College Admissions: Who Gets an Affirmative Action Bump?

I’ve been volunteering at my son Ben’s high school this semester so I’ve been sitting in on some presentations by visiting college admission reps.

As they are packing up, I often ask the reps about their admission requirements for minority students since there are a significant number of these kids at Ben’s school. What I’ve discovered is that the college admission requirements for minority applicants are almost always lower.

Colleges want their student bodies to be ethnically diversified so they are willing to reduce the admission standards for minority students who don’t have access to SAT prep tutors and other advantages that many suburban teenagers enjoy.

It’s a touchy subject, however, which is why colleges don’t publicize the lower admission requirements for minority applicants.

An explosive new book by Thomas J. Espenshade, a professor at Princeton University, is shedding light on this issue of college affirmative action. (FYI, I am in favor of affirmative action, but I think it should be reserved for low-income and middle-income students of color and not affluent applicants.)

Espenshade discovered that there are significant differences among the SAT and ACT test scores that colleges want from racial and ethnic groups. He made this conclusion after looking at the admission records for 9,000 applicants at 10 highly selective, unnamed colleges.

In his book, No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal; Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life, Espenshade notes that the biggest testing advantage belongs to African-American students. Black students who were accepted into these elite schools could have SAT scores on a 1600 scale that were 310 points lower than a white, middle-class applicant. Hispanic applicants enjoyed a 130 point advantage.

Low-income students, regardless of race, also enjoyed a 130-point advantage and working-class applicants got a 70-point advantage. Upper-middle class students enjoyed a 50-point advantage.

The applicants who were hurt the most by the affirmative-action admission policies were Asian students, who had to earn 140 points more than the typical middle-class, white applicant to gain admission.

You can learn much more about the book’s affirmative-action statistics and findings by reading this article entitled, The Power of Race.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes a college blog at

Further Reading:

The Price of High School Success

Diversity Friendly Colleges That Welcome Minority Students

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  1. I am a South American (Uruguain male with white skin I am poor but smart and I am an American Citizen am I considered a diversity student or does it just apply to Black students that are poor.I attend a private college prep High school.will admissions persons think that I am rich and not count me into their wishes for a diverse student body.I have a Uruguain but an American citizen mother My father is croatian an also an American citizen both my grandparents are from Argentina and Spain.What will they say about me at admissions time?? Is affermative action only for Black persons these days.I want to attend a good private university not ivy league but not a party school or a community college I take school very seriously but I know I will need a boost to get in I am worried because when people look at me they can’t believe I am spanish.

  2. I am American but currently a graduate student at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. I gave SAT after my high school and got admitted to the University of Texas, Austin. My younger sister is giving her SAT next year. I do accept that vocabs are the most critical and painful thing in any standardized test. Also, check out these amazing online flash cards ( related to vocabulary and SAT and other standardized tests. You would definitely find them useful.

  3. Thank you for your insights. Affirmative action is trying to accomplish the diversity of college students admitted, so why would it matter the class of the minority being considered for admission? If it is a matter of the diversity of race than wouldn’t the fact they use affirmitive action for the more affluent minority students still make it applicable.

    1. Hi Bobby,

      Good question. I said I was against affirmative action for wealthy minority students because they enjoy advantages that other students, including white low-income kids don’t. Often these affluent kids have many schools to choose from while students of any color who are poor typically have far fewer options. I’d rather any affirmative action slots go to kids who truly need a break.