The Navajo Nation is a vast American Indian reservation that spreads throughout Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. It’s the largest landmass reserved by indigenous people in the United States. Financial struggles are common in the Navajo Nation, so families find it increasingly difficult to send their young to college. According to the Post National Policy Institute, only about 17% of American Indian students continue their studies after high school.

To help provide more college opportunities, several organizations provide scholarships and financial aid for American Indian students. With help from these organizations, more indigenous students are enrolling in undergraduate and graduate programs every year. One of the top programs is the Navajo Nation Scholarship.

What Is the Navajo Nation Scholarship?

The Navajo Nation scholarship is a program issued by the Office of Navajo Nation Scholarship Financial Assistance (ONNSFA). Eligible students can enroll in the program and receive financial aid to help achieve their educational goals. The scholarship program was founded in 1972 and has since helped thousands of American Indian students pursue higher education.

There are numerous scholarships available under the ONNSFA. Students can receive funds for both graduate and undergraduate programs and are delivered through merit-based and need-based awards.

The ONNSFA receives its funding from several institutions, such as the Higher Education Grant, corporate funds, trust funds, and the Navajo Nation funds. The ONNSFA awarded $24 million to over 6,000 students to achieve degrees in 2018.

What the Navajo Nation Scholarship Provides

Scholarship programs fund students based on a family’s financial situation. The ONNSFA offers funding to eligible students under need-based and merit-based awards. Each type of award comes with different requirements, amounts, and terms.

What Is a Need-Based Award?

Need-based awards are typically given by federal institutions, universities, or the state government. Before receiving a need-based award, the student must submit a Federal Student Aid application to see whether their family is eligible for a need-based fund.

The ONNSFA provides need-based awards of up to $2,500 per term. Students who receive this award have to previously demonstrate their financial needs through the Financial Needs Analysis form filed by themselves or their school. This award is typically for students whose families don’t have adequate resources to pay for college attendance costs, such as housing, books, and tuition.

Students that have resources to cover the cost of attending college can receive awards of up to $1,000 per term.

The Chief Manuelito Scholarship

In 1980, the ONNSFA created the Chief Manuelito Scholarship program to provide financial assistance to high-achieving high school students. The scholarship’s namesake Chief Manuelito (also known as Sir Black Reeds) was a well-respected Navajo leader that helped protect native people from military oppression in the 1800s.

He’s widely known for being one of the figures to create a reservation for the Navajo people. Chief Manuelito was an advocate for Western education while encouraging the youth to preserve the Navajo culture, which is one of the reasons the college scholarship bears his name.

The Chief Manuelito Scholarship awards $7,000 per year to eligible students who meet the criteria. The funds are there to help students and their families pay directly for the cost of education for both universities and post-secondary institutions. Eligible students who wish to enroll in this scholarship program need to maintain at least a 3.0 GPA per term and receive 12 semester credit hours on college-level courses.

This scholarship doesn’t automatically renew, so students need to re-apply each year.

How To Know If You’re Eligible for The Navajo Nation Scholarship

American Indian students must maintain a sufficient GPA (varies between scholarship programs) and must complete courses on Navajo government and the Navajo language to be eligible for a scholarship. If students can’t access these classes in person, they can complete them online.

Here are some of the eligibility requirements for any of the ONNSFA scholarships:

  • 0 GPA or higher
  • Students must be of Indian blood
  • Four hours of community service each year
  • Two letters of recommendation

Application Steps for the Navajo Nation Scholarship

To apply for any of the Navajo Nation Scholarship programs, students have to submit a series of required documents, such as:

  • The ONNSFA Application: Students can find the application online on the official ONNSFA website.
  • Official Transcripts: Students are required to mail in or hand-deliver their unopened transcripts to an official ONNSFA agency office.
  • Certificate of Indian Blood: If it’s a student’s first time applying for an ONNSFA scholarship, they need to submit a Certificate of Indian Blood to an official agency office. This is a one-time requirement as the ONNSFA will have your certificate in their system if you wish to apply for future scholarships.
  • Financial Need Analysis Form: Full-time students are required to submit a Financial Need Analysis form to their college, so the institution can complete the form and send it to the ONNSFA.
  • Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA): Every student that wishes to apply for an ONNSFA scholarship must complete a FAFSA. You can find information on the FAFSA on your university’s website.
  • Admissions Letter: Students need to provide an admissions letter from the institution they wish to attend. The college needs to be accredited by an organization recognized by the ONNSFA.
  • Class Schedule: Full-time and part-time students need to submit a class schedule to apply for a scholarship program.
  • Graduate Degree Checklist: Students need to submit a list of all the courses required to achieve the degree they’re after.

After submitting all the above documents, applicants can create a student account on the official ONNSFA website to check their application status. Eligible students need to submit all the required documents before August for the following Fall and Spring terms.

Tips and Strategies To Help You Win the Navajo Nation Scholarship

Receiving a scholarship from the ONNSFA to help pay for college is desirable for almost every student in the Navajo Nation. Scholarships are among the best ways to get funding for school since you don’t have to pay them back. However, receiving a scholarship isn’t always easy due to the high competition. If you want to increase your chances of getting a scholarship from the ONNSFA, you’ll need to make sure your application is polished.

While this may seem overwhelming, it’s not as scary if your break it down piece by piece. Here are some ways you can increase your chances of winning the Navajo Nation Scholarship:

Start Preparing Early

Many people believe that junior year is the time to start thinking about college. However, starting your scholarship preparations before the junior year will give you a head start against other students. Not only can you start preparing your applications and maintaining a high GPA, but you can also take time to learn about the Navajo Nation Scholarship and what it takes to win.

Reach Out to People for Recommendation Letters

Letters of recommendation are just what you need to give you a big boost when applying for the Navajo Nation scholarship. You can collect recommendation letters from community members, employers, teachers, counselors, or anyone that can vouch for your achievements.

To make your letters stand out, providing information about the scholarship to your letter writer can help them draft an amazing story. Always remember to thank your letter writer after you submit their piece to the ONNSFA.

Draft a Winning Essay

Although an essay isn’t required to apply, writing up a well-crafted essay can’t hurt your chances of winning. This is your time to shine by displaying your achievements, personal history, and everything you feel is relevant to winning the Navajo Nation scholarship. If you aren’t the best writer, you can reach out to your college advisor or attend a writing class to help you draft an outstanding essay.

Improving your writing won’t only help you with your scholarship essay, but it will also help you with college applications.

Focus on More Than Just Getting Good Grades

While you’ll need to make sure you maintain a good GPA to win the scholarship, grades aren’t the only thing you should focus your efforts on. If you want to stand out from the crowd, you can focus on building new skills to make you a more qualified applicant. Try and apply for as many extracurricular activities as possible. You can also take part in volunteer programs in your local community to help polish your application and grow your network.

Whichever areas you feel like you excel the most in, focus on those strong points. However, you should still take the time to study hard and ensure your GPA meets the requirements of the Navajo Nation Scholarship Financial Assistance office.


No doubt, winning the Navajo Nation scholarship can be extremely advantageous for eligible students looking for financial assistance. The scholarship helps thousands of American Indian students pursue a college education, which ultimately improves the quality of life throughout the reservation.

Remember, if you want to apply and have a high chance of winning the Navajo Nation scholarship, you’ll need to make sure you have all the requirements in order before applying. Spend time to gather recommendation letters, improve your GPA, and participate in extracurricular activities.

GrantEd helps families connect with financial aid institutions that provide scholarships to help undergrad and graduate students achieve their education goals. We also help students calculate the financial needs of attending college, and can consult you on how to gather funding to attend your college of choice. Reach out to our team to see how we can help.

Our financial aid calculator, created by our founder, Jasmine Chigbu, creates a tailored vision of your necessities. Jasmine is an expert on scholarships — that’s how she paid for all four years of medical school. Trust the people that know scholarships and reach out to GrantEd today.

Sign up for a FREE account at GrantEd be matched with over 2000 scholarships in our database. 

Sign Up