The End of Affirmative Action in College Admissions: What to Expect


Kate Sliunkova

AdmitYogi, Stanford MBA & MA in Education



8 min read

The End of Affirmative Action in College Admissions: What to Expect


The recent Supreme Court ruling to end affirmative action in college admissions has generated considerable discussion and speculation about its potential implications. As colleges grapple with the ramifications of this decision, it is essential to explore historical examples, such as the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), and the landmark Supreme Court case, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. By examining UC Berkeley's experience, we can gain insights into the broader impact of the Court's decision and anticipate possible outcomes nationwide.

UC Berkeley: A Historical Perspective

UC Berkeley holds a significant place in the affirmative action discourse, as its admissions policies underwent a significant transition following the Bakke case. Before the ruling, UC Berkeley, like many institutions, utilized explicit racial quotas as part of their affirmative action programs. However, the Supreme Court's decision deemed such quotas unconstitutional, prompting colleges nationwide to reassess their admissions practices.

Transitioning from Quotas to Holistic Review

In response to the Bakke ruling, UC Berkeley, along with other universities, shifted away from quotas and adopted holistic review processes. This approach aimed to create a more inclusive and equitable admissions process by considering a diverse range of factors, including race, alongside other aspects of an applicant's profile. UC Berkeley's focus on holistic review reflected a broader effort to assess candidates comprehensively, taking into account their unique backgrounds, experiences, and contributions.

Applying the UC Berkeley Example

To better understand the potential impact of the Supreme Court's decision to end affirmative action, it is valuable to situate UC Berkeley's experience within the broader national context. While UC Berkeley's transition away from quotas aligns with the ruling's mandate, it is important to note that the university's specific circumstances and regional demographics may not precisely mirror those of other colleges and universities nationwide.

Adaptation and Evolution

As the ruling takes effect, colleges across the United States will likely reassess their admissions policies and seek alternative strategies to foster diversity and inclusion. Institutions may place greater emphasis on socioeconomic factors, geographic diversity, individual achievements, and other non-racial criteria to maintain a diverse student body.

It is crucial to recognize that the nationwide impact of the Supreme Court's decision may vary depending on factors such as institutional values, legal interpretations, and regional demographics. Consequently, while UC Berkeley's response to the Bakke ruling offers valuable insights, colleges nationwide will navigate the new legal landscape in ways that align with their unique circumstances.

Implications for White and Asian Applicants

With the end of affirmative action, many have raised questions about the potential impact on white and Asian applicants. While the Supreme Court's decision prohibits colleges from considering race as a basis for admissions, it does not mean that these applicants will automatically face disadvantages. However, the shift away from explicit consideration of race may lead to changes in the admissions landscape.

Shifting Admissions Landscape

In the absence of explicit racial preferences, colleges may turn to alternative criteria to foster diversity and create inclusive student bodies. Institutions may prioritize socioeconomic background, geographic diversity, individual achievements, and other non-racial factors that can contribute to a diverse campus community. As a result, the emphasis in admissions decisions may shift away from race-specific considerations, potentially affecting the composition of incoming classes.

The Role of Indirect Proxies

In an attempt to maintain diversity while complying with the legal landscape, colleges might consider indirect proxies for race. These proxies could include factors like an applicant's socioeconomic status, educational background of their parents, geographic identity, or other markers that may be correlated with race. Admissions officers could utilize these proxies as a means of inferring an applicant's potential contribution to diversity without explicitly considering race.

However, the effectiveness of indirect proxies in achieving the same level of diversity as explicit consideration of race remains a topic of debate. While these proxies may capture some aspects of diversity, they might not fully capture the nuanced experiences and perspectives associated with racial diversity. Critics argue that indirect proxies may not be as effective in promoting meaningful representation and may inadvertently perpetuate existing disparities.

The Future of Considering Race in Admissions

While the Supreme Court ruling prohibits the use of explicit racial preferences in college admissions, it does not mean that race will no longer be considered in any form. Colleges are still committed to promoting diversity and fostering inclusive environments. Therefore, indirect approaches and alternative criteria may be employed to maintain a diverse student body.

Exploring Holistic Review

Many colleges already utilize holistic review processes that consider a range of factors beyond academics and test scores. These processes allow admissions officers to assess applicants' unique experiences, backgrounds, achievements, and potential contributions to the campus community. Holistic review acknowledges the value of diversity in all its dimensions, including racial diversity, even if race itself is not explicitly considered.

Holistic review provides an avenue for applicants to present their perspectives and experiences, including those related to race, through essays, extracurricular activities, and other components of the application. By providing opportunities for students to share their cultural backgrounds and the challenges they have overcome, colleges can indirectly capture the benefits of racial diversity without employing explicit racial preferences.

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Indirect Solutions

The effectiveness of indirect solutions in achieving the benefits of racial diversity is a subject of ongoing discussion. Critics argue that these alternatives may fall short in capturing the unique contributions that individuals from different racial backgrounds can bring to a college campus. Indirect proxies, such as socioeconomic status or geographic identity, may not fully encompass the range of experiences associated with race.

Furthermore, reliance on indirect proxies could introduce unintended consequences, such as reinforcing socioeconomic disparities or perpetuating stereotypes. Admissions officers must be cautious in the use of these proxies to ensure that they align with the goal of fostering an inclusive and equitable environment.

Adapting to Evolving Admissions Practices

As the landscape of college admissions evolves, it is essential for applicants to understand the changing criteria and priorities of colleges and universities. Prospective students should thoroughly research the admissions policies and practices of individual institutions to gain insights into how diversity and inclusion are considered within the context of a race-neutral framework.

Engaging with admissions platforms like AdmitYogi can provide students with valuable resources and guidance to navigate the evolving admissions landscape successfully. By staying informed and understanding the holistic nature of admissions, applicants can position themselves effectively and highlight their unique qualities and experiences.

While the Supreme Court ruling marks a significant shift in the consideration of race in college admissions, colleges remain committed to promoting diversity and inclusivity. The challenge lies in developing alternative approaches that effectively capture the benefits of racial diversity while adhering to legal requirements. Through ongoing dialogue and continued efforts to create equitable and inclusive admissions processes, colleges can strive to build vibrant and diverse campus communities that foster personal growth, understanding, and cultural exchange.

Anticipating the Future of College Admissions

As students navigate the evolving landscape of college admissions, it is essential to stay informed about the changing dynamics surrounding affirmative action. Admissions platforms like AdmitYogi can provide valuable resources and insights into the shifting policies and practices.

While the Supreme Court's decision marks the end of a specific approach to affirmative action, its impact will vary across institutions. Colleges will adapt their admissions policies based on their unique circumstances and legal interpretations. Through ongoing dialogue and a commitment to diversity, colleges aim to foster inclusive environments that prepare students for a diverse and interconnected world.

It is advisable for prospective students to thoroughly research the admissions policies and priorities of individual colleges. By understanding the nuances of each institution's approach, students can make informed decisions and position themselves for success in a post-affirmative action era.

As the nation navigates the implications of the Supreme Court's decision, it is essential to engage in thoughtful discussions and remain vigilant in the pursuit of equal access and opportunity in higher education. By fostering inclusivity and embracing diverse perspectives, colleges can continue to shape a vibrant and transformative educational landscape.

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