Ethnic Background Subcategories on the Common Application

Asian American Coalition for Education, AACE, Ethnic Question on Common App

There was a great piece yesterday in “The Daily Pennsylvanian” by Harry Trustman on the latest complaint of the Asian American Coalition for Education.

The Asian American Coalition for Education has in the past filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education to probe the admissions practices at certain Ivy League schools, including Yale University, Brown University, Dartmouth College, and most famously Harvard University. It is the AACE’s complaint filed with the Departments of Education and Justice that is currently the focus of potential litigation forthcoming against Harvard by the Department of Justice. It is the AACE’s assertion that these universities discriminate in their admissions practices against Asian American applicants. It’s an assertion we at Ivy Coach absolutely agree with — though we strongly differ with the AACE on how they’re trying to bring about change. More recently, the AACE has voiced a new gripe, this time with the Common App. So what issue does the Asian American Coalition for Education have with the application platform of choice for the vast majority of college applicants?

Asian American Subcategories on the Common Application

The AACE has written a letter to Common App. Executive Director Jenny Rickard that called for the company to cease subdividing Asian American college applicants into 10 categories. As Harry Trustman reports for “The Daily Pennsylvanian,” the newspaper of the University of Pennsylvania, “Currently, in the optional, self-reported demographics section of the Common App, students who indicate that they identify as Asian are asked to choose from 10 different subcategories based on national origin, such as China, Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam. These subcategories are the most specific of their kind on the Common App. In comparison, white applicants are asked to choose from three subcategories: Europe, Middle East, or Other. Black applicants are asked to select an option from U.S./African American, Africa, Caribbean, or Other.”

While it may come as a surprise to our readers, we agree with this particular assertion of the AACE (don’t get us started on the AACE lawyer’s comments on his own daughter not getting into UPenn despite having stronger grades than a Caucasian applicant — oy vey! — it’s not just about grades!). Asian American applicants should not be asked to subcategorize their origin any more or less than any other applicant. In fact, in their letter to Rickard, they wrote, “There is no more difference between two people originally from Thailand and China, respectively, than two people originally from Ireland and Slovakia.” We don’t disagree. But instead of decreasing the number of subcategories for Asian American applicants, we would just implore the Common App. to increase the subcategories for other groups, including Caucasian applicants.

All College Applicants Should Be Asked To Subdivide Their Ethnic Background Equally

While the AACE didn’t raise this point, the specifics of a college applicant’s family origin within Asia can often help an applicant’s case for admission. It would thus be a disservice to Asian American applicants to reduce or eliminate the subcategories. While we disagree with the AACE’s assertion that the Common App. asking for more subcategories of Asian American applicants is a violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, we agree with the spirit of their argument. Every college applicant, no matter their ethnicity, should be asked to subdivide their background equally.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know where you stand on ethnic background subcategories on the Common Application by posting your thoughts below. We look forward to hearing from you.


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