The Cobell Scholarship: Eligibility and Requirements

Students throwing graduation caps
December 5, 2023
6 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 12/05/23

The Cobell Scholarship funds Native students who pursue post-secondary education. Read this guide to learn how to get it! 

Considering higher education? You may feel overwhelmed or confused by its costs. The Cobell Scholarship is one of many opportunities for applicants to earn funding for their academic pursuits. 

What exactly is this scholarship? Who is it for? How do you earn it? Read on for answers to these questions and tips for the application process!

What Is the Cobell Scholarship?

Elouise Cobell’s scholarship is an annual, non-renewable scholarship resulting from the Cobell v. Salazar case. 

Indigenous Education, Inc. (IEI) administers it to full-time, degree-seeking students who are enrolled members of a U.S. Federally Recognized Tribe. 

When applicants are evaluated, it is first by merit and then by financial need.

A Brief History of Elouise Cobell

Elouise Cobell was born on the Blackfeet Reservation in 1945. As her family was impoverished, her aunt and uncle requested money from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to cover medical care. They eventually received funding, but it came too late; the delay resulted in Cobell’s uncle’s death. 

Elouise Cobell portrait

Source: YWCA USA

Cobell studied Accounting at Great Falls Commercial College, then Business at the University of Montana. After interning at Blackfeet Reservation’s BIA office, she became the Treasurer of the Blackfoot Nation. She assisted in founding the Blackfeet National Bank.

In 1996, Elouise Cobell and the Native American Rights Fund filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Interior, alleging the BIA had been mismanaging Indian Trust Funds. In 2009, the Cobell v. Salazar case reached a $3.4 billion settlement. $60 million was allotted for a scholarship fund, resulting in this scholarship. 

The amount of the scholarship funding varies. Scholarships can be up to $6,000 for undergraduate students and $12,500 for graduate students. 

Who Is Eligible for the Cobell Scholarship?

According to Indigenous Education, Inc., applicants must meet the following eligibility requirements for the scholarship program:

  • Must be pursuing post-secondary education.
  • Must be an enrolled member of a U.S. Federally-Recognized Tribe.
  • Must be enrolled in full-time study.
  • Must plan to attend or currently be attending any nationally, regionally, and industry- accredited nonprofit, public, or private institution.
  • Must be pursuing a vocational certificate or diploma, associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, or professional degree or certificate.

While there are no GPA requirements to apply for the scholarship, IEI has recommendations to keep in mind when applying for this grant for Indigenous students, including:

  • At least a 3.5 GPA for graduate and professional degrees.
  • At least a 3.25 GPA for undergraduate and post-baccalaureate degrees.
  • At least a 2.0 GPA for vocational degrees.

If your GPA is lower than recommended, you are still encouraged to apply; just include any extenuating circumstances and how you plan to improve your performance in school. 

Applying for the Cobell Scholarship

According to IEI, the application is a 6-step process:

  1. Create a profile on OASIS by filling out and submitting the General Application Profile.
  2. Fill out the eligibility section on OASIS to determine which scholarships you are eligible for.
  3. Answer the supplemental questions required for that scholarship and submit your application for a scholarship in OASIS if you are eligible and matched with a scholarship.
  4. Await a scholarship offer to arrive via email in mid-May if you are selected.
  5. Submit the required documentation to confirm eligibility. The acceptance email you receive in mid-May will explain this verification process.
  6. Await official notification.

This process may seem a little convoluted, but it’s no more complicated than filling out an online college application or the FAFSA. 

You need to create an account on the Online Application and Student Information System (OASIS), fill out the eligibility section, and answer the supplementary questions. 

The questions are supplementary because this is not the only scholarship you can access through OASIS. The system will also match you with other scholarships you may be eligible for!

Person holding a dollar bill

Cobell Scholarship Requirements

The scholarship requires a relatively in-depth application process, which can seem complicated at first. However, keeping in mind the rich history of this scholarship for Native American college students and what you can potentially gain from it makes it worthwhile to apply if you are eligible. 

First, you’ll write a 500-word reflection on Elouise Cobell and/or the Cobell v. Salazar Settlement. Discuss how this has or will influence your “academic pursuits, leadership choices, and engagement in the community.”

After this, you’ll answer questions in the following categories: 

Higher Education Path 

Respond to the following prompts about higher education. 

  1. “Cumulative GPA as listed on your most recent transcript.
  2. How many credits do your institution and degree area require for graduation?
  3. How many total credits toward this degree area and graduation have you earned as of today’s date?
  4. Approximately what date do you expect to receive your degree (MM/DD/YYYY)?
  5. A list of all schools you have attended, beginning with high school(s), up to your current institution, and including any for summer or special courses.
  6. A brief explanation of how you decided upon your current area of study.
  7. Please describe factors that have contributed to academic success in your current area of study.
  8. List any awards, honors, or scholarships you have received as they relate to academic success and achievement.”

These answers will give the selection committee a sense of your academic achievements and how a scholarship will help you continue to thrive. 


Respond to the following prompts about leadership:

  • “In your own words, provide a brief definition of leadership and describe the important values a leader demonstrates.
  • Describe a leadership experience in which you have made a difference on campus or in your community. Describe any positive or negative lessons learned about leadership.
  • Other than Elouise Cobell, who, past or present, has taught you the most, been a role model, or inspired you to become a leader? How and why have they done so?
  • List internships, assistantships, and jobs (including summer employment) in which you have learned leadership skills. What was the most valuable skill you learned? Sometimes a negative experience models how not to lead and has greater impact on our own skills-building. Feel free to share experiences either positive or negative.
  • Reflecting on previous responses in this section, do lessons learned along the path to leadership align with your own leadership values and definition of a good leader? Please explain why or why not.”

These answers demonstrate your potential to become a community leader after your education. 

Community Engagement

Responses to the following questions on community engagement:

  1. “How do you define community for the purposes of your academic and career choices?
  2. In what ways have you engaged with your own community? What has been the impact of this engagement on your community? How have these experiences influenced your educational choices and career aspirations? For this response, up to 500 words is allowable.
  3. Discuss how any extracurricular activities or volunteer experiences in which you have engaged will serve to advance your future public service, career and educational goals.
  4. List and describe up to four (4) other recent public service, community activities, programs, or other activities in which you have engaged on campus or in your community (such as student organizations, publications, speech and debate, performing arts, student government, local advocacy, etc…). These need not have been leadership experiences. Will any of these activities or public service engagements continue after graduation and during your career and if so, discuss why it will continue.
  5. What quote, by any individual, inspires you toward public service or advocacy at this point in your life? Why?”
  • They use a quote from Elouise Cobell as an example: “I want these young people to understand the way the world works, and to question everything that comes before them.”

These answers will display your character and your commitment to the community around you. 


Include a short, clean joke or humorous story so the person reviewing your application can get to know you.

You’ll need an undergraduate reference. Ask one person who is not a relative to testify about your character and promise as a Cobell Scholar.

Finally, there is a section for additional comments. You have an opportunity for you to explain any extenuating circumstances, gaps in education, etc. If something affected your application or your education and is not listed anywhere else in your application, this is the place to put it. 

Unless otherwise specified, each response should be under 250 words. 

woman typing essay on laptop

Verification Process

All applications to this scholarship will go through a review. Following the review, merit-based offers will be awarded to hundreds of applicants who will move to the finalist stage in early May each year. Many things will happen during this stage:

  • Finalists must accept or decline the offer and provide recent transcripts and proof of enrollment for the upcoming term when funding is available. You also have the option to upload a photo to introduce yourself. The post-acceptance period typically extends into the summer, ensuring that scholarship offers are secure.
  • Staff work with tribal enrollment offices to verify citizenship and,
  • Staff will also work with financial aid offices to verify university attendance and financial aid eligibility.

In some instances, the Finalist will need to assist the organization in contacting these offices. Finalists can easily update school choices or contact information by logging in or contacting their offices for assistance during the verification process.

Tips To Help You Win the Cobell Scholarship

Now that you know the details, you’re probably wondering how to maximize your chances of winning it. Here are some general tips from U.S. News & World Report to keep in mind when filling out your responses on the scholarship application:

“Get Personal and Be Specific.” 

The most important thing to keep in mind when writing your responses to every question on the scholarship application is to be yourself. The person reviewing your application cares about who you are as a person and how you can uniquely carry on the legacy of Elouise Cobell. 

“Tell a Story.”

Most of the short answer prompts for the scholarship ask you to recount some experience, which allows you to tell a story. Stories allow the person reviewing your application to become more familiar with your voice, habits, and experiences than a straightforward answer. For example, saying you are passionate is much less powerful and tangible than telling a story about when you showed you were passionate about something. 

“Don’t Tailor Yourself to the Reader.”

If you try to write what you think the person reviewing your application will want to hear, you’re not showing them the real you. Writing your responses for this scholarship application shouldn’t have to be a set of mind games. 

Don’t try to write as the ideal candidate. The people reviewing the scholarship applications want to see applicants who carry on the legacy of Elouise Cobell in diverse ways. Be yourself!

“Follow Directions.”

It can be tempting to stray from the prompt or go over the word count because you feel you have more to say. However, it’s vital to remain within the word count for all the short-answer questions (250-word maximum, unless otherwise specified) and answer the prompt. 

The people who made this application came up with these questions because those topics (community, leadership, legacy, etc.) are essential to them. They want to see the different ways you value and demonstrate those things. 

Here are some more tips from our team:

Start Early 

Because this is a lengthy application, it’s crucial to start as early as possible and give yourself as much time to fill out each answer genuinely and thoughtfully. Plus, when filling out an online application, giving yourself enough time to allow for potential technical difficulties is always a good idea.

For this coming summer, the application deadline for the scholarship is May 4th, or until the available funds are exhausted. 

Research the Topic

You must understand Elouise Cobell, her legacy, her role in the Cobell v. Salazar case, and her impact on the world. Research the topic thoroughly before you begin writing your answers. 

Make sure to be specific. What specific aspect of Elouise Cobell’s leadership inspires you? What does it inspire you to do? What example of her leadership appealed to you the most? Before you begin writing, research her life and spend some time in reflection. 

Organize Your Information

It’s worth it to take some time to prepare yourself before you begin your application. Ensure you have all important information, a list of your extracurricular activities, GPA and/or transcript, etc. Having this all in one place will make the application process significantly easier. 

Have Your Friends and Family Review Your Answers

When you spend a lot of time working on something, it can be hard to know if it reflects who you are. Allowing your friends and family to review your answers is a good idea to ensure your voice comes through and the content reflects who you are. 

two male students studying together on campus lawn


Still curious about the scholarship? We’ve got the answers you need. 

How Competitive is the Cobell Scholarship?

According to the IEI, about 30% of applicants received a scholarship in this recent application cycle. This is not an exact rule, but it shows this scholarship is competitive.

How Are Applicants Selected?

Applications are scored based on general strength, written response content, and writing skills. The selection committee also considers the diversity of tribes, academic backgrounds, and academic pursuits. 

When Should I Apply?

The scholarship application opens on September 1st for this recent academic year, and it’s a good idea to start once it opens. The application is usually open for three months, and you’ll want to use all the available time to finish your application and perfect your written responses.

Who Reviews Cobell Scholarship Applications?

A group of indigenous “higher education professionals” located around the country in various positions and disciplines reviews the scholarship applications.

When Do I Need to Submit Documentation?

When you first submit your application, all information is self-reported. You won’t need to submit any documentation confirming your eligibility until you are a finalist.

If I’m a Finalist, Does That Mean I’m Guaranteed Funding?

If you are selected as a Cobell Scholar finalist, even though it’s a good sign, it does not mean you are guaranteed funding. It means you have scored high enough on your application to move on to the next stage, which will require you to send in documentation to confirm your eligibility. You will be contacted and told how to do this if selected as a finalist.

Final Thoughts 

The Cobell Scholarship is a fantastic opportunity with a rich history. For eligible applicants, it offers applicants the chance to carry the legacy of a woman who demonstrated courage, persistence, leadership, and a deep commitment to her community. Though the application may seem confusing at first glance, you can do it! Take a deep breath and take it one step at a time. 

As long as you remember to do your research, stay organized, start early, and be yourself, you’ll be setting yourself up for success.

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