To many students, the question may seem simple.
8. a) Race/Ethnicity: Choose which best describes you (optional)
-Asian or Pacific Islander (includes the Indian sub-continent)
-African American/Black (not of Hispanic origin)
-Hispanic/Latino (Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race)
-American Indian or Alaskan Native Tribe (Tribal Affiliation:__________)
-White (persons not of Hispanic origin, having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, North Africa, or the Middle East)
-Race Not Included Above (please specify:__________)
b) Are you multi-racial or multi-ethnic (parents are of two or more of the above groups)? Yes No
If Yes, please specify __________
But whether or not to give an answer to the race and ethnicity question is one that is becoming more frequently asked by college applicants, and according to data from several colleges, providing this information is becoming less and less popular.
Some universities are reporting a rise in the number of applicants skipping the race question, choosing to leave it blank rather than admit to their Caucasian, black, Asian, or Hispanic backgrounds.
“I skipped the question because I wanted to know that I could get in regardless of what race I am,” said Chris Phillips, a recent high school graduate from California who applied to the University. “I did not feel I deserved any additional consideration because of my race, since it has not caused me any additional hardships in my life.”
According to a recent article in The Washington Post, more than 2,000 applicants to George Washington University left the question blank last year, a 45 percent jump from two years ago.
The Post also cited data from the College of William and Mary, where almost 20 percent of applicants left the question blank, and the University of Maryland, where 1,500 of the schools 25,000 undergraduates have not disclosed their race.
The University of Michigan has also seen a slight rise in the number of applicants who skip the question, which is one of three optional questions on the Application for Undergraduate Admission.
In 2002, 15 percent of summer and fall applicants chose not to tell the University their ethnicity, a one percent increase from 2001. But an estimated 17 percent of applicants enrolled currently, chose not to disclose their race.
But University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said the marginal increases here should not be given much weight.
“That is a slight increase, but not a large one,” Peterson said. “These figures go up and down all the time.”
Peterson said the question is optional for privacy reasons that stem from the complexity of racial identification.
“Students may answer it or not, as they choose,” Peterson said. “Race is defined by self-identification, that is, the racial or ethnic group that a student feels he or she identifies with the most strongly. There’s really no other logical way to do it since racial identification is such a complex topic.”
Although admissions officials can also sometimes judge an applicant’s race through his or her essay, to University officials, the race question is still crucial to the admissions process.
“We gather information about race for a number of reasons. … We’re working hard to admit a diverse student body and having this information helps us in that effort,” Peterson said.
She added that the University also looks at other factors contributing to diversity that are not affected by the question. “But there are also some federal and state reporting requirements and we use the information about the race and ethnicity of our students to produce various reports.”