Posted on August 10, 2022

Colleges Weigh New Admissions Strategies

Melissa Korn, Wall Street Journal, August 9, 2022

Colleges have considered applicants’ race in admission decisions for decades. Starting next year, that could be curtailed or even illegal, depending on the outcome of cases before the Supreme Court. So college-admissions officials are rushing to figure out what it would mean to enroll a diverse class of students if the law changes.

They say that would mean widening recruiting efforts, looking more closely at applicants’ backgrounds and proactively offering spots to students before they even apply.

As the Supreme Court prepares to rule on two lawsuits challenging how Harvard University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill use race as a factor in whom they admit, it will be looking at whether to overturn decades of precedent allowing some consideration of race. What is permitted has been narrowed over time. Current law allows schools to take into account an applicant’s race in limited ways, but not as a rigid set-aside or quota for minority applicants. Legal scholars say the court could tighten its rules on how exactly schools can consider race—for instance, making institutions better document how they’ve considered race-neutral strategies—uphold the current rules, or ban the consideration of race entirely. The Court is expected to hear the cases during its next term, which begins in October, with a ruling expected by June.

Many colleges say having students from a range of backgrounds enriches the educational experience and helps prepare them for a world in which they’ll interact with people unlike themselves. Past Supreme Court rulings have cited educational benefits derived from diversity. But challengers say that factoring race into the admissions process has led schools to discriminate against white and Asian applicants.

Some schools are looking at whether income could be used as a rough proxy for race. It would be an imperfect approach, given that race doesn’t correlate to income level. Another potential move is rethinking admission preferences for children of alumni, who in many cases are white and wealthy. But that’s a nonstarter for schools skittish about losing donations.

Here are a few of the other admissions approaches schools are looking at.


Schools that are members of the National Association for College Admission Counseling are forging relationships with predominantly Black and Hispanic churches, and with community centers in areas with large minority populations, says the organization’s chief executive, Angel Pérez.


Schools can also tap a pipeline of community-college transfer students, Mr. Wyner says. University of California, Los Angeles, has made headway there, according to Aspen Institute research, as have Amherst College and Princeton University.


Schools will need to look beyond high-school grade-point averages and test scores if race-based affirmative action disappears, proponents of student diversity say.

High schools with high Black and Latino enrollment are less likely than others to offer advanced math and science classes like physics and calculus, federal data show. Admissions officers and high-school counselors raise the question: Should only students with access to high-level classes be considered for the most selective colleges? Or also students who make the most of their limited resources?

More than 200 colleges and scholarship organizations already use the College Board’s Landscape tool. Alongside test scores, it provides neighborhood and high-school information such as whether an applicant’s area is suburban or rural and the share of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.


Simply sending personalized mailers to let low-income students know they’d qualify for free tuition if they were admitted to a flagship university increased applications and enrollment from those students, according to research led by Susan Dynarski, now an education professor at Harvard University.

Informing prospects before they apply that their qualifications would get them into certain schools could have an impact as well. The Common Application, a single online college application form used by nearly 1,000 colleges and universities, piloted a program with three historically Black colleges in the 2020-21 admission cycle. They notified applicants who met certain criteria, like GPA cutoffs, that they’d be guaranteed a spot at particular schools.