Preparing for College

Should Adopted Son Self-Identify as Hispanic?

Question: Our son was adopted from Colombia as a baby. We have always considered him to be a "White" person. Is he "Hispanic" or "White" for purposes of the college application? Our surname is not Spanish. We are middle class Americans.

Hispanic applicants get a boost in many college applicant pools. So, because your son is Colombian, he should take advantage of this benefit. If he so chooses, he can use his essay or the "Additional Information" section of his applications to explain his background more specifically.

Over the years I've observed that most colleges will "count" adopted students like your son as Hispanic, although some will not. College officials commonly want to bolster their Hispanic head-count and may thus be eager to include any student who self-reports as such, even if that student has no ties to his or her Hispanic roots. Admission officials may also reason that, even when Hispanic candidates hail from Caucasian American families as your son does, they may have grown up looking (and sometimes feeling) different than their parents and neighbors or they have become accustomed to answering questions about their personal history that their classmates rarely face. Thus, these adopted applicants can bring a diversity of experience to campus that a more typical white student might not.

So my vote would be for your son to self-identify as Hispanic and then to decide if he wants to explain further ... or not. Either way is fine. But he should not feel as if he is somehow cheating by checking the Hispanic box. I am not a big fan of race and ethnicity questions on applications, but as long as they're still around, I encourage students to use them advantageously, as long as it's honestly as well.

(posted 12/27/2012)