Amidst widespread debate about the role of race in college admissions, the Common Application will allow colleges to conceal students’ race and ethnicities on application forms, ensuring that admissions committees at their schools will not have access to these components of students’ demographic information. Jenny Rickard, chief executive of the Common App, announced at the end of May that this capability will go into effect on August 1.
The decision comes as debates surrounding diversity and representation on campuses continue to rage and colleges and universities remain on edge as they await the Supreme Court’s decision regarding affirmative action. The move underscores the uncertainty institutions of higher education face regarding complying with a potential federal ban on race-conscious admissions. With a decision expected by the end of June, many schools may have little time to alter their admissions policies and practices before the coming application cycle. The new option will allow the Common App to comply with potential bans that may be instituted on race-conscious admissions by the Supreme Court.
The Common App’s race disclosure is the most explicit section of the application in which students identify their race and ethnicity—as The New York Times notes, the term “checking the box,” referring to the racial disclosure on the Common App, was used more than thirty times during oral arguments in October.
However, many wonder about the impact the Supreme Court’s decision will have on other application materials such as the personal and supplemental essays. During the Supreme Court hearings, Justices extensively questioned lawyers on both sides about the extent to which content about a student’s race would be considered acceptable in applicants’ essays. Uncertainty remains regarding not only how a student may talk about their race in their essays and how that aspect of their identity may be considered by admissions committees, but also about the prompts colleges will be permitted to pose to prospective students for their supplemental essays.
Though the Common App will allow colleges to hide the “race box,” the organization will continue to collect demographic information for its own records. Addressing the coming change, Rickard shared in a statement: “We will continue to work with our member colleges and universities once the Supreme Court announces its decision to ensure they have the flexibility they need to comply with the law and can continue to bring in diverse classes.”