In a time of a struggling job market and rising tuition rates, it is becoming more and more difficult for some Americans to get to college. On the other hand, there’s more to getting into college than having the money to pay outrageous tuition fees (especially if you plan on attending school outside of your home state). One factor that has been around for years, at one point in time far from a priority–even a disincentive at some schools, like Rice University in Texas–but was eventually made one by virtue of affirmative action and the growing prioritization of diversity is, but of course, race.
Many teenagers these days, desperate to get into the college of their choice, have taken certain liberties with their racial identity. For instance, Natasha Scott, a high school senior boasting a “mixed” racial composition (i.e., an Asian mother and an African-American father), sought advice from College Confidential, an internet forum for discussion about anything relating to college admissions, about what to mark under the category for race. Much to her chagrin, most indicated that putting down African-American realistically gave her a better shot at matriculating to the school of her choice. She voices this internal struggle, explaining that the whole process of applying to college with what can almost be considered the “burden” of mixed heritage (i.e., vis-a-vis the ultimate decision involved in checking a race or races on an application, and the implications of those decisions) is a difficult one:
“I just realized that my race is something I have to think about,” she wrote, describing herself as having an Asian mother and a black father. “It pains me to say this, but putting down black might help my admissions chances and putting down Asian might hurt it.”
Scott also added:
“I think that when you’re a stressed out high school senior, you’ll do anything that’s legal to get into college,” said Ms. Scott, 16, who will be attending the University of Virginia. “I must admit that I felt a little guilty only putting black because I was purposely denying a part of myself in order to look like a more appealing college candidate.”
This is a painful reality for many who treasure all parts of their heritage, yet understand the strategy of checking a certain box over another on a college application, a decision so small and subtle yet potentially life-changing. For some, making such a choice represents a compromising of one’s very identity for the sake of getting into a school. Getting into college is important, especially today when it is commonly understood that a Bachelor’s degree today is essentially the equivalent of what a high school diploma was 20-30 years ago in the professional world.
Of course, some people have taken advantage of the general push for diversity in the world of academia by clinging to tenuous strands of a family tree in order to appeal to admissions officers. Colleges have gradually offered a wider variety of boxes to check for prospective students, leading to some fairly “creative” affiliations of racial identity. The population of “mixed” students and applicants continues to rise as a result of the increase in choices, but the definition of “mixed” remains vague and generally undefined. Some of the commenters on College Confidential indicate that one should check the box that gives them the best chance to be admitted, while others say to go with how one feels and what race one truly identifies with most. It is difficult to say which is the “correct” modus operandi because students have assuredly gotten into schools of their choice utilizing each strategy. However, a problem still remains for schools; while they have good intentions and the moral imperative of diversity in mind, any idea can be taken advantage of. In fact, at least four applicants to Rice this past spring supposedly checked almost every box. This obviously represents the most extreme of situations, but where do admissions officers draw the line? Can they draw one at all without being accused of ignoring a valid part of a student’s identity?
Contains information from The New York Times.