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Great scholarships for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students

James Davis

Careers Commentator
There are some fantastic funding opportunities available, but it can sometimes be hard to find them. Fortunately we’ve made it easier.

Students of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent have access to a variety of dedicated scholarships. Although many of them are based on need and being able to prove socio-economic disadvantage, others are based on merit and selection of course. Many others are entirely general and could require a combination of these things, allowing you to study whatever you want and still be eligible for funding.

The following are some examples and explanations of common requirements and materials you’ll be asked to provide in your application.

  • ‘Proof of socio-economic disadvantage’ can mean presenting a bank statement, Centrelink balance, payslips or any credible documents you can think of to prove your financial situation is below average. Many parts of Australia have a lower than average standard of living; these parts are documented. If you’re born and raised in one of these areas, this is another way to prove socio-economic disadvantage. You can view statistics on all regions of Australia and their relative socio-economic disadvantage, as well mapped representations of the data here.
  • ‘Personal references’ are just people you know who can attest to the quality of your character as opposed to a present or past employer. These can be close friends or family, but the strongest personal references include:
    • Church ministers
    • Community leaders
    • Fellow volunteers from previous volunteering efforts
    • Former coworkers
    • Former teachers
  • An academic transcript is straightforward; when asked for this, it’s just a matter of accessing your student account and downloading an unofficial transcript; you can only get an official transcript once you’ve graduated. The precise method of doing this varies between institutions, but is normally a simple procedure you can learn from your institution’s IT professionals, professors or other students. If you haven’t yet commenced university study, presenting your ATAR or high school transcript should do just fine.
  • A written statement is often something you’re given precise instructions on, but if not, there are some general guidelines to follow.
    • Always thank the benefactor/ issuing institution for the opportunity and time they’re taking to read your statement
    • Talk about what inspires you; show them you’re ambitious and have plans for the future.
    • Back up your personal stories and aspirations with accomplishments. These can be academic or completely different, like overcoming general life struggles.
    • Keep it succinct; no more than around 500 words. The selection committee is bound to be getting hundreds of these, so keeping yours to the point leaves a good impression.

Without further adieu, here are some great scholarships that are exclusive to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. If you find any to be closed at time of reading, that’s ok; they tend to reopen annually.

Gill Family Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Scholarship - $2,500

This opportunity is designed specifically for students of nursing. It requires applicants to provide several materials, including:

  • 200 word written statement
  • Academic transcript of studies so far
  • Demonstration of socio-economic disadvantage
  • Evidence of contribution to community service
  • Resume

Elspeth Young Memorial Grant - Variable funding

This opportunity exists at the bequest of its late namesake, Dr Elspeth Young. It assists Indigenous Australian students at ANU with costs associated with going to university, like food, accomodation or transport. It’s a once-off payment made in proportion to a student’s expenses. Although it does not cover course fees, it covers much else and is available to students of any discipline.

Eligibility is determined by a combination of criteria, including:

  • Prior academic record,
  • Socio-economic need, and
  • The ‘academic value’ of proposed line of study.

‘Academic value’ is something determined by the selection committee as opposed to some quantifiable measure. They may assess the rigour of the program, future employment prospects or any number of other variables. The extent to which they undergo this evaluation and what criteria they use, however, are not publicly available pieces of knowledge. It’s still worth applying for all the same.

ACU Law - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Equity Scholarship - $5,000

As the name would suggest, law students at ACU are the target audience. One student from Melbourne and NSW will be selected. Students need to demonstrate financial need in addition to being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent for eligibility. There are also a few tasks to be completed for a successful application.

  • A 500 word written statement containing:
    • Why you chose to study law
    • What you hope to achieve with your degree
    • What hardships and difficulties you’ve had to overcome in getting to where you are today
  • Two written personal references
  • Your most recent Tax Assessment Notice, Centrelink Income Statement or most recent bank transactions and payslips

Judith Wright Scholarship - Variable funding

This scholarship is exclusive to Aboriginal women chosen from a short-list prepared by the Director of the Tjabal Indigenous Higher Education Centre. Getting on this short list is unusually simple in that no application is required. Successfully completing one year of full time university study or part time equivalent at ANU automatically qualifies you for selection, provided that study will lead to a bachelor’s degree. If there aren’t any female students who meet the criteria in any given year, a male one will be selected instead.

Fernanda de Carvalho Memorial Jarjum Scholarship - $5,000

This scholarship is dedicated to providing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students with the means to study education, be it early childhood, primary, secondary or special needs teaching. Requirements for entry are straightforward, including:

  • A written statement
  • Academic merit, proven by whatever method applicants see fit (unofficial transcript is likely the best option)
  • An interview

The purpose of the interview is to assess strength of character; it serves a similar purpose to personal references. The goal should be to show them your passion for education first and foremost, with practical achievements playing a supporting role rather than being the focus. They’ll most likely have your academic transcript, after all. What isn’t on that piece of paper is who you are.