Drew Nate |

A study released this summer found that White American college applicants have been misrepresenting their race on US college applications.

The survey, conducted by Intelligent.com, a trusted resource for online degree rankings and higher education planning, published the findings from a survey they used to examine the rate of race misrepresentation on college applications. Research experts analyzed responses from a small number (1,250) of White college applicants.

The survey revealed that 34 percent of the respondents admitted they claimed a different race on their college applications. Forty-eight percent of the respondents say they identified themselves as Native American during the application process.

According to the Postsecondary Policy Institute (PNPI), an organization that seeks to make education policy more equitable, less than 20% of 18-24 year old Native American students are enrolled in college compared to 41% of the overall US population.  The same source has also stated that Native American college enrollment has decreased by thousands of students from 2016-2019, the most recent year for which data are available.

On the heels of scandal

This news comes after the 2019 college admissions scandal involving Full House and Fuller House actor Lori Laughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli who were both indicted for paying $500,000 in bribes to have both their children, Olivia and Bella, admitted to the University of Southern California (USC) as recruits.

More than 50 wealthy people, including celebrities and  CEOs of public and private companies, have been charged with participating in the 2019 college admissions scandal which involved bribery, money laundering, and document fabrication to unfairly get students admitted to elite colleges such as Yale University, Stanford University, and the University of Southern California. Although the survey and the college admissions scandal are not directly correlated, it does show a problem in our nation related to the college application process– lying by some college applications to unfairly increase their chances for admission. 

As the Intelligent.com survey showed, men were three times more likely than women to lie about their race on their applications. From those who faked their minority status on their application, 48 percent of White male applicants lied about their race, while 16 percent of White female applicants did so. 

“Twice as many men as women claimed Native American heritage on their applications (54 percent compared to 24 percent). Meanwhile, one in four women (24%) claimed to be Latino. Women are also more than twice as likely as men to pretend to be Black (18% compared to 8%), “ according to the Intelligent.com survey.

As for the rest of the applicants included in the survey, 13 percent of respondents claimed to be Latino, 10 percent claimed to be Black, and 9 percent claimed to be Asian or Pacific Islander. 

Seven-five percent of the respondents who misrepresented their race or ethnicity reported gaining acceptances to schools, despite lying on their applications. The number one reason applicants said they faked minority status was to improve their chances of getting accepted (81%). Fifty percent also lied to benefit from minority-focused financial aid.

In an interview with the Black Voice News and IE Voice, Cameron Johnson, a freshman business student at the University of California, Riverside talked about the issue of students lying on the survey and said, “It’s sad to see people lie about something such as race on a college application. It goes to show you that there needs to be some sort of change within our education systems.”

Questions surface about survey’s methodology

As for the survey itself, many experts and scholars have questioned the methodology in which it was conducted, as well as the sample size of the survey. However, the survey has started conversations about college access and the role of race. 

Numerous factors could have played a role in the acceptance for those who lied, claiming to be minority applicants, who were accepted, although 85% of the applicants said they believe that falsifying their racial minority status helped them secure admission to college which points to a flaw in the college admissions process.

According to Inside Higher Ed   Angel B. Pérez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said, “This data truly saddens me. The fact that students would believe they would be discriminated against for being white goes to show that we have a lot of work to do in this country around racial reckoning and understanding systemic inequality.”

Other studies make similar findings 

But this isn’t a matter of discrimination, this survey reveals an admissions system at some colleges and universities that appears to favor White males.

A December 2020 study titled Legacy and Athlete Preferences at Harvard prepared in response to a lawsuit, Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard University, found that 43% of Harvard’s White students are either recruited athletes, legacy students, on the Dean’s interest list (which means their parents have donated to the school) or children of faculty and staff. Students that are admitted based on this criterion belong to the ‘ALDCs’, which stands for Athletes, Legacies, Dean’s Interest List and children of Harvard Employees. 

Seventy percent of Harvard’s ALDC students are White.. In contrast, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanics make up the rest of the ALDCs with less than 16%. To put in perspective, it was also found that roughly three-quarters of the applicants would have been rejected by Harvard had it not been for wealth or having a Harvard-connected parent or being an athlete. 

Removing preferences for both athletes and legacy students would significantly alter the racial distribution for admitted students at Harvard. As the data shows, the share of  White admits would drop while other groups would rise or remain unchanged. 

(Source: Legacy and Athlete Preferences at Harvard by Peter Arcidiacono, Duke University, Josh Kinsler, University of Georgia, and Tyler Ransom, University of Oklahoma)

Although Forbes has named Harvard as the world’s most prestigious university, the study shows the systemic favoritism of the White, wealthy, and connected in its college admissions process. 

With both the survey by Intelligent, and the study published regarding Harvard’s purported racial (and other) disparities in admissions, there is evidence problems remain at some institutions of higher learning when it comes to equity in admissions especially if White applicants are gaming a system designed to level the playing field for minority admissions.

Drew Nate

Drew Nate, a resident of Corona, California, reports for Black Voice News and the IE Voice where he focuses on stories within the Inland Empire and throughout California. An advocate for equity and social justice, he emphasizes civil rights for African Americans. Drew previously served as a staff reporter for The Criterion, a student-run newspaper publication at La Sierra University where he received his bachelor’s degree in Communications. Drew’s areas of interest include international climate change, fashion, and criminal justice reform. Contact Drew with tips, comments, and/or concerns at drew@blackvoicenews.com.