The Ivy Coach Daily

March 11, 2023

DNA Testing in College Admissions

This is a diagram of a Guanine/Cytosine Watson and Crick base pair.

Originally Published on May 7, 2018:

Well, some parents will go to great lengths — at times morally questionable lengths — hoping to improve their child’s case for admission. And that includes conducting DNA tests to pinpoint a young person’s ancestry.

Maybe a college applicant never knew they had African, Latino, or Native American roots. Enter services like 23andMe. For only $99, that applicant can “experience [their] ancestry in a new way!” They can “get a breakdown of [their] global ancestry by percentages, connect with DNA relatives and more.” Cue Lori Greiner of QVC and Shark Tank fame!

Do Colleges Require DNA Testing to Verify Ethnicity?

First, it should be noted that no college requires DNA testing to verify a student’s ethnicity — nor do we anticipate they will ever need such documentation. That said, Native American applicants will often be asked to supply their federally-recognized tribal identification number as proof of their enrollment in the tribe.

Some Parents Turn to DNA Tests to Ascertain Heritage for the College Admissions Process

But just because colleges don’t require DNA testing as proof of a student’s heritage doesn’t mean some parents won’t go the DNA testing route to try to game the college admissions process. In a New York Post piece from a few years back by John Crudele on the role of DNA testing in college admissions, he writes, “I recently wrote a column that wondered what would happen if someone took a DNA test and found a smidgen of affirmative-action-worthy heritage in their background. I couldn’t get any of the universities I called to answer whether someone could get beneficial treatment based on one of those tests.”

Parents Should Not Turn to DNA Tests to Game the College Admissions Process

Allow us to answer Mr. Crudele’s question. Over the last 30 years, we at Ivy Coach can count on a single hand how many times parents have asked us if they should consider DNA testing to determine if their children are an underrepresented minority so they could enjoy an advantage in the elite college admissions process.

On each of these occasions, we implored these parents to save their money on these DNA kits — unless they have a genuine interest in learning about their ancestry rather than in an attempt to game the elite college admissions process.

But don’t just avoid the DNA testing route because it’s wrong to try to game the elite college admissions system by purporting to be an underrepresented minority (even if the DNA backs you up). Refrain from DNA testing to secure a leg up because it will hurt — rather than help — your child’s case for admission.

Claiming to be a Minority Because of a DNA Test Will Likely Backfire

After all, admissions officers weren’t born yesterday. It’s not just about checking a box that a student is an underrepresented minority. It’s about that student’s story and how their background has shaped how they navigate the world. Just what kinds of activities related to your child’s Native American roots have they been involved in since they learned of their Native American ancestry on 23andMe last Tuesday?

Besides, even if a DNA test suggests your child has — let’s say — some Native American ancestry, they’ll need to supply that tribal identification number, or admissions officers will see right through this blatant attempt to game the college admissions system — and it will backfire as it so often does.

With Affirmative Action in Peril, Race in College Admissions Might Soon Be Moot Anyway

Finally, with the Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College case to be decided in late 2023 by the United States Supreme Court, Affirmative Action may be outlawed. Thus this all might be a moot point anyway. Too bad for 23andMe!

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