US Colleges Ask for More Writing after Affirmative Action Ban

    05 August 2023

    August 1 is the start of the new college admissions season in the United States. It is the day students can start to complete the Common Application for college admission in 2024.

    The Common Application is accepted by over 1,000 colleges and universities. The service permits students to apply to many schools by submitting their information only one time.

    FILE - A sign points the way to the Harvard College Admissions Visitors Center at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., July 6, 2023. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder)
    FILE - A sign points the way to the Harvard College Admissions Visitors Center at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., July 6, 2023. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

    However, some colleges and universities that accept the Common Application are asking students to send in an extra piece of writing. They are using the extra "prompt" to give students a chance to discuss their background.

    The reason for this new writing prompt is the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision to end affirmative action in college decisions.

    The court said selective colleges and universities, such as Harvard University or the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, can no longer use race as a way to decide between two qualified students.

    But the court did say schools can consider "an applicant's discussion of how race affected his or her life..."

    That is why some schools are re-writing their prompts.

    At Yale University, students who apply with the Common Application must also answer one of three questions.

    The first question permits students to write about a time they discussed an important issue with someone holding an opposing view.

    Another question asks students to discuss a meaningful community to which they are connected.

    But a third question is new, compared to past years. It asks students to talk about part of their "personal experience that you feel will enrich your college."

    That question permits a student to state their race and discuss how they would add something special to the group of students at Yale.

    At Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, a new prompt asks students to "tell about a community that you have been part of where your participation helped to change or shape the community for the better."

    Timothy Fields is a top admissions official at Emory. He said the new questions "are going to be much more targeted."

    At Sarah Lawrence College outside of New York City, a new question asks students how the Supreme Court decision on affirmative action might affect their lives.

    Kevin McKenna is a vice president at the college. He said the new question gives students a chance to discuss the decision "that could impact the student bodies of the colleges to which they are applying."

    An acceptance campaign

    In addition to the new questions, many colleges and universities are thinking about how to connect with Black and Latino students. The school leaders worry that those students may think they are no longer welcome at selective universities after the Supreme Court decision.

    Amin Abdul-Malik Gonzalez is the top admissions official at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. He and his team are planning extra time at high schools and more meetings at college information events to tell minority students they are still welcome.

    He also will offer more training to his admissions officers so they can work to build a diverse group of students without going against the Supreme Court's decision.

    Visits such as those by the Wesleyan team are important, said Angel Perez. He is head of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Perez said some college counselors for high school students are uncertain how their students should address their race in applications.

    "The general feeling with school counselors right now is mostly anxiety," he said.

    But those who work with students, like private admissions counselor Shereem Herndon-Brown, say students should not overstate how race affects their lives.

    Herndon-Brown wrote a book with Fields, the admissions leader at Emory. He said students need to write "authentically" about how they think and have developed as a result of their background.

    He gave an example of a Black student from New York who recently visited relatives in the southern part of the U.S. Herndon-Brown encouraged the student to write about that experience although it was not in the student's original plan.

    That he said, is a better idea than declaring their race or overstating their disadvantage.

    "There is no way to trick an admissions officer or a school into believing you're something that you're not," he says.

    I'm Jill Robbins. And I'm Dan Friedell.

    Dan Friedell adapted this story for Learning English based on a report by Reuters.


    Words in This Story

    admissions n. the act or process of accepting a student into a college or university study program

    apply –v. to submit information to an organization such as a college for the right to be admitted as a student

    prompt –n. a suggestion for a conversation or piece of writing

    selective –adj. choosy; interested in picking something of higher quality

    enrich –v. to add something memorable to an experience

    participation –n. the act of being involved in something

    impact –v. to make an impression or have an effect on something

    diverse –adj. used to describe a group made of people or things that are different from each other

    anxiety –n. an emotional state of being worried or very concerned

    authentic –adj. something true or real