You may have heard that the Supreme Court recently found affirmative action in college admissions to be unconstitutional. They declared that admissions systems that use race as a factor illegally violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. But what does that mean for you? What does that mean for us as college counselors guiding you?
One of Many Factors
An important point to consider is that some college and universities were using race as one among many factors to determine if a student would be a good fit for a particular school. Some colleges and universities were considering the race of an applicant to achieve their goals of having a diverse student body. At Campus Bound, when we ask students about the qualities they are looking for in a potential college, oftentimes we hear them say “diversity.” This is unlikely to change.
While the Supreme Court ruling impacts admissions practices, many questions linger, including about how this decision may impact financial aid awards. Sometimes scholarships and award money are earmarked for “a student of color with an A average,” for example. Is this unconstitutional? Likewise, colleges and universities often have special programs for which race is a factor for admission. What if there is a “Latino women pursuing a career in the medical field” program within the school? Will that be impacted? While the Supreme Court made their ruling about admissions clear, there are still some unanswered questions.
What Can Colleges Do?
For colleges that wish to remain committed to the values of diversity and inclusion, what can they do? Some colleges may implement a “Percent Plan,” like the one currently in place in Texas. That is where students in the top 10% (typically) of their public high school are awarded automatic admissions to their state colleges and universities. This can help many students from many different school systems. Some colleges may recruit more transfer students from community colleges which typically have a higher ratio of students of color. Other colleges might invest more time and money in recruiting the students they desire, focusing on high schools or community-based organizations that are known to support students from under-represented backgrounds. Some colleges may add supplemental essay questions to encourage students to share information about their cultural background. These essays might be optional, or might replace previous essay prompts.
What Can Students Do?
The Supreme Court ruling doesn’t prohibit students from discussing race in their college essay. Students can still talk about the impact of race on their lives and educational endeavors. Letters of recommendation from teachers, counselors and coaches can still mention race and the impact on a student’s educational career and the diversity they may bring to a college campus. For now, there is still a question about race on the Common Application, however, when a college uploads a student’s application, the responses to that question will not show up for the admissions reader. Students should feel comfortable sharing experiences related to race in their applications.
What Can College Counselors Do?
We must be mindful about how this ruling can impact our students and families. There will be many questions and uncertainty, which is understandable. Talking about race may be a complex issue for some students. Discussing experiences of prejudice or racial inequities in an essay may be traumatizing to a student, and other students might simply prefer to focus their essay on other aspects of their life. College counselors can be sensitive to students feelings throughout the college search and application process. We can expand the kinds of colleges our students consider and expose more students from under-represented backgrounds to college-going culture. We can continue to bridge the connections between school counselors, college counselors and admissions counselors so we are all working together for the best interests of our students.