Preparing for College

How Do Admission Officials Define "Native American"?

Question: My Grandmother was Cherokee. What is the definition of Native American for admission purposes and what documentation do colleges request?

The Cherokee Nation has been terrific but unable to provide a CDIB.


Colleges approach this issue in a number of ways. Some require a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB), issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, or other type of documentation. Many, however, rely only on your self-report and may do no follow-up whatsoever to verify a claim. Last year, when I queried a Yale admission official about how they define Native Americans for admission purposes, I received this reply:

If students check the Native American box on our application, then we send them a Native American form to complete. The form inquires about their Native American background including whether they are an enrolled member (if yes, we ask for their registration number, and we ask about their tribal affiliation). We also ask them to describe their involvement with or their ties to their native background. So, yes, we do follow up. We often get people who end up being 1/116th Native American and other times, we get people who might not be enrolled but who very much identify with their background.

It's not uncommon for candidates who have no enrollment number but who have demonstrated ties to a Native American heritage to still get a "hook" in the admission process.

College that are interested in truly diversifying their student body will give the most advantage to applicants who seem to be involved with their Native American culture. Many schools, however, simply want to boast of a growing Native American student population and are willing to take your word for it and "count" you, regardless of whether or not you present written proof of your background or demonstrate active engagement.