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Race, ethnicity less of a factor in college admissions, study suggests

While college admissions counselors are looking over regular decision applications for the 2014-15 school year, they may not be focusing on an applicant’s race, ethnicity or generational status, according to a survey released Thursday.

The 11th annual “State of College Admission” report, conducted by researchers from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, states that 54.6 percent of colleges attribute no importance to race and ethnicity and 46.6 percent attribute no importance to first-generation status.

“We just started asking those questions [about race and ethnicity] five or six years ago,” said Melissa Clinedinst, assistant director for Research at National Association for College Admission Counseling and a co-author of the study. “We have the main factors that are related to academic performance and activities. We wanted to know more about these really personal characteristics.”

Private colleges and more selective institutions were more likely to pay attention to the contextual factors in an applicant’s portfolio, she said.

Clinedinst said NACAC takes into account the variety of institutions included in their surveys, but there is difficulty in generalizing the results of a broad base of colleges and universities.

“We don’t really have a large enough sample size to break it down as far as we could, maybe further than we even want to,” she said. “Also, because there’s such a variety, if you start to break categories down enough, and then you’re not even looking at quantitative data, you’re talking about more a qualitative, descriptive analysis of different kinds of institutions.”

BU spokesman Colin Riley said the results in the report are only partially true for most colleges, including BU. While race and ethnicity are not of prime importance in any application, they contribute to the applicant’s identity.

“Boston University, and most schools, look at applicants as individuals and try to get a sense of who they are in a holistic way,” he said. “It’s an art. It’s not science. The proof of their [the admissions counselors] ability is the success they have with identifying outstanding students who will do well at Boston University. It all begins with an admissions counselor’s read of their application and identifying individuals who are a good fit for the Boston University profile.”

Jonathan Napp, a College of Arts and Sciences senior, said grades are the most important factor of any application, but race and ethnicity help the school understand the student better as an individual.

“Grades probably play a greater part because it’s more quantitative,” he said. “BU doesn’t even do interviews, so how do you really know what counts on that piece of paper?”

CAS freshman Amanda Bierschenk said race and ethnicity should not play a large role in the admissions process if the student is otherwise qualified.

“If you have the grades and you did things that are impressive, you’re going to be accepted no matter what your race or ethnicity,” she said. “I don’t think that matters too much in the acceptance process.”

Zaher Samnani, a junior in the School of Hospitality and Administration, said contextual factors are an important part of any application because they help define the applicant off paper.

“[Race and ethnicity] are important to the application, but not in a bad sense,” he said. “Everyone is an individual, and it should be more about seeing who they are as a person, not what color skin they have or where they’re from. It’s important to see what culture everyone can bring to BU.”

Dalton Silva, a Metropolitan College senior and Brazilian native, said race and ethnicity tend to hold greater importance in the admissions process at colleges in his home country. He said an applicant should be evaluated in regards to everything a prospective can bring to BU.

“In Brazil, if you are an African Brazilian, although we don’t use that term in Brazil, they give you more chances to get into college,” he said. “The thing in Brazil is, African descents are usually poorer people, so they have had less chances of getting a good education, so it’s hard for them to get into college, so that’s just a way to try to make things right. Some people disagree with it. It’s a very controversial subject.”

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