Preparing for College

Does This "Count" as "Hispanic" and Will it Boost Admission Odds?

Question: My wife's birth certificate lists her father as being Hispanic and she grew up with a Hispanic name. However, she never really knew the man, and was truly raised by an Italian immigrant that she has always considered her true "father". Can my daughter list herself as part Hispanic on her applications? She has never listed herself as Hispanic at any other time in her life. Does it even make a difference?

You've hit a nerve with "the Dean." It drives me crazy that colleges still make decisions based on skin color or ethnicity. But the answer to your question is, YES, your daughter CAN list herself as part Hispanic. And it probably WILL boost her admission odds (depending on where she is applying).

If your daughter feels guilty about going to the head of the line when she really isn't in touch with her Latina culture, she may be able to assuage her concerns by convincing herself that "Everybody does it" (which, admittedly, is something our mothers always told us should rarely be considered a valid reason to do anything). She should also be mollified by the fact that she didn’t create this crazy system but is merely adhering to its protocol. Granted, two wrongs don’t make a right (Mom told me that one, too) but there are so many wrongs that are imposed upon teenagers during the admission process … especially on those aiming for the most selective schools … that following this letter of the law, albeit reprehensible in my book, is justified.

However, if I ruled the world, college applications would not inquire about race or ethnic background per se but could ask, instead, (as some colleges already have done), “How will you help to diversify this campus?” Back when I worked at Smith College, I could interview five blonds from Connecticut in the same week who were all named Jennifer and all very different. Some told fascinating tales of atypical upbringings. So I’m a firm believer that “diversity” comes in many forms.

Finally, even if your wife never knew her biological father, perhaps this would be a good time for her and for your daughter to explore these roots and to learn about their Hispanic heritage. Not only might this make your daughter more comfortable when she completes her applications, but also it could provide her with a fascinating peek at her family tree.

(posted 7/27/2011)