Can you lie about your race to get into a good college?

The reason I’m asking is because I know someone who exaggerated their race in hopes of getting into a decent university. This was because it is no secret that certain colleges tend to favor minorities applicants over non-minority applicants, judging from both from their statements and their admissions statistics.

How exactly does race work in admissions? I can reasonably believe they don’t hire a P.I. and find out where each of your parents and grandparents were born. Since every application I’ve seen provides no definition for each of the racial options, doesn’t that allow some interpretation? What if someone, like the person I know, were to completely lie about their heritage in hopes of bettering their chances of admission? What about someone who only exaggerated their race, i.e. one of their great-grandparents is a minority, and then who claims to be of that race? Would the answer be any different when applying to graduate school or perhaps a government grant (since there are some programs that will award grants/contracts to minorities over non-minorities)?

The OP begs yet another question: what standards are there, if any, for determining one’s race? ISTR a Census Bureau person saying on the last go round that their attitude was that a person’s racial identity is whatever they feel it is.

But I’m hardly an expert.

I can qualify as Native American under racial determinants, 1/16th, but have never chosen that, because I look awfully Caucasian, and have been allowed all social benefits thereof. My Great-Grandfather and Great-Grandmother had more issues looking like a Cherokee and Osswego, but I Pass just fine. Those benefits should be given to people who truly need them, who live on the Rez, and need to be recognized.

I’ve had some mighty sad discussions with friends claiming Native American descent, who say to speak up and claim it, but I feel that if you are not an active tribal member, you have no right to claim it. Same goes for any minority. Unless you have hardship of minority , you have no undue claims.

Friends who are ethincally white but immigrants from South Africa considered putting down African-American on their college applications, but ultimately declined to do so.

To my knowledge, there is nothing to stop you.

However, generally when you apply you also sign something saying everything you’ve put on the app is true to the best of your knowledge, and you understand that fraud can lead to revocation of admissions or recission of your degree. So you’d be taking a chance. In my experience the average applicant is fairly paranoid about getting their application just right.

Proving the fraud might be a little thorny for the school.

As for elelle’s comment, it’s one I hear a lot. I think it’s noble that students of privilege don’t want to game the system. However, I think it’s also worth noting that not all affirmative action programs are about letting in “hardship” cases. One could argue that if you’re going for diversity, it’s just as important to have wealthy blacks, white-looking hispanics, and non-reservation native americans on campus. If you really want to challenge stereotypes, that is. You want people of all backgrounds–not just the poorest, most downtrodden underrepresented minority students who apply. JMHO. But that’s a bit of a hijack.

Cranky, I hear you, and understand terms of inclusiveness sans ability to pay. But, as a person of Native American/Euro heritage, mostly Euro, I just find it wrong to deny a Native American who has not had the opportunities I have had cause I look lily white and pass. Yeah, I can claim my 16th, but I’d rather that opportunity go to people who need the leg up more than I do.

Must be that odd blood speaking up…

That’s simply silly. You can’t lie about your own race. Race is not a very valid concept to begin with and unless race is defined SOMEWHERE during the application process, you are free to define it however you wish. Arguing this point to an admissions officer might be a little tough, but I seriously doubt a college would risk the publicity of arguing with someone they are not black or asian or somesuch.

My grandfather was from South Africa. If the check box on a form says “African American” I check it.

I’m not black, but they didn’t ask that did they?


In this day and age, it seems that you can say anything you want. It is up to the agency as to whether they believe you or not.

For instance, I can say that I am a propulsion engineer, I can even put that on my resume, but if the company I am applying for sends me an official application form and release form to look into my background, I had better not tell them that I design new jet engines or anything false, lest I am labeled unscrupulous.

Likewise that company can make all kinds of misleading statements in their advertising. Official investigation may or may not support them however, and if it doesn’t then that company gets labeled unscrupulous.

As far as college is concerned, I think you ought to be able to say anything you want. Truly it is up to the college to verify their information. Also, if it can be proven that they are admitting students on the basis of race, you have an excellent opportunity to get reimbursed for your education.

I have no love for the admission departments of most colleges. They behave in a manner similar to the Vogons in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. They look like the Vogons, and they may smell like them too, but I never got very close to people in that department.

Most people we call Blacks probably wouldn’t be able to check off “black” either since they aren’t really black if you go by that kind of semantics game. Same goes for Whites. Heck, I wouldn’t be Asian-American since I’m not from Asia. But my great great great great great great great great great great great grandfather was probably from Africa so I guess I can check off African-American, too. The point is that you do treat people based on a socially established criteria of ‘race,’ and you’re messing up the system if you turn around and deny that on the application form (whether or not this system is that great probably should stay in Great Debates).

I sat in on a debate about it, and I think they established that yeah, you can check off anything you want. I don’t know if it’s LEGAL, but I imagine it would be fine there too.


Race is just one of the factors used to determine whether you’re admitted. Most colleges want a diverse student body in order to give its students the opportunity to meet people they might not meet otherwise. So admissions officials use a variety of things in order to achieve this. Some include:

[li]Athletic Ability – if you’re a star player, you get preferential treatment.[/li][li]**Home town ** – an out-of-state applicant may have a slight advantage over one who’s local. The further you travel to go to college, the more likely you are to get in, since they don’t get many students from your area (this isn’t as much of a factor in state schools).[/li][li]Parents – if your parent is a big donor to the school, you have an edge (funny how George W. Bush seems to have no problem with this one :rolleyes: )[/li][li]Gender – if the student body is 60% women, then a male has an edge.[/li][li]Nationality – a foreign student might have an edge[/li][li]Religion – if there’s a large contingent of one religion on campus, those outside the religion are prized.[/li][li]High School activities – if you are involved in a lot, especially in positions of some responsibility (head of student council, yearbook editor, etc.) it’s a plus.[/li][li]Race[/li][/ul]

In addition, grades and SAT scores are not hard-and-fast numbers; an A average at one high school can be a B+ average at another one. SAT scores only really tell you how well you take SAT tests.

So race is just one factor in making the final decision. It won’t necessarily make any difference. Since you have no assurance of a positive upside, there’s no point in risking the downside of having your application rejected for lying.

Or not!

In fact, at some institutions, hometown kids are highly prized. It adds to town-gown relations. And at state schools, being a non-resident can most definitely hurt you.

I think you’ve conflated the legacy/donation issue. They’re different–you can get a preference if you had family that attended, or because family had donated, but legacies don’t have to be on the donor list to benefit. I also thought GWB had come out against legacy preferences, even while acknowledging they aided him. Perhaps I misremember, however.

Some more “technically African” Americans include any Sephardic Jews (Morocco is in Africa!), Libyans, and Egyptians. I heard a FOAF story about a Sephardic Jew who claimed he was African American and then used that point to have basically this same debate with the admissions officer during the interview. He was applying to be an international relations major, and was accepted. Of course, if I heard his name I don’t remember it, and I can imagine this being a frequently-recited FOAF story which makes the rounds with all the freshmen.

I have worked at least one college where I literally saw them throw out equivalant white people’s applications when there was an application marked “black” on the table. Throw them out. In the trash and everything.

I have since been informed this is highly illegal and so won’t name the college. (So sue me, I thought this was standard.) I’ve got no proof to htrow stones, nothing but my own eyes.

But there’s at least one college around here that you can get in easier if you’re black.

I am of mixed opinion on this. My ethnic background is 3/8s hispanic. But I was not raised in a particularly hispanic environment, for example, my father does not speak Spanish (his father did). My grandfather changed our family name as a young man, to avoid the pitfalls of being considered Mexican in LA in the 1920s/1930s. And most people guess my ethnicity as Irish or German, although I have no antecedents, that I know of, with that background (my mother’s family is from Norway on her father’s side). For whichever reasons, I never was subject to any sort of discrimination on how I look.

Now, come time for college admissions, and my family had no money for school. I could not, by the rules of the day, claim to be hispanic because our family did not have a Spanish surname. I had one scholarship, but because a lack of recordkeeping* I could not even apply for economic hardship scholarships or grants. So I struggled through school, economically, and eventually dropped out because I was fairly hungry most of the time. (I later went back to school on my own dime and was able to get loans but no scholarships since I was no longer fresh meat).

Now, in the end, I guess, I didn’t really need any edge, since I got through on my own, eventually. But is there something to be said for “being counted”? Also, since my family now has a small business, should we be able to be counted as hispanic, in the same sense as someone who is Chinese-American, but many generations removed? When does someone cease to be hispanic?

I don’t really care if I am helped, or not, by being deemed hispanic, but I do object to being harmed by not being deemed a minority. The government and many larger corporations do give some advantage to companies that are considered minority owned and run. As an example, when I worked for a Very Large Corporation a few years ago, many jobs were cut and sent to India. The Very Large Corporation was able to at least partially rationalize this as a good thing, since it increased the amount of money that they spent with a Minority Owned Supplier. That this Owner was a very wealthy former Indian National who had immigrated to the United States in order to start a company whose sole purpose is to move work and jobs to India was irrelevant. The fact that this individual was Indian was actually helpful, not a hinderance, in business, was irrelevant. Since the money went to an Indian was considered good, since it helped their EEOC reporting numbers. That the jobs went overseas was considered, at best, unfortunate collateral damage.

Also, my wife is Chinese-Thai. My kids look, sort of asian, sort of hispanic, sort of caucasian. The school district possibly “counts” them as asian in terms of reporting. I say possibly since I typically eschew entering “race” on any forms, since 1) it’s a somewhat artificial construct and 2) which “race” are they, anyway?
*My parents were three years behind at the time on filing their income tax returns. I still don’t know how they didn’t serve time. :slight_smile:

I don’t know the school district’s practice, but I don’t believe it’s considered good practice to “assign” a race to a student who declines to self-identify.

I work at a university, and anyone who declines to identify themselves stays “unknown.” Even if 100 people could independently eyeball them and agree on what race they appear to be.

I don’t know that the school asks anywhere about race, but they report % minorities in district. So I have to assume someone is making an assumption. (Florida may not be as enlightened as Michigan, and I’m talking about primary and secondary school, not university)

My Garndfather was born in Hong Kong, I wonder if I could check the box marked Asian?

My dad’s best friend (our two families are very close) is a Californio, a descendent of one of the great landowners from when California was part of Mexico. There’s a street in San Leandro, CA that shares his surname, and no, it’s not a coincidence. His wife is white and their kids are not particularly “Mexican” in appearance and not really Latina at all in culture. They’ve had people be surprised to find that they’re Latina, even with an obviously Spanish last name.

Their older daughter and I are the same age, and I remember when we were applying to colleges and my own dad was a little bit bitter about that she would probably be accepted to colleges because she’s Latina and I’m not - when her own family has been in the United States (and in a position of privilege) far longer than my own. She won some big scholarship for Bay Area Mexican-Americans and I remember my dad rolling his eyes about the whole thing. The whole thing did seem a little absurd.

(Side schadenfreude note: my friend only just graduated college this year. In case you’re not tracking my educational history at home, I graduated five years ago, in slightly under four years. And no, she never dropped out - she was in college for nine continuous years. I seriously have no idea what she was up to for that entire time.)