In the admissions process, how big of a factor is one’s ethnic background/race? Does it matter if you have “minority status,” or is that not really that big of a deal?
It depends on the school. Some schools have admission policies that take into account as a positive factor the ethnicity or race of an applicant. These policies have to pass constitutional muster.
In general, affirmative action programs that give some sort of preferential treatment to one’s ethnic background or race are permitted, provided that there is no quota or fixed weight given to that status. However, in light of the recent retirement of Justice O’Connor from the Supreme Court, the future of affirmative action plans is more in doubt. Justice O’Connor was the swing vote in a case decided in 2003 that upheld the use of race as a positive factor in the admission process, as long as it is part of an individualized and holistic review of an applicant and no fixed amount or value is assigned to that factor.
If Justice O’Connor is replaced by a more conservative justice, the Court may be more likely to restrict or possibly even prohibit affirmative action programs when the next case dealing with such programs is presented to the Court.
If one is a member of an ethnic minority, is it wise to list this information on college applications, SAT tests, etc.? Are such students important for some college quotas? But more importantly, would it be right to exploit one’s heritage for an advantage in college admission? To look at me, one would never guess I am Native American. My parents have told me that it will be my choice to make this distinction or not.
In our post-affirmative action society, I think colleges filling quotas is really a thing of the past, or at least moving in that direction. However, all colleges do attempt to select a freshman class that represents ethnic and cultural diversity to ensure the appropriate learning experience for all students.
The deeper question you ask is whether you should use minority status to gain an advantage which you might not otherwise have. My opinion is yes, you should — your heritage is a part of you, and if that alone gives you an advantage, so be it. From a practical standpoint, there are opportunities available to you as a Native American that would otherwise not be — for example, you’ll find some financial aid designated for Native Americans that would not be available if you were African-American, Asian, or white.
Still, in the long run, I think you will find that the advantages afforded to you because of your heritage will be small. In the end, your performance is what matters, especially with those who are color-blind. Having said all of this, your parents have offered you the best advice. Do what feels right for you. My opinion is just that — an opinion.
My daughter will be applying for colleges starting next year as a junior. A good portion of her background that is Italian American, and another large portion is Native American. Which would be better to use on the college application? Should I legally change her last name to her mother’s maiden name which is Native American, or my mother’s maiden name which is Italian?
While I understand that you want your daughter to have the best opportunities, I certainly wouldn’t advise you to change her name for the purpose of a college application. These kinds of practices rarely produce any form of advantage. Sure, sometimes ethnicity helps a student stand out in the admissions pool, but only when all other factors are strong and equally strong candidates must be distinguished from one another. Changing your daughter’s legal name for a better shot at admission is not a good practice, and it could have a negative effect if admissions committee found out. It’s really up to your daughter how she wants to identify, on paper and socially. She will want to choose the cultural identity that best matches her own personal feelings of background and lifestyle, not the option that might better her chances of a scholarship. Many applicants identify as multiracial, and some applications actually allow space to identify with more than one race. These kinds of choices aren’t binding in any way, and usually scholarships with cultural caveats require more than just checking a box. Let your daughter decide which choice feels right to her, knowing that checking a particular box isn’t going to make or break her admissions decision or lead to huge opportunity. An ethnicity scholarship or opportunity to join a cultural program would likely require an essay, interview, or particular path of study. Simple association with Native American or Italian American culture isn’t likely to open many doors, but hard work, high grades, and strong test scores will. Good luck to your daughter.