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Articles / Applying to College / Does This "Count" as "Hispanic" and Will it Boost Admission Odds?

July 27, 2011

Does This "Count" as "Hispanic" and Will it Boost Admission Odds?

Question: My wife's birth certificate lists her father as being Hispanic and she grew up with a Hispanic name. However, she never really knew the man, and was truly raised by an Italian immigrant that she has always considered her true "father". Can my daughter list herself as part Hispanic on her applications? She has never listed herself as Hispanic at any other time in her life. Does it even make a difference?

You've hit a nerve with "the Dean." It drives me crazy that colleges still make decisions based on skin color or ethnicity. But the answer to your question is, YES, your daughter CAN list herself as part Hispanic. And it probably WILL boost her admission odds (depending on where she is applying).


If your daughter feels guilty about going to the head of the line when she really isn't in touch with her Latina culture, she may be able to assuage her concerns by convincing herself that "Everybody does it" (which, admittedly, is something our mothers always told us should rarely be considered a valid reason to do anything). She should also be mollified by the fact that she didn’t create this crazy system but is merely adhering to its protocol. Granted, two wrongs don’t make a right (Mom told me that one, too) but there are so many wrongs that are imposed upon teenagers during the admission process … especially on those aiming for the most selective schools … that following this letter of the law, albeit reprehensible in my book, is justified.

However, if I ruled the world, college applications would not inquire about race or ethnic background per se but could ask, instead, (as some colleges already have done), “How will you help to diversify this campus?” Back when I worked at Smith College, I could interview five blonds from Connecticut in the same week who were all named Jennifer and all very different. Some told fascinating tales of atypical upbringings. So I’m a firm believer that “diversity” comes in many forms.

Finally, even if your wife never knew her biological father, perhaps this would be a good time for her and for your daughter to explore these roots and to learn about their Hispanic heritage. Not only might this make your daughter more comfortable when she completes her applications, but also it could provide her with a fascinating peek at her family tree.

(posted 7/27/2011)

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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