Welcome to College Confidential!

The leading college-bound community on the web

Sign Up For Free

Join for FREE, and start talking with other members, weighing in on community discussions, and more.

Also, by registering and logging in you'll see fewer ads and pesky welcome messages (like this one!)

As a CC member, you can:

  • Reply to threads, and start your own.
  • Post reviews of your campus visits.
  • Find hundreds of pages of informative articles.
  • Search from over 3 million scholarships.
Please take a moment to read our updated TOS, Privacy Policy, and Forum Rules.

Fastest-Growing Ethnic Category at Great Colleges: "Race Unknown"

tokenadulttokenadult Registered User Posts: 17,472
edited August 2008 in College Admissions
[Moderator's note: This thread was originally opened on 30 December 2007. This thread has been superseded by a newer thread,


which you are welcome to visit for the latest information in the first few posts of the thread.]

Here's my FAQ on ethnic self-identification questions on college applications.


Self-reporting ethnicity is OPTIONAL on the Common Application, which is what many colleges (for example Harvard) use as their main or sole application form. Self-reporting ethnicity is also optional on the Universal College Application, which various colleges, including Harvard, also accept. Every college in the United States is required by federal law to track voluntarily self-reported ethnic data on students. The colleges ask for this information, and have to report it to the federal government, but students don't have to report it. Harvard's Common Data Set reporting to College Board

College Search - Harvard College - At a Glance

shows, based on that federally mandated data tracking, that 13 percent of its students are "race unknown," so evidently quite a few applicants to Harvard decline to self-report their ethnicity and yet are still admitted. MIT still has its own application form, and asks its own brand of the ethnicity question. Ethnicity questions are optional on the MIT application also, but the application notes that MIT has an "Affirmative Action Plan," with the comment that MIT "guarantees equal opportunity in education to students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds." About 6 percent of MIT's enrolled class is counted as "race unknown."

College Search - Massachusetts Institute of Technology - MIT - At a Glance

Columbia University has its own application form, which also makes clear that ethnic self-identification information is optional. Approximately 11 percent of enrolled students at Columbia are reported as "race unknown."

College Search - Columbia University - Columbia - At a Glance

The University of Virginia is another college with its own application form, which says (from the U VA downloadable application):

"Race or Ethnicity (optional): check one or more

". . . .

"The University of Virginia does not discriminate unlawfully in any of its programs, procedures, or practices against any person on the basis of age, color, disability, national or ethnic origin, political affiliation, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or veteran or marital status.The information requested above is for reports the University provides to federal authorities and to other agencies collecting data on equal opportunity for education and employment." Virginia's Common Data Set information shows that about 6 percent of enrolled students are counted as "race unknown."

College Search - University of Virginia - UVA - At a Glance

Don't worry about it. Self-report or not as you wish. Recognize that students from a variety of ethnic groups--including whatever one you would claim for yourself--are admitted to each of your favorite colleges each year. On the other hand, admission to some colleges (e.g., Harvard) is just plain competitive, so lots of outstanding students of each ethnic group you can imagine are not admitted each year. Do your best on your application, apply to a safety, and relax.


College admissions offices refer to the U.S. Census bureau definitions for ethnic categories, because they required to report by federal regulations, and you can look up the definitions on the Web.
White. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. It includes people who indicate their race as "White" or report entries such as Irish, German, Italian, Lebanese, Near Easterner, Arab, or Polish.

Black or African American. A person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa. It includes people who indicate their race as "Black, African Am., or Negro," or provide written entries such as African American, Afro American, Kenyan, Nigerian, or Haitian.

Black or African American persons, percent, 2000
Hispanics or Latinos are those people who classified themselves in one of the specific Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino categories listed on the Census 2000 questionnaire -"Mexican, Mexican Am., Chicano," "Puerto Rican", or "Cuban" -as well as those who indicate that they are "other Spanish/Hispanic/Latino." Persons who indicated that they are "other Spanish/Hispanic/Latino" include those whose origins are from Spain, the Spanish-speaking countries of Central or South America, the Dominican Republic or people identifying themselves generally as Spanish, Spanish-American, Hispanic, Hispano, Latino, and so on.

Origin can be viewed as the heritage, nationality group, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person's parents or ancestors before their arrival in the United States.

People who identify their origin as Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino may be of any race.

Persons of Hispanic or Latino origin, percent, 2000

The federal Department of Education has posted guidance to colleges about how they are to ask about student ethnicity and race according to the federally defined categories.

Standard 1-5 - NCES Statistical Standards

You'll see that footnote 2 at the bottom of the webpage says,
The categories are presented in order of numerical frequency in the population, rather than alphabetically. Previous research studies have found that following alphabetical order in the question categories creates difficulties. That is, having "American Indian or Alaska Native" as the first category results in substantial over reporting of this category.

The Department of Education has more recently updated its guidance to colleges on how to ask ethnicity and race questions


and has requested colleges change their forms by the high school class of 2010 application year to ask a two-part question, first inquiring about Hispanic ethnicity and then about race, for each student. The student will still be free to decline to answer.
Unlike elementary and secondary institutions, generally, postsecondary institutions and Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) grantees use self-identification only and do not use observer identification. As discussed elsewhere in this notice, postsecondary institutions and RSA grantees will also be permitted to continue to include a ‘‘race and ethnicity unknown’’ category when reporting data to the Department. This category is being continued in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) because the National Center for Education Statistics’ experience has shown that (1) a substantial number of college students have refused to identify a race and (2) there is often not a convenient mechanism for college administrators to use observer identification.

Students of higher education (and applicants to schools of postsecondary education) are treated as adults, and are explicitly permitted to decline to identify their ethnic or racial category.

So the preferred order for listing racial categories to gather data for federal reporting is to first ask about Hispanic ethnicity, as defined by federal law and self-identified by the student, and then to ask about "race," again as defined by federal law and self-identified by the student, with the preferred order of listing race categories being


Black or African American


American Indian or Alaska Native

Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander

in that order, and with the student encourage to choose "one or more" race categories.

It would be dishonest, and possibly grounds for revoking an offer of admission, to self-report according to a category that doesn't fit you at all. On the other hand, all of the categories named in federal law are based on self-identification and colleges have no means to double-check every student's self-reporting.

I find it interesting, and full of good hope for this country's future, that more and more college applicants are declining to self-report their ethnicity to colleges,

None of the Above :: Inside Higher Ed

which is everyone's right under law and something that someone of any ethnic categorization might choose to do. People can decide this issue for themselves, but I like to emphasize in my own life, as a member of a "biracial" family, the common humanity my children, my wife, and I share with all our neighbors and compatriots.

Some colleges have reported very large percentages of students as "race unknown" for the entering freshman class of 2007 (college class of 2011).


The latest version of the Minorities in Higher Education Report


has a lot of detailed numbers (all based on reports colleges make to the federal government) about the growth in college enrollment in all the reported ethnic groups, and the growth of the group "race unknown."

Good luck in your applications.
Post edited by tokenadult on

Replies to: Fastest-Growing Ethnic Category at Great Colleges: "Race Unknown"

  • cyborgxxicyborgxxi Registered User Posts: 190 Junior Member
    Very interesting post. Kudos to you for that.
  • TritiumTritium Registered User Posts: 110 Junior Member
    Well, if your last name's Chen or Kim, I think adcoms will assume that you're asian, whether you report it or not. Likewise, if your last name's Gonzalez, they'll probably assume you're hispanic.
  • NarcissaNarcissa - Posts: 3,935 Senior Member
    if you don't check the race thing, would there be a lower chance of acceptance?

    what if you're asian and like 1/1000000000000000000 african can you still put african =)
  • inspiration08inspiration08 Registered User Posts: 341 Member
    i feel like its presumed that anyone who doesnt opt to mark their ethnicity is an ORM rather than a URM. i mean really. if you were of a race that you thought might help your admissions chances, you would report it.
  • beefsbeefs Registered User Posts: 2,559 Senior Member
    lol no narcissa i dont think you can
  • ixjunitxiixjunitxi Registered User Posts: 984 Member
    inspiration^^ exactly...i mean lets get real...adcoms can easily..figure out someones ethnicity based on their first or last name.
  • bluebayoubluebayou Registered User Posts: 24,310 Senior Member
    CollegeBoard also was finding an increase in Decline to State for both race-ethnicity and income over the past years, which was creating some concern for their data gurus. As a result, they changed the online registration for the SAT so students are forced to use the Drop-down box; Decline to State is still available, but at the very end of the list.
  • DeafeningHornDeafeningHorn Registered User Posts: 283 Junior Member
    What if one were to change one's name in order to seem to be URM, but still chose not to report their ethnicity, leaving the adcoms to assume (if they do), but not lying, and therefore not grounds for revoking offers of admission.

    (not that anyone would change their names for the sake of having affirmative action on their side)
  • braaapbraaap Registered User Posts: 314 Member
    that wouldn't matter
    the school isn't going to say... well we have x number of students that reported themselves as hispanic...

    But we have an inclination that Y students are hispanic, but just didnt want to tell us, therefore we have x+y hispanic students

    the "diversity numbers" are the ones reported
    A school doesnt really get anything out of just for kicks admitting a student solely because their last name sounds hispanic
    they DO however, get something out of it if they marked themself as hispanic

    otherwise, your just one of the 10-15 percent of presumably Asian/white students
  • MilkmagnMilkmagn Registered User Posts: 711 Member
    Well, if your last name's Chen or Kim, I think adcoms will assume that you're asian, whether you report it or not. Likewise, if your last name's Gonzalez, they'll probably assume you're hispanic.
    What if you were adopted? I also know that the surname "Lee" can be asian and white (Robert E. Lee anyone?)
  • noobcakenoobcake Registered User Posts: 1,736 Senior Member
    ^^^ Lee would just have to be the lucky ones
  • viva la danaviva la dana Registered User Posts: 466 Member
    lol well there's some last names that no one can guess with. Like mine, (just take my word for it) is like WHAT? WHERE IS THAT FROM??
  • hpa10hpa10 Registered User Posts: 1,906 Senior Member
    my name would easily be recognized as hispanic, but i have no reason to not check the little box anyway.
  • thelonerangertheloneranger Registered User Posts: 1,624 Senior Member
    My name is "White" sounding, because I use my mother's name, and she is Anglo. My biological father name is Spanish and "Hispanic-sounding."

    Racially, I consider myself to be mostly white, and ethnically I consider myself to be Hispanic/Latino. Therefore on the college forms I chose to answer the "ethnicity" aspect of the "race/ethnicity" question and put Hispanic/Latino, specifying Colombia or " not Mexican, Puerto Rican, or Cuban" if it asked.
  • u§ernameu§ername Registered User Posts: 1,680 Senior Member
    They probably just put you in the worst pile if you do put race unknown anyways, because an URM would want to take advantage of their... advantage. So if you put uknown race, chances are you think your race may hurt your app, and so they'll put it in the pile which does hurt your app.
    is like WHAT? WHERE IS THAT FROM??
This discussion has been closed.