The Importance of Race in the College Admissions Process

Posted on


Elise Ogden


Persuasive Essay



This essay was assigned to be written from the perspective of a Race advocate, and does not necessarily represent the views of the author.


For most high school students, the college admissions process is a long and strenuous one. High school seniors spend weeks slaving away to craft the perfect personal essay, deliver the perfect answers during interviews, and submit the perfect application. Despite all this hard work, once a student presses “Submit” their future is at the mercy of nameless, faceless admissions officers who, many students feel, are in the business of crushing dreams. This, however, is not the case. The admissions process is immensely complicated, and decisions are made based on everything from SAT scores to the personal feelings an officer has about a student. One of these factors has proven particularly contentious: race. Colleges and universities grapple with the moral and legal question of how extensively to factor race into the admissions decision. When our seminar was charged with accepting three out of fifteen applicants to “The College”, we chose to factor in race. When considered legally, race can provide equal educational opportunities to the whole student body, not just the minority applicants who reap the immediate benefits of race-conscious admissions.

In order to have a race-conscious admissions policy, we had to develop a formula for evaluating our applicants. Considering race is a slippery slope, however; it is easy to accidentally use illegal means to help establish diversity. Therefore, we did not give applicants a numerical boost based on race and we did not establish a quota for minority students because both of these actions have been determined unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, in Gratz v. Bollinger and Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, respectively. In Gratz, minority applicants to the undergraduate program at the University of Michigan were automatically given a 20 point boost in a system where applicants were evaluated on a scale of 1-100. This was ruled unconstitutional because the admissions process did not give individual consideration to applicants, instead giving a categorical advantage to minority applicants (Gratz v. Bollinger). Nor did we set aside spots for minority applicants, as was ruled unconstitutional in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (University of California Regents v. Bakke).

In our simulation, the diversity value of an applicant was considered holistically and individually, which the case Grutter v. Bollinger ruled constitutional (Grutter v. Bollinger). On a scale of 0-22, we rated each student based on academics (scale of 1-9), extracurricular activities (1-9), family legacy (0-1), and diversity (0-3). The diversity category was not race-specific; we determined that it can be anything that sets an individual apart, from race to sexual orientation to musical skills. We then admitted three applicants who scored high numbers: Caitlin Quinn (18.7), Jazmine Hope-Martin (17.2), and Angelica Parker (18.2). Caitlin was white (resulting in an average of 1.3 out of 3 in the diversity category), Jazmine was Mexican American (a 2.7 out of 3), and Angelica identified as multiracial (2.3 out of 3) (4th Round). Based on legal precedents, our evaluation of race in the admissions process was legal.

Expanding the diversity of a campus is in the best interests of minority applicants and adds to the environment of the campus in general, so admissions officers try to create the best possible entering class. Our simulation was no different- we attempted to balance academic and extracurricular achievement, while picking applicants who also offered something special. Each of the three applicants we initially admitted (Caitlin, Jazmine, and Angelica) was unique. Caitlin was white, Jewish, attended private school in San Francisco, and was a two-sport varsity captain (Caitlin). Jazmine attended private school in Massachusetts, volunteered with Amnesty International, and was a National Merit semi-finalist (Jazmine). Angelica attended private school in Florida, was recruited for the swim team at The College, and identified as multiracial (Angelica). Despite these differences, the simulation did not result in the best possible entering class. The three original admits were all girls who attended private school. Additionally, as a result of the random number generator, the three students who actually enrolled in the College were Caitlin Quinn, Jazmine Hope-Martin, and Daniel Juberi. Daniel was a much weaker applicant, scoring a 16.7 out of 22, he was African American, and attended private school in Massachusetts (4th Round). The resulting class was 1/3 white, 1/3 African American, and 1/3 undeclared. All three attended private school, and two were from Massachusetts. Ideally we would have had better regional, educational, and racial mix of students.

Although the class we enrolled was not the best possible one, we did provide equal educational opportunity. For minority students, many of whom come from less privileged backgrounds than their white counterparts, a race-conscious admissions policy helps to give them a more competitive application. By factoring race into the decision, we were given a more compelling reason to accept Daniel Juberi since his academics were less than stellar. A multi-racial college environment is also advantageous to the whole student body. According to Aaron Thomson, professor of sociology at Eastern Kentucky University, diversity provides eight benefits: it “expands worldliness… enhances social development… prepares students for future career success…prepares for work in a global society…increases our knowledge base…promotes creative thinking…enhances self-awareness” (Jacobs). Thomson suggests that racial and ethnic diversity gives students valuable life skills that will help them succeed in college and beyond. Using a race-conscious admissions policy helped to ensure that the campus at The College provided equal and valuable education opportunities to students from all different backgrounds.

In completing the simulation, each member of our seminar developed an individual opinion about how the College should make decisions. I believe that a race-conscious admissions policy is the best way to create a consistently good class. If an admissions team were to consider only merit in their decisions, they would most likely end up with a class of white, upper-class, private school students who were able to afford tutors, SAT prep classes, and expensive club sports teams as well as full tuition to a college. Although these students would be numerically ideal applicants, they would be a homogenous class with little to offer culturally. If an admissions team were to use a class-conscious model, the typical student would likely come from lower-income or urban communities and have less impressive qualifications than their merit-based counterparts. While this would provide heretofore impossible opportunities for many students, it would also put a burden on elite institutions who remain competitive through statistics like the average SAT score and GPA of their students. Colleges and universities would also need to increase their financial aid budget to accommodate for their high numbers of expensive students. In a race-conscious system, however, a college would be more likely to strike a balance between cultural diversity and academic prestige. By factoring in race, the college would provide opportunities to many lower-class applicants, because minority applicants are statistically more likely to come from low-income families. At the same time, having an impressive minority presence in a student population is a competitive and necessary statistic for elite schools. So says Mitchell Stevens in his book Creating a Class, “a racially heterogeneous student body is a marker of a school’s national reach and caliber today” (Stevens 143). Students see diversity as a sign of prestige, so from a marketing standpoint it is critical that a student body be diverse. By factoring in race, admissions officers simultaneously create opportunities for minority students while increasing the prestige and marketability of their school: it’s a win-win.

There are several undeniable benefits to a race-conscious admissions policy. This policy strives to provide benefits to deserving, and generally more economically challenged, applicants. It also promotes equality by attempting to make up for years of excluding minority applicants. It benefits the school because having a large percentage of minority students is a competitive statistic that increases the school’s prestige, and it gives students an opportunity to gain a more global perspective. In our simulation of The College, we chose to factor race into our decision because we felt that including race is a fundamentally important part of the process. In doing so, we took care to make sure our process was legal; we did not employ a quota or point system, because those have been declared unconstitutional. Although the class we admitted was not the absolute best possible, because it is difficult to balance academics, extracurriculars, and diversity, we did the best we could. By not discriminating against anyone and looking at each applicant holistically, we promoted equal educational opportunities. In the future, “The College” should continue to use a race-conscious admissions policy because it allows the admissions to consider applicants from several perspectives and create a diverse and interesting class.


Works Cited

Angelica Parker, Simulation Applicant Files, Color & Money seminar at Trinity      College, Fall 2013,

Caitlin Quinn, Simulation Applicant Files, Color & Money seminar at Trinity College, Fall  2013,

Daniel Juberi, Simulation Applicant Files, Color & Money seminar at Trinity College, Fall  2013,

Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244, 123 S. Ct. 2411, 156 L. Ed. 2d 257 (2003).

Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306, 123 S. Ct. 2325, 156 L. Ed. 2d 304 (2003).

Jacobs, Jeremy S. Hyman; Lynn F. “Why Does Diversity Matter at College Anyway?”US  News.

U.S.News & World Report, 12 Aug. 2009. Web. 01 Oct. 2013.

Jazmine Hope-Martin, Simulation Applicant Files, Color & Money seminar at Trinity  College, Fall 2013,

Stevens, Mitchell L. “Race.” Creating a Class: College Admissions and the Education of  Elites. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2007. N. pag. Print.

University of California Regents v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 98 S. Ct. 2733, 57 L. Ed. 2d  750 (1978).

4th Round Review, Color and Money Admissions Simulation Data, Trinity College, Fall  2013,