Can I identify as Hispanic on college applications?

Hi everyone,

I am a rising senior intending to apply to T20 colleges in the fall. I am ethnically 25% Hispanic (as in European Spain) and 75% other European ethnicities. My mother and my maternal grandfather were born in Spain. I usually identify as white because being Hispanic is not a huge part of my life. However, being an ethnic minority can help increase college admissions chances so I was considering identifying as Hispanic on applications. Do you guys think that this is ethical? Although I am technically Hispanic I feel that affirmative action plans are created to help people who are discriminated against due to their ethnicities, and I have never faced discrimination because I look white. Is it even legal for me to identify as Hispanic? I can’t find any guidelines and to what constitutes Hispanic and what doesn’t, but if there aren’t any guidelines then just anyone could go around identifying as an ethnic minority! Could I get in trouble for applying as Hispanic when I am 75% white?

Please let me know what you would do if you were in my position, advice is appreciated!

Another way of phrasing the question is “I think I have found a way to use a system designed to help under-represented students work to my advantage- am I likely to get in trouble if I do it?”.

I am choosing to believe that you know the answer, but are asking the question because you need a little external validation that privileged people finding ways to hijack systems meant for people whose path is harder is not ok. If so: good for you for recognizing that- even though it might help you get the shiny thing that you really want- the end does not justify the means.

If you are a credible candidate for super-competitive colleges you will certainly be able to get into a college that does everything you want it to for both the college experience and life beyond that. “T20” is a super unhelpful construct- b/c there is no actual T20- there are at least 50 LACs and universities that can be considered as “T20” level institutions. Even if you are using the USNWR top 10 of each category you would lose a bunch of super-selectives (including some Ivies). So, do yourself a huge favor and let go of the idea that there are only 20 colleges/universities in the US that are ‘good enough’ for you (or your family). Put more time into figuring out what suits you- what you want from a college- and then look for the ones that fit you. It may not look like it from where you are now, but hand on heart if you focus on finding the right fit (including financially!!) you will end up with choices that make you happy.

Fwiw, this question comes up pretty often- there have been some posters with impressively contorted rationalizations as to why it’s ok- but most of the posts from people with direct experience have pointed out that ticking the box on it’s own typically doesn’t move the needle at final decision time- other contextual elements frame how much weight it carries.

There is no actual fully legal definition of “Hispanic”. Some people consider having Spanish heritage as being Hispanic. On one hand, in general, people use “Hispanic” to mean “Latino”, i.e., from Latin America. On the other hand, Spain and Portugal are often considered, as well.

For example , to be eligible for scholarships from the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, they require that one be: “from a family whose ancestors came from at least one of these countries: Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Spain, Uruguay, or Venezuela.”

So it depends.

People also forget that, until 1975, Spain was a backwards fascist dictatorship, so we’re not talking about a country which has been a Western European industrialized democracy since 1945, like the rest of most of Western Europe. Many people who are the age of your parents came here from Spain as refugees.

So there is a real justification for most support for Hispanics to include Spain as well

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@collegemom3717 is absolutely correct

You can check the “hispanic” box, but what students don’t seem to understand is how some schools use that information. [Being URM, to some schools, means that those individuals have been given minimal opportunities, in their home environments for exposure to college activities].

I have two friends in admissions’ at two different universities. One said that they submit their data for federal and common data stats. They look at URM status very minimally because they are not allowed to use it for admissions.

The other friend is at a private university. She receives a lot of students indicating “hispanic” ethnicity. The way they are able to tell if there is a URM component is that they look at the HS counselor’s information: the zip codes, the student, the LOR’s, the activities, the parent education and the lunch status.

I’m about 75% Texas-Mexican and 25% Native-American. My husband’s name could sound “ethnic”. Our kids, however, didn’t get any real “admissions” benefit from it. Although they are bilingual, and were involved in cultural activities- quinceañeras, organizing annual Posadas, church-related-Day of the Dead activities, it didn’t really matter. Both parents are college-educated and our zip was nowhere near the Section 8 area of the community. My friend said that, sometimes, they confirmed the information by calling the high school counselor and that the counselors are often surprised that the student was Hispanic.

There are multitudes of students (thousands) who are now applying with newly discovered Hispanic ancestors.

I mean, you are Hispanic, so it’s not like you’re a white applicant ticking the African American box. I think you’re worrying over nothing. If you want to check the Hispanic box, well, you wouldn’t be lying because you ARE Hispanic. If you don’t want to, then simply don’t.

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This is interesting to me because I’m half Spaniard(my dad’s from Spain) and most people think I look more “Hispanic” than “white”, even though Hispanic could look like anything, but that’s how most people perceive me.

However, I never complete the racial/ethnicity part of applications, because I don’t what that to be considered when admission decisions are being made. A lot of people (including a counselor) tell me I’m making a mistake, and maybe I am, but I don’t want to spend the rest of my life wondering if I only got in because of some dumb affirmative action quota.

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I am always unsure what to do when faced with this question. My mom is 1/2 Mexican and 1/2 Irish and my dad is a mixture but mostly Irish, and I got all of the Irish genes, so I “look” much more stereotypical Irish (think pale complexion, reddish/blond hair and light eyes). I just checked my transcript, and my school district considers me Hispanic. When I registered for the PSAT in January, I checked the Hispanic box for ethnicity, but I also checked the “White/Caucasian” box for race.

For what it is worth, both of my parents were first gen college students who both went on to obtain advanced degrees, and we are solidly middle class, so I am pretty sure checking that Hispanic box won’t “help” me in the admissions process. I am thinking it is just data they will use for reporting purposes.

You don’t have to worry about this. Your skin color and pedigree shouldn’t affect college opportunities.

“Legally” you can. Should you though?

I have two daughters that meet the criteria of 25% (Puerto Rican Grandma). In 3rd grade when they did “INternational Day” they both picked Puerto Rican food as their “country” as that was certainly more interesting than my English food. But when the applied to college, one did identify as Hispanic in applications and the other one did not. To me it is up to you whether you identify as Hispanic…you say you don’t.

The other thing I would think of is “have I lived in an environment where I was not discriminated on the basis of my background or not, and did my parents go to college or not”
So if you had no discrimination based on your background and had the same opportunities as a typical white suburban kid whose parents went to college then I would say no.
If you are the first in your family to go to college and you don’t have that family background of college going, then I would say yes.

The OP asked the question over a year ago, so I don’t think they are still looking for feedback. Closing.