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Articles / Applying to College / Should Half-Asian Applicant Disclose Ethnicity on Applications?

April 28, 2016

Should Half-Asian Applicant Disclose Ethnicity on Applications?

Question: To tick or not tick the “Asian" box on common app. My daughter is half Asian. There are many articles about how admissions decisions (scores, etc) seem stacked against asian students. I don't believe this is a required box to check on the common app? Any reason we shouldn't check “other" or “prefer not to answer" (if this is even an option), or leaving it blank (if this is an option)? Or do you think doing so will be even more of a red flag for highly selective admissions?

“The Dean" came of age in the Popeye the Sailor Man “I Yam What I Yam" era. So it irks me to observe students strategizing about how to present themselves on college applications. But, on the other hand, the colleges irk me even more because it's their practices that make these concerns necessary.


Although admission officials may insist otherwise, I do feel that the bar is often set higher for Asian applicants than it is for others. That's the bad news. But the GOOD news is that, for half-Asian applicants, it can be a whole other story. Admission committees are apt to see these students as bridge-builders who will help to forge ties among classmates from diverse backgrounds. Admission officials may also believe that mixed-race kids have a accrued a certain strength from growing up a little different in a world where everyone is expected to be “something" and not a hodge-podge of cultures and physical traits. And moreover, “The Dean" even contends that half-Asians usually escape the negative stereotypes too often attached to Asian applicants (who are commonly characterized as smart but docile and humorless, driven by fanatic parents rather than by their own passion or creativity), almost as if the non-Asian side has held the Asian afflictions in check. (Oy! Don't shoot the messenger here. This isn't what “The Dean" herself believes but only what she gleans through the grapevine.)

Typically, I urge ALL students to answer the racial-background questions honestly. Students who don't tick the “Asian" box are often outed by other information in their applications, such as their parents' names or alma maters, by the church they attend or the clubs they join. I warn students that trying to conceal an ethnicity that's going to emerge anyway could look worse to admission committees than disclosing an Asian heritage.

In your daughter's case, I feel that she should proudly declare her mixed-race background, and she may even find that it works in her favor. But do keep in mind that this advice may be worth what you're paying for it. It's coming from someone who is not only a big believer in Popeye's words of wisdom but in karma, as well (perhaps I've got some Asians among my ancestors, too?). So I personally dislike the idea of telling teenagers to hide their heritage from colleges, and instead I encourage them to cheerfully declare it on their applications, even when the applications claim that it's “optional."

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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