Can Asian Applicant Use DNA Results to Declare Mixed-Race Ethnicity?

Question: I am a high school freshman. I recently got my DNA tested and I found that I am 2% white, 2% black, and 96% Asian. I heard that Asians are at a disadvantage compared to other races, so I was wondering: Should I put mixed race? Should I put African American? or Should I put White? on my college application under ethnicity.

I haven't decided yet if your question should make “The Dean" laugh or cry. The funny part is that a student who is 96% Asian (and with an Asian surname to boot) would consider describing himself as Black, White, or even “Mixed Race" on an application.

The sad part is that it's my generation of adults who have spawned questions like this one, and it makes me feel awful to see teenagers who can't proudly proclaim their ethnicity and who worry that this ethnicity will disadvantage them in the college admissions process.

Sadder yet is that this can be true. Although many admission officials will staunchly protest, I agree that the bar is set higher for Asian applicants at some colleges and universities … especially the most sought-after ones. Asian students … and particularly those of Chinese, Korean, and Indian descent … have, as a group, been so successful in their academic and extracurricular endeavors that elite institutions could easily fill a freshman class with only outstanding Asians.

But, because such schools pride themselves on “diversity," it is inevitable that not every qualified Asian student will be accepted by a top-choice college in order to leave beds available to candidates from a broad swath of backgrounds. Moreover, because Asian applicants commonly pursue the same stereotypical activities, it can be hard for all the first-chair violinists, chess champions, and math Olympians to stand out in a crowd. Thus Asian applicants to the hyper-competitive colleges must arm themselves not only with strong grades and test scores but also with a roster of unusual extracurriculars. The upshot is that Asian teenagers–much like you–are discouraged by the prospect of openly answering the ethnicity question on applications.

You must also keep in mind that when colleges seek “diversity," they want students who will bring their culture to campus and not just a biochemical cocktail.

But if “The Dean" ruled the world, I would eliminate the race/ethnicity question entirely. Instead, I would instruct admission officials to allot some wiggle room for sub-par statistics to all disadvantaged applicants (regardless of racial or ethnic background) so that socioeconomics could play the critical role in admission verdicts that race is playing now. But, even if this change were to be implemented (Dream on, Dean!), it won't be before you–as a 9th grader today–have waded into the admissions quagmire.

So, for now, the best advice I can offer is that you check the “Asian" box on your applications when the time comes. (This will probably be obvious anyway from your name, and from your parents' names and possibly from their alma maters.) As you continue through high school, choose extracurricular undertakings that you enjoy, but if some—more than others—defy the Asian stereotype, these will help you to distinguish yourself at admission decision time. Also try to open your mind to a wide range of colleges and universities. It's fine to pursue “dream" colleges, but don't get hung up on a short list of the most celebrated schools. Consider other factors like fit and merit aid and the chance to position yourself for graduate school acceptance, fellowships, and career opportunities. And if you're stuck for an application essay idea, perhaps you can write a very funny one about the Chinese kid with a smidgen of Black and White blood. Admission folks are always on the lookout for Asian applicants with a sense of humor. 😉