"Race" in College Applications FAQ & Discussion 12

Diversity shouldn’t be about race or geography. It should be, most importantly, about perspectives. Colleges need people to look at problems from different perspectives, to contribute ideas to solve these problems from different perspectives, to advance human knowledge by challenging each other from different perspectives.

Unfortunately, we humans often tend to look at things from our own perspective (bias?). If we’re used to work with extremely gifted kids, we tend to use that high bar to measure other kids. If our kids didn’t test well (or we didn’t test well ourselves), we tend to think the tests aren’t meaningful, or at least not as meaningful as other measures. Kids really need to learn, in colleges and beyond, how to overcome their own biases and how to always look at things from other perspectives.

I hope it’s ok to go off topic here to ask a very quick question to this extremely informed group.

Does anyone happen to know if in the states like California and Michigan where it is now illegal for race to be considered in admission to the state schools (UCLA, UC Berkeley, U of Michigan, etc.), is it still illegal to consider the race of out of state applicants, or is that only for instate applicants? So could an African American applicant get a bump if they are an out of state applicant, even though an instate applicant of the same race would not get the bump?


@calmom I do believe that another excuse would be found if AA disappeared tomorrow and I read an article a while back on the one that would bother me the most (Article on the top UC’s and the belief that AA was still being used even though it is illegal in California to use race in admission). Because I think I would snap if I was a student at UC Berkeley and someone told me the only reason I got in was because of my race.

@SatchelSF I definitely made standardized test scores a priority in our household for the instant credibility (I was a nobody in high school until I took the PSAT as a junior) that they bring and I think people have believed my children to be worthy in that aspect, but I think there will always be some who believe that race is the deciding factor for URM applying to elite schools (It might be for my son who truly only stands out for his standardized test score and dedication for volunteering currently). I am not sure how much Carnegie Mellon SAMS acceptance or possibly getting into MITES and doing well would mean to his academic resume.

@1NJParent I don’t disagree with your premise at all, and I believe that we will get to that point one day. The issue is that the prejudices/biases (lack of women, perspective, racial, geographical, and SES diversity) of the past at elite institutions have affected the way that those campuses try and build their student body’s today. But you are right that a perspective diversity should be valued over all in a perfect world.

@collegemomjam From what I have read on the subject in the past, both California and Michigan state law forbids race and ethnicity to be considered in admissions decisions at state schools which affects the out of state applicants as well.

UCs now have a strong tip in favor of low SES or otherwise disadvantaged applicants who overcame obstacles. To the extent that the Latino and black students are overrepresented among that category, a superficial view may make it look like there is still race/ethnicity-based tipping, even though there are plenty of Asian and white applicants who get favorable looks from that.

Even at colleges where race/ethnicity is specifically not considered in college admissions, there are posters on these forums who continue to believe that it is considered. This applies both to those resenting such consideration, and those who believe that they will benefit from such consideration.

What was missing from the HBO piece was the perspective of an admissions officer describing the supply and demand of top applicants of different races & ethnicities. If you want diversity on your campus and there aren’t many Ryan Henrys to go around, then of course you’ll accept him. You can safely defer the other two because there are plenty of fish in the pool like them.

I believe my comments would have been similar regardless of which races were accepted. A good class rank without context and research paper is far too little information to predict admission chances.

Also note that the race thread on a forum centered around highly selective college admissions is not a good representation of the full population or the typical student at highly selective colleges. I wouldn’t assume that life at and after HYPSM… is going to be similar to posters in this thread. For example, in the wake of the lawsuit, the majority of all races of entering freshman at Harvard said they had a favorable view of racially-conscious affirmative action programs. The specific numbers were 6% of Black students had an unfavorable view, and 26% of Asian students had an unfavorable view. Senior survey numbers were similar.

This fits with my personal experience at a highly selective college. We did have a few discussions about racial preferences in college admissions as part of our ideas and values type graduation requirement classes. There were a wide variety of opinions – some favored different AA implementations and had different views of long term effects and effectiveness. However, the overwhelming majority appeared to have a favorable view. During my years at college, I did not see anyone saying a person was only admitted because of their race, although I expect many of such comments were done in private settings with less direct language. Among the few Black students in my EE major, I did not observe anyone assuming they were poorly qualified because of race, nor did I as a lab partner I’m sure it happened in some way, but I did not see it in public settings, as I did with certain other discriminatory issues. For example, someone ripped down a rainbow flag in my dorm, and I observed multiple negative LBGTQ comments in dorm discussions (in response to issues such as an unwanted kiss from same gender during full moon at the quad). Another time, some adult worker employers made a “Eurotrash” comment to me, even though I’ve been living in the US for many generations.

After college, employers as a whole are not obsessed with where a student went to college and whether they got in on merit vs hook preferences. For example, In the survey at https://www.chronicle.com/items/biz/pdf/Employers Survey.pdf , hundreds of employers were asked to rate the relative importance of different factors in evaluating resumes for hiring new grads. Among all the surveyed factors, college reputation was ranked least important by employers. Among specific industries, college reputation was ranked least important in all surveyed industries except education and media/communications. The lack of emphasis on college attended and college admission hook preferences generally gets even smaller after being out of school for a few years. Again their are some specific fields that are exceptions, but those exceptions are not the rule.

Again this fit with my personal experience. Working in engineering positions, it was my experience that persons were primarily judged based on skills and past history, rather than college name or whether they had hooks at that college name. For example, if you need someone who has skill x, you’d contact the person with skill x, regardless of their college name or whether they are Black/Asian. From what I’ve observed from others and heard from others at multiple companies, the group that faces the most discriminatory issues in my field is women, rather than members of a specific race. I expect this has little to do with college name and whether persons felt that gender gave them an edge in college admissions. Instead I expect it more relates to some displaying a boys club type attitude when working with all males and just 1 or 2 women.

How can you expect anything different? These students are, by definition, not an unbiased group. They either benefited from or were unaffected by the policy. The same applies to the other schools.

“had a favorable view of racially-conscious affirmative action programs.”

It is interesting, from a quick perusal of the Gallup polls and Pew research articles, there is a favorable view of AA when it’s asked generally. However when you get into specifics of college admission, it becomes unfavorable.

From gallup.com -

(in Fisher v. University of Texas ): "The Supreme Court recently ruled on a case that confirms that colleges can consider the race or ethnicity of students when making decisions on who to admit to the college. Overall, do you approve or disapprove of the Supreme Court’s decision? The results: 31% approval and 65% disapproval, a sharp reversal from what the broad affirmative action results show.


“The public, at least without further explanation or rationale, simply doesn’t like the idea of colleges taking race or ethnicity into account in admissions decisions. Admissions decisions, the public is in essence saying, should be blind to the race and ethnicity of the applicant.”

Another poll asked what should be considered in admission, majorities said that high school grades (73%) and scores on standardized tests (55%) should be major factors in college admissions, while 50% said that the types of courses the student took should be a major factor. Well less than half said any of the other six factors should be major considerations. This includes in particular race or ethnicity, which 9% of Americans believe should be a major factor, 27% a minor factor and 63% not a factor at all in college admissions."

Definitely not an easy topic as this thread as shown!

“You’re right, part of the assumption is that race played a huge role in Henry’s admission decision. That’s unfair both to the student as well as the whole process. I think @Data10 has a good take on it: we just don’t know precisely how much - if at all - race played a role here,”

Yeah but Vice showed this because race did play a role, that’s why they picked these kids and followed it all the way through, three non-white males, all in the top ten of the class with similar profiles, so no difference on gender, geography, upbringing. They probably don’t show it if all the kids got the same result, imo. We don’t know how big a role it played, agree there.

Put another way, was anyone surprised at the decisions? I was not surprised at Ryan getting in, in fact would have been shocked if he didn’t get in. I was slightly surprised by the kid that got deferred at Penn, since he didn’t apply to the Princeton where the other two did, and there’s a correlation (not causation) between NMSF and selective college acceptance.

“I still think for me this is mostly about my distrust of the motives of elite admissions policies.”

Individually adcoms are just like us, but as a group in a university, should not be trusted. If Harvard is found guilty, then they have practiced some form of discrimination and racism. Does that mean the individual adcoms are racist, probably not.

However, that’s the group that URM students predominantly spend time with at highly selective colleges – the ones who were successful under the current admissions policy. Students who blame AA admissions policies for their rejection may be more likely to make unpleasant comments to URMs related to questioning admission qualifications, but those students are not in classes and dorms.


I think in for the students profiled in the HBO report, race played a small part in Ryan Henry’s admission. Keep in mind that none of the kids were rejected – Henry, who was in line for class valedictorian, was accepted EA at Princeton, whereas Chen was deferred - and he and his parents were absolutely delighted that it wasn’t a rejection. (The other kid had applied to Penn, so essentially irrelevant – different schools have different priorities).

I think that the deferral means that both students were qualified for admission. So no need for AA – Henry wasn’t some marginal candidate who needed an admissions boost.

But the difference between EA admission and deferral to the RD round depends on what each candidate brings to the college. I think that Henry ticked off more boxes – he had the class standing box, the STEM achievement box – and he also had the race box, enhanced by the combination of African American + high achieving in STEM. (So that’s a little unusual — URM’s and women are particularly underrepresented in STEM fields).

Here’s an article from the NYT by a Korean-American student who feels that she got an admissions boost years ago to Berkeley, when her GPA & test scores seemingly fell short, because of her desire to be an English major. See https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/09/opinion/sunday/im-asian-american-affirmative-action-worked-for-me.html

In other words, Henry didn’t get accepted because he was African-American – he was accepted because of all the ands in his application. He was a likely class valedictorian and he was a high-achieving STEM major and he was African-American. Maybe some white kid from Montana with similar credentials gets in because his particular and factor adds to geographic diversity.

And Henry’s acceptance actually diminishes the need for the college to use AA to accept any marginal candidates – students who wouldn’t make the cut but for their URM status — because if they accept more high achievers who fill diversity goals during the EA round, then they have more flexibility in the RD round.

That’s not to say that the college shouldn’t also properly use its resources to benefit lower SES students who truly need a boost – just that they don’t have to tie race to the SES boost criteria.

Re: #3807

Of course, the reality at the vast majority of selective colleges is that grades and/or rank, and SAT/ACT scores are the primary or only means of comparing applicants, with other applicant criteria (ECs, essays, etc.) affecting only those at the margins, if considered at all. The arguments here about subjective holistic review and the magnification of criteria other than basic academic stats at the most selective colleges are not really relevant to colleges in general.

Probably the biggest factor that is underestimated by college applicants and the general public is bucketing by major, which colleges use to keep enrollment within department capacity. Unfortunately, colleges tend not to be transparent about that. A few which are more transparent than most about that are San Jose State University ( http://www.sjsu.edu/admissions/impaction/impactionresultsfreshmen/index.html and http://www.sjsu.edu/admissions/impaction/impactionresultstransfer/index.html ), and the UC system with respect to transfer applicants ( https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/infocenter/transfers-major ), although many may not realize that such information is available when it is. But that means that, for example, that Asian students rejected from SJSU computer science may mistakenly believe that race was the reason for that while their white/black/Latino classmates were admitted to SJSU (but in majors like English, history, math, physics, sociology, materials engineering).

But then they may have been admitted to and enrolled in a slightly less selective college where they could make such unpleasant comments, right? Or a student at HYPSM may have been rejected from one or more of the others and may attribute it to race/ethnicity, whether or not that was relevant.


But part of that variety of perspectives is inevitably tied to race and culture. Because my white son will never walk down a street and see white women clutch their purses and walk to the other side of the street to avoid him. My daughter hasn’t been dogged by store security as she browses in a department store. My now adult kids have never had difficulty renting an apartment – never have they responded to an open-house listing and been told (falsely) that the apartment had already been rented.

But my kids have experienced anti-semitism – so they have their own perspective in that respect. It is not that they have lived charmed lives – but that their experience is not the same as being black, or being hispanic, or being Asian – or being an immigrant (or of being a rich white protestant). So yes, it is the perspectives that are important, but race & culture are part of that.

In the HBO piece, the African-American applicant mentioned that he had written about how is race impacted his life in his essay. That was a potentially risky, but ultimately smart choice - he probably did a very good job of explaining what perspective he would bring with him, as an African-American kid coming from a more privileged background. (Being black does NOT equate with being poor or attending an inner-city school or being raised in a single parent home – part of diversity is to bring in a broad representation of students. So a policy that restricted consideration of race to lower SES students would tend to have the end result of reinforcing stereotypes, rather than building a student body that broadens perspectives)

Of course, 1992 is a generation ago, and UCB was not as selective then as it is now.

https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/infocenter/freshman-admissions-summary shows that in 1994, UCB frosh applicants with >= 4.2 UC weighted GPA had a 75% admission rate, and those with 3.80-4.19 had a 51% admission rate (the way these GPAs are calculated, they tend to correspond to unweighted GPA about 0.3 lower). English is in the largest division (Letters and Science), which does not admit by major (all in L&S enter undeclared), so campus admission rates should be close enough.

Also, it is doubtful that Korean American was considered URM in any UCB context in 1992.

That literally happens all the time. People looked down on athletes, legacies and wealthy donors for being dumber all the time in college at least where I went, including the same people that looked down on affirmative action recruits. For example Jared Kushner.

I think affirmative action recruits actually get treated almost exactly like athletes, legacies and wealthy donors. I think that athletes, legacies and wealthy donors add more to the campus than affirmative action recruits because the affirmative action recruits are the culturally same upper middle to upper class type of person like everyone else just with a different skin color.

The HBO video focused on Princeton. HYPSM… type colleges are very different than SJS and most publics in major preference. The Harvard lawsuit found very small differences in admission preference by major, smaller than almost any other analyzed admission criteria and in some cases negligible. Rather than make popular majors have far more selective admissions as SJS does, HYPSM… type colleges tend to let major size grow as demand changes. For example, Harvard’s website indicates the number of CS concentrators has increased during each of the past 10 years that are listed, growing from 94 students to 494 students in 2017 – a 5x increase in students pursuing the major and on pace to become Harvard’s most popular major in the near future.

However, I agree that there is not enough information to estimate chances, and major selection contributes to the admission selection, including how the major selections fits with the rest of the application. If you want to pursue CS, it helps to have an application that suggests you are strong in math/science/CS including top grades in highest available level courses, strong math//science test scores, math/science/CS ECs/awards, LORs and essays supporting a math/science/CS interest and talent, etc… much like the CS Princeton acceptance kid I listed earlier.

Of course they could be. Fit for college is a mutable trait. By fit for college, I mean those who can handle real college work. This doesn’t include the people taking high school remedial classes in state colleges. I’d put the threshold around 550-600 for each SAT and 550-600 on a few subject tests. This is the bare minimum.

I don’t think that URMs admitted to elite colleges are unfit for college. I’m using this definition to refer to the “expected” demographics of the elite colleges. The demographics of the entire school system can’t be used because many high schoolers that graduate aren’t fit for college. The expected demographics (those that should be used for affirmative action) are different from the demographics of the entire school system.

URMs are underrepresented in the population that are fit for college just like they are underrepresented in the top colleges. The under-representation in top colleges in not unexpected when using the correct applicant pool.

UCs can’t outright discriminate based on race but they have certainly been attempting it by adopting admission criteria that just so happens to increase URM %, obviously against the spirit of the law:



1NJParent’s point was that the matriculating student body at Harvard (and presumably other HYPSM… colleges) is a biased sample of the ~5% who were admitted, ignoring the ~95% who were rejected. While there are some students in the freshman survey who say Harvard was not their first choice and may feel that URM got their spot at their first choice YPSM…, as whole the student body is largely full of success stories with the current college admission system. There aren’t many near perfect stat applicants who were rejected by all the holistic Ivy-type “reach” colleges they applied to and instead attended their safety. I’d make a similar statement for Princeton. The CIRP survey does suggest that the overall distribution of college students has a more balanced opinion about AA, with very different percentages than occurs on similar questions in surveys at HYPSM…