The United States Supreme Court’s decision to ban affirmative action in college admissions has raised red flags for universities and prospective students across the globe. Predictions are that the decision will heavily impact racial diversity in US universities. For South African, and other international students hoping to apply to the US, the decision is unlikely to have a significant impact – they will still have to work twice as hard as other applicants, to stand out to admissions officers.
“South African students have historically faced challenges when it comes to applying to universities in the US because of geography, not race. The Supreme Court’s decision, while notable, is not expected to impact this. Regardless of race, local students will still have to put significant time and effort into their academics and overall application if they want to gain admission,” says Rebecca Pretorius, Regional Manager of Crimson Education, a global admission advisory that helps students prepare their applications to top universities abroad.
Affirmative action, often referred to as “race-conscious admissions” in the higher education sphere, allows universities to consider a student’s race in the admissions process, with the goal of creating a diverse student body that enriches the educational experiences of all students. “Until now, more than 40% of American universities, and 60% of selective schools have considered race to some extent when making admissions decisions, according to documents filed in court by Harvard,” says Pretorius.
US universities receive millions of applications every year, and competition is stiff. For international students, like South Africans hoping to gain admission, the highly competitive and holistic admission process takes into account academic excellence, extracurricular involvement, leadership qualities, letters of recommendation, and personal essays. With historically low acceptance rates across the board, students need to display exemplary performance in every category.
“Harvard’s acceptance rate in 2022/2023 was 3.1%. Stanford’s acceptance rate hit an all-time low of under 3.8%, with just over 2 000 students being accepted, out of over 56 000 applicants. The majority of these coveted spots go to students from the United States. To be one of the few international students who stand out, local students must focus on curating a strong application portfolio, that not only highlights academic and extra-curricular strengths, but also tells a compelling story about who they are and what they can bring to the university,” says Pretorius.
In the Supreme Court ruling, nothing prohibits universities from considering how race or other adversities have affected an applicant’s life. This means that students could provide concrete examples of how challenges like racial discrimination, lack of financial means, the area they grew up in, or the school they attended has affected them – as long as it is directly linked to how they can contribute to the university.
“We’ll only be able to navigate the full effects of this decision over time. At Crimson, we will be monitoring any changes that do take effect, to continue giving our students the best advice and guidance in their application journeys,” says Pretorius.