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How To Best React To Affirmative Action Changes: Race in College Admissions

In my last blog post, I wrote about how colleges might react to the Supreme Court decision banning Affirmative Action. In that last blog, I included examples of how colleges have responded. You can find my blog post here:

In this blog post, I indicate how families and students might best react to Affirmative Action changes.

Less Emphasis on Attending “Good” High Schools

In my previous blog post on how colleges are reacting to eliminating Affirmative Action, I indicated that some colleges are emphasizing class rank when making admission decisions in response to eliminating Affirmative Action. Since high schools are often segregated, emphasizing class rank in college admissions helps to ensure diversity in colleges.

Parents often try to enroll their children in “good” high schools, hoping that doing so increases the odds that their children will attend “good” colleges. However, a student’s class rank might be lower at a “good” high school than at a neighborhood public school because the caliber of students might be higher at the “good” high school. Consequently, parents may become more open to their children attending any high school. That is, parents may become less likely to move to a neighborhood with a “good” high school or pay tuition for a private high school.

Navigating Race in Essays

The Supreme Court’s ruling explicitly allows references to race in essays. This might make students more likely to refer to their race in these essays. Students should feel free to reference their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc., in essays. Sometimes these might be a good theme for a student’s essay, but it depends on the individual student and the student’s unique character.

I worked with one “deeply diverse” student. She was African American, a first-generation college student, second-generation American, spoke a language other than English at home, and LGBTQ+ identified. She sent me a supplemental essay to review on diversity that pretty much just listed these characteristics. We held a call about her draft essay during which I found out that she was not involved in groups related to her diversity. She didn’t belong to a Black Student Alliance or a Gay-Straight Alliance. She had never experienced racism or harassment for being diverse. Her essay was all about characteristics, not character.

This deeply diverse student was also a voracious reader who typically read a book a week outside of school. She had three other essay prompts to choose from, one of which was to write about a book she read outside of school. At my suggestion, she switched her essay to this topic, and it was wonderful. The essay revealed her deep intellectual curiosity. She now attends Stanford University.

When I review college application essays, I keep this in mind:

Character > Characteristics

College application essays, and the personal statement in particular, are supposed to reveal the student's character. The Supreme Court’s Affirmative Action ruling permits colleges to consider such traits as courage, determination, and the ability to make unique contributions to a college. Some minority students may feel compelled to write about their race. The strategy will work well if it reveals their character and poorly if it does not. College applicants should not try to fit a square peg in a round hole.

Activities That Help Economically Disadvantaged Individuals and Minorities

To show colleges something about diversity, some students, regardless of race, might shift towards extracurricular activities that help disadvantaged individuals and minorities. For instance, they might tutor children in public housing or engage in civil rights activities, such as the Black Lives Matter movement. Activities like these might reveal exposure to diverse people and a concern for others. To the extent the activities show a sustained commitment, they might be helpful in college admissions. Students might also try to incorporate references to these activities in their essays. Efforts to incorporate the activities into essays may have mixed success. If the essays lack passion or sound trite, they may do more harm than good.

I ask parents of students not to assign extracurricular activities to their children. If students do not enjoy their extracurricular activities, they are unlikely to (1) excel while doing them or (2) show passion when writing about the extracurricular activities. In addition, students who do not enjoy their extracurricular activities can also become unhappy.

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