Does race really impact college admissions decisions?

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Every year thousands of people clamor for very limited spots at top colleges. And every year, people wonder whether to check the box revealing what race they are, because at most colleges, your race does color your overall chances. 

“We don't shy away from saying race and ethnicity are one factor among the many that we will consider,” Tamara Siler, the Senior Associate Director of Admission at  Rice University.

At Rice University, only 16% of the applicants are offered admission. Here, race does play a role, but it's not the only factor under the spotlight.

University officials said they believe in diversity that's beyond skin-deep.

“We've been very intentional in how we've built our application to allow students to share with us beyond just the checking of the box, how they feel like their diverse life experiences have shaped them and how that's shaped the perspective they'll be bringing here at Rice,” said Siler.

The university counts minorities around 46% of their 2014 freshman class .

There are critics both for and against the use of race. Some  believe in pure meritocracy, the belief being that everyone should be judged only on what they have achieved.

One vocal opponent, who is also actress Mindy Kaling's brother, said the use of race hurts both white and Asian -- especially Asian -- applicants.

“Affirmative action is racial discrimination against Asian-Americans and whites in university admissions. Statistical data shows we're over-represented relative to our small numbers in the population, We're over-represented in schools, so any admissions policy that favors under-represented groups is going to hurt Asian-Americans in the applications process,” said Vijay Chokal-Ingam, the author of Almost Black.

Chokal-Ingam became a voice against affirmative action after his own experience with medical school.
He believes the standards are lower for certain races like Hispanic and black applicants -- and argues that with his scores, he could never have gotten admission a South Asian man, but that he did end up getting in because he pretended to be black.

“I figured out that a kid with a 3.1 GPA and 31 MCAT score could improve his chance of admission by something between 50-40 percent by posing as black so I shaved my head, trimmed my long Indian eyelashes and applied to medical school as a black man,” said Chokal-Ingam.

He believes the standards are higher for white and Asian people and that the double standard is unfair to everyone else.

Then there are those who argue that affirmative action helps those who can't help the situation they were born into, which include a myriad of elements -- poor neighborhoods, unstable families, little academic support.

Affirmative action can be a way to help people who, from birth, have had fewer opportunities than everyone else.

“It is a fundamental need for our society to address the historical injustices and the continuing present racism against discriminated groups in the country, of which African-Americans, Hispanics, and in fact many Asian-American groups are a part of,” said Jeff Yang, a Wall Street Journal columnist.
Race-consideration might mean that a person of color takes the spot of someone else who might otherwise have gotten in, but Yang says there are plenty of top-tier schools out there, that Harvard is not the be-all, end-all, and that it's the bigger picture that matters.
“I think that a lot of the people who are challenging it, including members of the Asian-American community, tend to be focused on the immediate impact of it on themselves, on their children, on their communities without looking at the ways in which affirmative action has been such a necessary pillar of change,” said Yang.
So if you're deciding whether to check the box indicating what race you are?
Chokal-Ingham believes if you are white or Asian, that you should leave it blank but that if you are black or hispanic, that you identify your race.
Yang advocates that you should reveal your race because you are proud of who you are and believes race-based consideration needs to stay.
“The fruits of affirmative action for a half century have produced some of the greatest social changes to date. It has altered the playing field of representation in boardrooms, in courtrooms, in statehouse, in halls of academia in ways that are very clearly for the good of society,” said Yang.
The case of Fisher v University of Texas is currently awaiting a decision by the Supreme Court, in which Fisher, a white applicant, alleges that she did not get into UT because of racial discrimination.