Harvard Emphasizes Life Experiences After Affirmative Action Ban

3 minute read

Harvard College is changing its essay requirements for high school seniors applying for admission, nodding to the recent Supreme Court ruling that struck down affirmative action in college admissions.

Under the new guidelines, applicants will be required to answer five questions instead of the previous single optional essay. Students will be asked to share how their life experiences, academic achievements and extracurricular activities have shaped them, and describe their aspirations for the future, according to Harvard spokesman Jonathan Palumbo.

US college admissions offices face a challenging task as the application period begins this month. School officials will need to juggle the Supreme Court’s ban on race-based admissions with still finding ways to promote diversity in the student population. 

Read More: Supreme Court Flexes Conservative Muscles in Term’s Final Days

The Supreme Court’s June ruling, delivered by Chief Justice John Roberts, said that universities could still take into account an applicant’s views of how race affected their life, as long as it was directly tied to a quality of character or unique ability that the applicant can contribute to the university’s community. Roberts cautioned that “universities may not simply establish through the application essays or other means the regime we hold unlawful today.”

Harvard and the University of North Carolina were named defendants in the case.

The Harvard Crimson previously reported the changes to the school’s essay requirements. Versions of Harvard’s new format existed in previous applications. Now, all applicants will have to answer the same set of questions.

Read More: How Race in College Admissions Became a US Flashpoint: QuickTake

Other US colleges are also adapting their approach to admissions. The University of Virginia is offering applicants a chance to explain their backgrounds and how those experiences will contribute to the school. 

A revised application offers an optional essay opportunity that gives “all students – not only, for example, the children of our graduates, but also the descendants of ancestors who labored at the university, as well as those with other relationships – the chance to tell their unique stories,” President Jim Ryan and Provost Ian Baucom wrote in a letter this week.

Sarah Lawrence, a liberal arts college in Bronxville, New York, has even incorporated Roberts’s words into an essay prompt, requesting applicants to reflect on how they believe the court’s decision might impact or influence their goals for a college education.

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