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"Race" in College Admissions FAQ & Discussion 4

tokenadulttokenadult Registered User Posts: 17,471 Senior Member
edited August 2009 in College Admissions
Ethnic Self-Identification Is Optional

MODERATOR'S NOTE: This thread about this perennially discussed issue is now replaced by a newer thread


with more up-to-date information.

Students are often puzzled about how to respond to questions on college applications about race or ethnicity. The questions are required by a federal regulation, and a new version of that regulation just came into effect for the 2009-2010 application season. The regulation

U.S. Department of Education; Office of the Secretary; Final Guidance on Maintaining, Collecting, and Reporting Racial and Ethnic Data to the U.S. Department of Education [OS]

makes clear that self-identifying ethnicity is optional for students in higher education. That self-identifying by ethnicity is optional has long been clear on the Common Application,


which almost 400 colleges (for example Harvard, Carleton, and the University of Virginia) use as their main or sole application form. The latest version of the Common Application includes a section titled Demographics with a subsection printed on a gray background with the heading "Optional The items with a gray background are optional. No information you provide will be used in a discriminatory manner." That Common Application optional section includes the federally specified questions about ethnicity:
1. Are you Hispanic/Latino?
O Yes, Hispanic or Latino (including Spain) O No
Please describe your background ________________________________________________
2. Regardless of your answer to the prior question, please select one or more of the
following ethnicities that best describe you:
O American Indian or Alaska Native (including all Original Peoples of the Americas)
Are you Enrolled? O Yes O No If yes, please enter Tribal Enrollment Number ________________
Please describe your background ________________________________________________
O Asian (including Indian subcontinent and Philippines)
Please describe your background ________________________________________________
O Black or African American (including Africa and Caribbean)
Please describe your background ________________________________________________
O Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander (Original Peoples)
Please describe your background ________________________________________________
O White (including Middle Eastern)
Please describe your background ________________________________________________

Self-identifying ethnicity has also always clearly been optional on the Universal College Application,


which 77 colleges, including Harvard, accept. Other colleges use their own application forms, but all must ask an ethnicity question as specified by the new federal regulation. But that question is optional in any case.

The colleges have to ask for ethnicity 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 United States colleges, with a sole exception*, it is permissible to decline to answer the questions during the admission process.

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., Yale or Amherst) 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.


*The sole exception to the general statement that self-identifying ethnicity is optional in the college admission process is a federally administered college for American Indians (Native Americans),

SIPI - Admissions and Records

which is a unique example, even among tribal colleges,

Tribal College List -- White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities

of a college that is truly for students of one ethnic group, as it is a college operated by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). But even other BIA colleges appear to accept students from a variety of ethnicities, and that is definitely true of and reported by other tribal colleges.

College Search - Leech Lake Tribal College - LLTC - At a Glance

College Search - Little Priest Tribal College - LPTC - At a Glance

(scroll down for federal reported ethnicity of students)
Post edited by tokenadult on

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