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Articles / Applying to College / Can DNA Testing Prove Native American Roots for Admission Purposes?

Sept. 4, 2011

Can DNA Testing Prove Native American Roots for Admission Purposes?

Question: My childrens' great grandmother was half Cherokee. The records in the courthouse were burned. Will colleges accept a DNA test as proof of race?

When college admission officials give admission priority to Native Americans, they are typically seeking those applicants who will help to diversify the student body. They don't care about DNA tests. They are interested in cultural connections that will enrich the campus community. Thus, if your children have a relationship with their Native American heritage, they can explain this in their applications, even if no documentation is available.


Some colleges will also ask for a “Tribal Enrollment Number." If your children don't have one and you are interested in finding out how you might obtain one, you can research this on the Internet. But because your family records were burned, you may have difficulty accessing information that you will need for Cherokee enrollment specifically. See http://www.allthingscherokee.com/faq_joining.html for more information on confirming Cherokee roots.

Some tribes do use DNA testing to help determine eligibility for enrollment. See http://www.dnatribes.com/dnatribes-facts-about-dna-testing-and-enrollment.pdf But this can be time-consuming, costly, and not always effective. So, before you pursue this avenue, keep in mind that most college admission officials are more concerned with an applicant's cultural ties to his or her Native American background than they are with the biological ties.

(posted 9/4/2011)

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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