IvyWise Resources

Affirmative Action: Where Do We Go from Here? 

By Nat, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor

This post aims to serve as a Cliffs Notes version of the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with colleagues, friends, and neighbors since the Supreme Court decision came out in June 2023.

As a graduate student at NYU, I worked closely with Professor Robert Teranishi, whose work was reviewed in the Supreme Court case that resulted in affirmative action being struck down in college admissions. I gathered data about college attainment levels in different Asian ethnic communities and presented at conferences about the importance of disaggregating racial data in college admissions. The news of the ruling was particularly disheartening for me.

How significant an impact this ruling will have on campus diversity across the U.S. isn’t yet known. What we do know is that an enormous amount of research has supported the notion that educational outcomes and experiences are greater for everyone when there is diversity on college campuses. Exposure to diverse ideas encourages critical thinking, challenges stereotypes, improves communication skills, and results in better learning outcomes.

The Data on Race-Neutral Admissions

So, what might happen now that schools aren’t allowed to use race in their decision-making process? If we look at data from California, which banned the use of race admissions decisions when they passed Proposition 209, the number of applications from underrepresented minorities dropped within the University of California system. UCLA and Berkeley reported a significant decline in the number of Black and Hispanic students in 1998, when the law took effect.

The same thing happened in Michigan and Washington, respectively. After Michigan banned race-conscious admissions in 2006, the number of Black students enrolling at the University of Michigan dropped significantly. The University of Washington saw a decrease in the enrollment of Native American, Black, and Hispanic students after the state passed a similar law.

Despite how much the general public disagrees with affirmative action, excluding race as a factor in college admissions decisions impacts everyone — not just students of color. While colleges may strive to make their review process more holistic, making a conscious effort to admit more diverse classes won’t make much of a difference if there are fewer students of color in the applicant pool. Additionally, less diversity on campus means that students won’t benefit from the greater educational outcomes and experiences that I mentioned above.

Finding Loopholes  

After Proposition 209, the University of California system used socioeconomic status as a proxy to diversify campuses while still complying with the law. While the data shows that this method helped, it still was not nearly as effective as also being able to consider race during the admissions process.

Like the UC system, many colleges and universities have attempted to find loopholes around the Supreme Court ruling, like adding supplemental essay questions that encourage students to write about how they were impacted by their backgrounds and communities. These questions are meant to bring diversity to the forefront, allowing students to discuss race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, and other factors that can help admissions committees admit a more diverse student body. Additionally, many schools are reevaluating their legacy admissions practices, which have long favored white students from privileged backgrounds.

So, what can students do? For starters, think about how diversity has impacted you and the experiences you have had with people of various backgrounds and perspectives. Diversity is about more than just race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity — there is also diversity of thought and experiences. Wherever it’s appropriate, use this as a framework for crafting your supplemental essays.

As someone who has dedicated my life to education, I feel this Supreme Court decision like a stab in the heart. Despite that, I remain optimistic because I know so many people who work in college admissions, and they are incredibly smart, hard-working, and creative. I know they will come up with alternative recruiting methods to attract and include historically underrepresented students. I recognize myself as one of the key players in coming up with a solution to continue preparing ALL students to succeed in higher education.

But until there is a permanent solution, just remember that colleges and universities value diversity. It’s more critical than ever for you to tell your story in a compelling way that will help the admissions committee picture you on campus. If you need help with this, we are here for you.

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