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What the End of Affirmative Action Means for Students

On June 29, 2023, the US Supreme Court struck down the use of race in admissions, deeming it unconstitutional. This ruling significantly impacts students of color, their chances of acceptance into college, and the amount of direct outreach they’ll receive from college.


In this post, we’ll go over the main changes you can expect, as well as what you can do as a student of color to optimize your college chances despite the ruling.


What Happened to Affirmative Action?


In October 2022, the US Supreme Court heard two cases filed by Students For Fair Admissions (SFFA), which challenged the constitutionality of race-conscious admissions at Harvard and UNC Chapel Hill.


Race-conscious admissions, also known as affirmative action, has been practiced since the mid-1900s, and its goal was to account for the systemic barriers that underrepresented minorities face in achieving higher education.


The SFFA filed the lawsuit on behalf of a group of Asian-American students who allege that they were unfairly discriminated against in the college admissions process. The SFFA argued that race-conscious admissions was in contradiction to the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law, as well as Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which guarantees freedom from discrimination in federally-funded programs.


In June 2023, the Court voted 6-3 in agreement with SFFA, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing the majority opinion. He wrote “The student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual—not on the basis of race. Many universities have for too long done just the opposite. And in doing so, they have concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”


As a result of this ruling, colleges and universities can no longer practice race-conscious admissions, effective immediately.


How the End of Affirmative Action Impacts College Applicants


The end of affirmative action will have a significant impact on students of color. Here are the three main changes students of color can expect.


1. Most students of color will see their acceptance chances drop.


The end of affirmative action action is going to have the biggest impact on students of color.


Among students of color, Black students will see the biggest drop in acceptance chances, Hispanic and Native American students will be moderately impacted, and multi-racial students will see a smaller drop.


On the flip side, Asian students will see a small boost. White students will also see a boost, but it will be even smaller, and not very significant.


This drop in acceptance rates is due to the achievement gaps among racial groups, particularly when it comes to standardized tests, which have long been criticized for reflecting and perpetuating racial inequity. For the class of 2020, the average math SAT score for Black students was 454 (out of 800), while it was 478 for Hispanic and Latino students; this was significantly lower than the averages for White (547) and Asian (632) students.


To maintain diversity, colleges would consider the race of applicants and accept Black, Hispanic, and other underrepresented students of color with lower test scores and less-competitive overall profiles. They will no longer be able to do so after the ruling.


Keep in mind that admissions chances will not change at public colleges in the nine states that had banned affirmative action prior to the Supreme Court decision. These states include: California, Washington, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Arizona, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Idaho. Chances will change, however, at private colleges in these states.


EDIT: Our chancing model didn’t previously account for Affirmative Action bans in states outside of California. So, your chances on CollegeVine should change in these states after our model update.


2. Students of color will see less direct outreach from colleges.


While the Supreme Court ruling bans the use of race in admissions, many colleges will likely also stop considering race in recruitment to avoid any potential legal challenges. This is because admissions results may reflect ethnicity preferences, if they were to use race/ethnicity data in recruitment.


As a result, students of color will likely see less targeted outreach from colleges, and they may not learn about schools that would be great fits for them.


This reduction in direct outreach is exacerbated by the fact that the College Board has gone digital, so state privacy laws prevent them from sharing as much student contact information with colleges as they have in the past. While high school seniors are typically used to receiving mountains of college mailings and emails, the amount of communications from colleges will definitely be tempered from this admissions cycle on.


3. There will be an increase in “undermatching” due to financial challenges.


The most selective private colleges offer the most generous financial aid, and because of the affirmative action ruling, there will be a drop in enrollment among underrepresented students of color. As a result, the students of color that may have otherwise been accepted in previous admissions cycles will turn to less-selective colleges, but they may not be able to afford to attend.


So, these students will turn to colleges that are cheaper, often where the student’s profile is especially strong compared to that of enrolled students, which is known as “undermatching.”


Tips for Dealing with the End of Affirmative Action


While acceptance rates for most students of color will drop, there are a few things you can do to optimize your chances.


1. Build a realistic school list considering these changes in chances.


Because most students of color will see their chances of acceptance drop, it’s important to build an extra safety net of schools. Add 2-3 more schools to your list where you have more than a 75% chance of acceptance (known as a “safety school”). Typically, you want 2 safety schools, 4 target schools (your chances between 25-75%), and 2 reach schools (chances less than 25%). Now, with the ruling, you’ll want 4-5 safeties, 4 targets, and 2 reaches.


Remember that your personal chances of acceptance can be extremely different from the overall acceptance rate. A school might have a 40% acceptance rate, but if your profile is especially strong, you may personally have an 80% chance of acceptance.


You can use our free chancing engine to build a balanced and realistic school list based on your academics, test scores, extracurriculars, and demographic information. The chancing engine will soon be updated to take into account the changes in admissions policies as a result of the affirmative action ruling, so stay tuned in the next couple weeks.


2. Seek out colleges that you’ll definitely be able to afford.


Because it will become increasingly difficult to get into the most selective colleges with generous financial aid, underrepresented students of color on financial aid will need to prioritize affordable options even more than in typical years.


Make sure to use each school’s net price calculator to understand the approximate cost for your family after financial aid. Local state schools and community colleges are often the most affordable, but you may also be able to get significant merit aid at private colleges where your profile is especially strong.


3. Consider applying test-optional.


Because admissions chances are dropping for most students of color, it’s important to optimize your chances and take advantage of test-optional policies.


Whether you should submit or not depends on your score and the individual schools you’re applying to. There’s no hard-and-fast rule, but our data suggests that at less selective colleges, a student should only submit a test score if their SAT or ACT is at or above the 50th percentile. At more selective colleges, a good guideline is the 75th percentile score.


4. Ask your counselor to provide more contextual information in your rec letter.


While colleges are no longer able to consider race in admissions, they are still able to account for other factors that demonstrate the hardship a student has faced.


If you have any family or home circumstances, or if there are academic and extracurricular limitations at your school, you can ask your counselor to note those in your rec letter.


You’re also able to point these out yourself in the Additional Information section of the Common App.


5. Connect with colleges directly on CollegeVine.


Colleges may not do as much direct outreach to students of color, but you can take the reins and reach out to colleges yourself.


CollegeVine is a free recruitment network for students that allows you to connect with admissions officers at hundreds of schools. When you opt in your anonymous profile, you can reach out to your dream schools, and schools can also reach out to you if they think you’d be a great fit.


In fact, you can even get accepted to college just by opting in your profile—no essays or application needed. This concept is known as “direct admissions,” and it makes admissions much easier for students and colleges alike.


While colleges will not be able to see your race/ethnicity, they will have ample context into your background via our Environment Index, which accounts for student to teacher ratio, graduation rate funding level, median family income, education level, crime rate, and many other factors that give admissions officers a more nuanced view of your school and hometown.

Lily Fang
Content Manager

Short Bio
Lily Fang is the Content Manager at CollegeVine and an alum of Amherst College. In her spare time, she trains for marathons and blogs about sustainability, running, and travel.