Mixed Race Student Feels Dishonest Marking "Black" on Applications


Question: I am starting my college applications now and I have a question. I am half white, half black, but I identify as white because I've never met my father (who is black). In filling out applications, my mother is encouraging me to mark that I am either black or mixed, but since I identify as white, I don't feel comfortable doing that. She believes it will give me an advantage to the schools where I'm applying and I think it's dishonest. Can you help?

Your mom is right. (Aren't mothers always right? ;-)) Claiming your African-American heritage on your applications could push your file closer to the “In" pile, especially at colleges where you are a borderline candidate, or at any hyper-competitive place (such as the Ivies) where thousands of strong applicants are turned away every year. But, nonetheless “The Dean" agrees with you! If you identify as being only white and if you would be uncomfortable indicating otherwise on your applications, you should go with the choice that feels like the honest one.

However, this issue seems like excellent fodder for a college essay. Even if you have always considered yourself to be white, you may have an interesting and atypical perspective on race in society ... e.g., When does it matter? Should it matter? How has your awareness of your African-American heritage affected you? Do those around you who know about this heritage treat you differently than those who don't know?

Admission officials are always digging around to discover what sets an applicant apart from the crowd. So although you could begin your essay by emphatically stating that you view yourself as white, your thoughts on your biological background — whether presented in a way that's probing, poignant, humorous or all of the above — can help the admission folks see a side of you that the rest of your application won't reveal (always a plus in an essay!) and might mollify your mom as well, especially if you stick by your guns and check the Caucasian box!


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