider education environments that reflects tribe/culture.

For students seeking an immersion experience, some colleges are available to provide Native youth with a full cultural educational space.  One option is to link students to a Tribal College, which are colleges that are designed to serve Native American students.  Many of these colleges provide Native language courses, direct cultural support, and cultural activities like ceremonies and organizations.  

Another option is to identify colleges that provide a robust cultural experience.  Factors to search for include Native American living and learning communities, partnerships with local Tribes and communities, campus organizations that support Native community building, and cultural events on campus.

Seek teacher preparation programs specifically for Native students.

Students achieve more in the classroom when they have teachers who represent their backgrounds.

According to the National Indian Education Association, only .5% of teachers in public K-12 schools identify as Native American.  For Native youth, education can be very challenging.  Native American teachers can bring their cultural backgrounds and experience in their lesson planning, which can then support in providing an equitable education for Native students.

Colleges that specifically support Native American teacher preparation are essential to reaching the younger generation.  One example of how colleges do this is by providing Native American teacher preparation programs.  Another way that colleges support future Native teachers is by providing financial aid/scholarships and Native mentors along this learning journey.

Native American College Planning Insights

Moreover, providing Native American college planning requires very specific knowledge and resources.  Native youth need a support system that understand how culture is the primary consideration in college counseling.  Additionally, counselors must utilize cultural resources to aid in this process, as many college counseling resources are not designed for Native youth.

Academic considerations is just one of four areas that support in Native American college planning.   Native youth are supported by colleges that provide Native language course/programs, majors that align to their community’s needs, a culturally supportive environment, and for specific clients, Native American teacher preparation programs.

CollegeBound Journey supports school counselors and college counselors with identifying colleges that provide academic considerations for Native youth. Check out our College Search Feature page to learn about our unique college search.

Reach out to us for more information on how we can support your work with Native youth.

As an experienced, Licensed School Counselor and Educational Consultant, Kerrie has a passion for creating programming and resources for Native youth success.  She is especially interested in developing and sharing resources that support Native American students towards college matriculation.

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