FAQs You May Have

Background: On Thursday, June 29, 2023, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued its decision in two cases related to the consideration of race and ethnicity in college admission: Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina. In a 6-3 vote, the Court struck down the practice of race-conscious admission at both public and private universities, with the exception of service academies. 

Laguna Blanca School College Counseling Office has put together a list of questions you may have about the impact the SCOTUS decision will have on various parts of the application process. Please know that this landscape is still very much in flux as colleges work with their legal counsel to ascertain how to move forward. While the decision affects all colleges and universities that receive federal funding (both public and private), in our conversations with admission colleagues this summer it’s becoming clear there is no “one size fits all” approach; each institution will decide its own course of action within the confines of the law as it now stands. If you have additional questions, please reach out to your college counselor Mrs. Murray or Ms. Otterness.

Q: How will the SCOTUS decision affect the Common Application?

A: From what we understand the Common Application will still ask for race/ethnicity information in the Demographics subsection of the Profile, but colleges will suppress this information when they download your application. That means that admission officers won’t see those questions, or your answers, when they review your application. The Common Application has long offered this functionality to colleges; in recent years colleges have been able to suppress the Common App’s questions about school discipline, for example.

Please know that with the exception of one question regarding legal sex, the questions in the Demographics section of the Common App are, and remain, optional. So while you will still see questions regarding race/ethnicity, admission officers won’t have access to those questions when they read your application. We have always encouraged students to be their full, authentic selves throughout their college application and to answer those optional questions in line with their identity and lived experience. Our advice in that regard will not change.

Q: Should the SCOTUS decision change the strategy of my list?

A: No, it should not. Over the summer we have read hundreds of statements from colleges stating unequivocally that they remain committed to admitting and enrolling a diverse incoming class within the confines of the law. For the most part, the Supreme Court’s ruling has not changed colleges’ institutional priorities -- it just changes the methods they will employ to meet those priorities. Therefore, it would not make sense for you to change your own strategy in response.

Q: Do I need to write my essay on my racial/ethnic identity now?

A: No, you do not need to; but if you want to or were already planning on doing so, you don’t need to change your plan. Colleges have always wanted to hear about the different parts of who you are, and which identities/experiences have shaped you. If you would like colleges to be aware of your racial/ethnic identity because you see it as central to your understanding of yourself, but you don’t necessarily want to write your main Common App essay about it, you can share whatever details you like in the Additional Information section of the Common Application. As a reminder, the SCOTUS decision limits what colleges can consider when it comes to race and ethnicity, but it doesn’t limit what you as an applicant can share on those subjects. Some colleges may also add identity-based supplemental questions.

Q: Will the SCOTUS decision impact what extracurriculars I can include in my Activities section or talk about in my essays?

A: No. Initial fears before the ruling were that anything related to race might need to be redacted from an application, but this is not the case. You can list all of your activities as applicants have always done so in the past. Many colleges also have supplemental essays asking you to elaborate on an extracurricular that’s important to you. As always we encourage you to highlight and talk about the activities that are most meaningful to you, whether that’s athletics, theater, robotics, tour guiding, prefecting, and/or any involvement you have in campus affinity groups.

Q: Depending on my own racial/ethnic identity, does the SCOTUS ruling mean that I have an “easier” or “harder” chance at admission now?

A: This question is predicated on a misunderstanding of race-conscious admission as a zero-sum game, in which certain racial/ethnic groups have advantages, and other racial/ethnic groups have disadvantages. Since the Gratz v. Bollinger decision in 2003, which ruled unconstitutional any admission system that confers a set amount of “points” to applicants from different racial/ethnic groups, this has not been how race-conscious admission works. While we know that this misperception is out there, it’s not reflective of what admissions offices have actually been doing for the last two decades, which is considering race/ethnicity as one of many contexts in an applicant’s lived experience. So, to answer the question of who has it “easier” or “harder” now when it comes to admission to the most selective U.S. colleges, the answer hasn’t changed much: applicants from affluent backgrounds, most of whom are white, are disproportionately represented in the student bodies of elite colleges.

Q: Are HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) affected by this ruling?

A: Like other public and private universities, HBCUs receive federal funding, and therefore they are indeed affected by the SCOTUS decision. However, as historically Black colleges, their institutional priority of enrolling and educating Black students differs from the institutional priority of racial diversity at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). There is some discussion among HBCU admission experts as to whether the SCOTUS decision will result in substantial application increases at their institutions. HBCUs have always been and will remain, excellent options.

Q: Are colleges considering eliminating other admission practices like legacy, athletic recruitment, etc.?

A: Some colleges are indeed moving to eliminate legacy admission. Doing so is an attempt to counterbalance the effects of the SCOTUS ruling because the practice of legacy admission disproportionately benefits wealthy white applicants. While the likelihood of colleges eliminating preferences for recruited athletes is low. 

Additional Resource:  The Admissions Beat (Lee Coffin)