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Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
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FAQ About the Race/Ethnicity Section of the Common Application

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What’s Covered


As you may already know, the Common Application asks questions designed to learn more about an applicant’s background as part of its “Profile” tab. These questions range from inquiring about an applicant’s religious preferences to their military affiliation to their race/ethnicity.


Many applicants wonder about how they should go about addressing that last topic. There are various misconceptions regarding the race section of the Common App, which can lead to uncertainty or even anxiety for students filling out the Common App. In this blog post, we’ll answer some of the most common questions about the race section of the Common App. First, however, we’ll break down how to approach the race/ethnicity questions in particular.


How the End of Affirmative Action Impacts Admissions


It’s impossible to talk about this section of the Common App without mentioning the Supreme Court’s decision to end affirmative action in college admissions, which will have a significant impact on the diversity of college campuses. Affirmative action was a policy that aimed to increase opportunities for historically disadvantaged groups. It had been used in college admissions for decades, but the Supreme Court ruled in June 2023 that colleges and universities could no longer consider race as a factor in admissions decisions.


Without affirmative action, minority students are less likely to be admitted to selective colleges, as they often have less access to the kinds of experiences that lead to successful applications to these schools. So, colleges will need to find new ways to ensure that their student bodies are diverse. 


Later in this post, we’ll discuss how students who are concerned about how the end of affirmative action will impact their college admissions chances can ensure they’re submitting a competitive application.


FAQs About the Race/Ethnicity Section of the Common Application


Is the Race Section Mandatory?


One of the most common misconceptions is that you are required to disclose your race when applying via the Common App. In fact, this section is optional​​, which means you can submit a completed Common Application without answering these questions.


The Common App states the following about the demographics section as a whole: “The questions in this section, while helpful to colleges, are entirely optional, and you’re welcome to move on without answering them. Before you do, please confirm for us that you’ve completed this section to your satisfaction.”

It’s worth noting that even with the end of affirmative action, discussing your race or ethnicity in your application could still provide an admissions boost if it helps to represent a unique part of your story or background. Colleges are still allowed to factor diversity into their decisions in a more general sense, so if your race or ethnicity helps illustrate your potential as a college student, filling out this section could be a good idea.


That being said, again, choosing to list your race or any other demographic information is entirely up to your discretion. If for whatever reason you feel uncomfortable doing so, you can choose to skip this section and move on to other parts of the Common App.



What Counts as an Underrepresented Minority Race?


You may have heard the term “underrepresented minority,” or URM, being used during the application season. Because URM students are generally considered to be one type of applicant that colleges look to “hook,” you may be wondering to whom the term applies.


Generally, URM races are those that have been traditionally underrepresented at American universities. This includes students of Hispanic/Latino, African American, Pacific Islander, and Native American origin or background, though what is considered an underrepresented minority may change depending on the school in question. 


It should be noted that, with the end of affirmative action, your URM status is no longer directly considered in the admissions process.



Will Putting Down a URM Race Help my Chances at Admission?


With the end of affirmative action, colleges are no longer allowed to give admissions boosts to URM applicants based on their racial background.



Will Listing a Race Such as Asian or White Hurt My Chances of Admission?


Historically, one of the main reasons some students felt uncomfortable about the race section of the Common App was they worried that responding in certain ways could adversely impact their application.


However, due to the end of affirmative action, all races must be held to the same standards for admission. Thus, Asian and White students should not expect to see lower acceptance rates compared to other races, as may have been the case in the past.



Can I Choose Not to Put My Race?


As we mentioned earlier, the entire demographics section of the Common App is completely optional. If for whatever reason you do not wish to specify your race, you are completely entitled to do so. You may simply skip this section and move on with the rest of your application.


That being said, your race is often “given away” by other aspects of your application, such as your last name or your parents’ names (or where they went to school). And since affirmative action has ended, not stating your race explicitly will probably change little when it comes to your chances.



I’m Hispanic/Latino, but Hispanic/Latino is Considered an Ethnicity, Not a Race, on the Common App. Which Race Should I Select?


The Common App first asks students whether or not they are Hispanic/Latino. After that, students are asked to select one or more of the following racial options, regardless of their answers to the last question: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, or White.


If you are Hispanic/Latino and unsure of what to list as your race, you have several options. Most Hispanic/Latino individuals are a mixture of African, European, and Native American races. If you identify with one of these races, select that option. If not, you may put all three, or none at all. Keep in mind that you do not have to answer this question, so if you feel that listing your ethnicity as Hispanic/Latino and not including a race best reflects your racial identity, then you should do so.



I Don’t Identify With Any of the Races Listed on the Common App. What Do I Do?


You can choose to leave the question about race blank, and if you choose to do so, discuss your race/racial identity in other parts of your application. For instance, you could mention or elaborate on your racial identity in one of your essays and flesh out your identity and its importance to you in detail. The “Diversity” supplemental essay, which has become an increasingly popular one this year in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision, is particularly conducive to this kind of topic.


Another option is to include your racial identity in the “Additional Information” section of the Common App, which gives you more freedom to expand on your identity than just checking one box or another.


Application Tips for Students of Color


The end of affirmative action will likely affect acceptance rates for Black, Hispanic, Native American, and multi-racial students at selective colleges. In light of these changes, it’s imperative for students from these backgrounds to be especially proactive and meticulous when preparing their college applications.



Strengthen Your Academic Profile


  • Target High Test Scores: Aim to score well above the average SAT or ACT scores reported by the schools to which you’re applying. Many free and paid resources are available to help you prepare.


  • Advanced Courses: Take as many AP, IB, or honors courses as you can manage without compromising your GPA. This shows admissions committees that you are intellectually curious and willing to challenge yourself.


  • Academic Achievements: Win or at least place in academic competitions, if possible. Not only will this make you a more compelling candidate, but it also provides excellent material for essays and/or interviews.


  • Recommendations: Choose teachers who know you well and can write detailed recommendations that highlight your more intangible qualities, like leadership and initiative, in addition to your academic accomplishments.


  • Consider Applying Test-Optional: If the schools you’re aiming for have a test-optional policy and your test scores aren’t as strong, it may be advantageous to withhold your scores. Be strategic in deciding whether or not to submit your SAT or ACT scores based on each school’s criteria.


Invest in Extracurricular Activities


  • Leadership Roles: Pursue leadership positions in clubs or activities that interest you. Leadership experience shows colleges that you can manage responsibilities and have skills that will contribute to campus life.


  • Community Engagement: Engage in community service or volunteer work that aligns with your interests or intended field of study. This will help demonstrate that you’re committed to making a positive impact on your eventual college campus.


  • Unique Skills: Develop a unique skill or hobby that sets you apart from other applicants. Whether it’s planting your own garden, playing a rare musical instrument like the kazoo, or excelling in an unusual sport such as rock-climbing, a unique skill can make you more memorable to admissions officers.


Craft a Strong Personal Statement


  • Narrative Arc: Develop a compelling narrative arc for your essay. Start with a hook that grabs the reader’s attention and leads them through the events or thoughts that have shaped you.


  • Be Authentic: Authenticity resonates with readers. Share experiences or challenges you’ve faced that have helped define your identity. Don’t shy away from discussing obstacles you’ve overcome—resilience is a trait colleges value highly.


  • Customize: If possible, customize your personal statement for each school you’re applying to. Relate your experiences to specific programs or opportunities at the school and explain why you’re a good fit.


  • Identity: As touched on in a few places earlier on, while colleges can no longer make their admissions decisions based on race alone, they can evaluate it as part of the broader picture of who an applicant is. So, if your race is a fundamental part of your identity, consider dedicating your personal statement to an explanation of why, as otherwise admissions officers will be incredibly limited in their ability to consider your race.


  • Editing: Don’t underestimate the power of editing. After writing your initial draft, set it aside for a day or two. Then, revise, get feedback from people you trust, and revise again until it’s polished. If you want feedback on your essay before you submit, check out CollegeVine’s free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.

    If you’d rather have a college admissions expert review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!


Additional Strategies in Light of Policy Changes


  • Build a Realistic School List: Add extra safety schools to your list to mitigate the impact of decreased acceptance rates. Use chancing tools to get a realistic estimate of your odds at various institutions.


  • Demonstrated Interest: Even if you aren’t able to travel to campus, attend webinars and learn as much about each school on your list as possible. Schools want to accept students who are genuinely interested in what they have to offer, so if you can demonstrate that in your essays and interviews, you’ll be giving yourself a boost.


By integrating all these elements, you’ll be better equipped to navigate the complexities of the college application process during this transitional period.


What Are My Chances of Admission?


Navigating college admissions involves balancing various elements like academic performance, standardized test scores, leadership activities, and compelling essays. Universities aim to admit multifaceted individuals who can enrich their communities. Evaluating your acceptance odds might seem daunting, but CollegeVine’s updated chancing engine simplifies the process. 


By analyzing a wide array of factors, from your GPA to your extracurricular involvements, the tool estimates your personalized likelihood of gaining admission to your chosen schools. Importantly, the algorithm has been adjusted to reflect the recent discontinuation of affirmative action, in order to give you the most up-to-date assessment of your chances.


Short Bio
Varun is a recent graduate from Arizona State University, Tempe, with a degree in Computer Science. He aims to share his knowledge of computer science, the IB Diploma Program, and all things college-related with high school students. In his free time, he can be found performing DJ sets or cooking!