A new version of this thread
has just been posted, now that this thread has accumulated hundreds of replies. The new thread will be updated with the latest information on this subject.]
Ethnic Self-identification Is Optional.
Students are often puzzled about how to respond to questions on college applications about race or ethnicity. In recent years, on a variety of college identification forms that I have checked online, there has been a clear statement that self-identifying ethnicity is OPTIONAL. That self-identifying by ethnicity is optional has been clear on the Common Application,
which is what many colleges (for example Harvard and Carleton) use as their main or sole application form. Self-identifying ethnicity has also been clearly optional on the Universal Application, which various colleges, including Harvard, also accept. MIT in recent years has had its own application form,
and asks its own brand of the ethnicity question,
"OPTIONAL (U.S. citizens and permanent residents only)
In connection with its Affirmative Action Plan, the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology guarantees equal opportunity in education
to students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. I consider myself to
belong to the following ethnic group(s) (check all that apply):"
Columbia University has its own application form,
which also makes clear that ethnic self-identification information is optional.
The University of North Carolina is another college with its own application form,
"Ethnicity How would you describe yourself? Please check one.
(this information is optional and will not be used in a discriminatory manner.)"
Every college in the United States is required by federal law to track requested ethnic data on students based on student self-identification. The colleges have to ask for these data, and have to report them to the federal government, but students don't have to self-identify with any ethnic or racial category. Colleges are NOT required to use self-identified race or ethnicity as an admission factor. Some colleges do and some do not. (Some state colleges and universities are prohibited by state law in their states from considering race as an admission factor.) The questions are asked for federal reporting requirements but may or may not be a significant admission factor at some college you like. At ALL colleges, without exception, it is permissible to decline to answer the questions.
Don't worry about it. Self-identify or not as you wish. You are always free to self-identify with humankind as a whole by not self-identifying with any narrower subset of humankind. Recognize that students from a variety of ethnic groups--including whatever group or groups you would identify with, if any--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 self-identified with each ethnic group you can imagine (or not self-identified with any group) are not admitted each year. Do your best on your application, apply to a safety, and relax.