By Sydney Topf and Lindsay Shachnow
Boston University remains committed to attracting and enrolling a diverse student body as its first early decision deadline approaches, following the Supreme Court’s decision to end affirmative action in college admissions, according to BU’s admissions office.
In June, the Supreme Court ruled against affirmative action — a policy that allowed colleges and universities across the country to consider race as one factor in the college admissions process. The Supreme Court voted along ideological lines, with conservative justices having the majority vote of 6-3.
“BU Admissions will, to the extent permitted by law, continue to practice holistic admissions to identify students whose varied life experiences, academic interests and talents will contribute to the dynamic educational environment of the University,” BU Dean of Admissions Kelly Walters wrote following the decision.
BU Director of Undergraduate Admissions John McEachern said he is “disappointed” with the ruling, but he does not anticipate that it will change the way they recruit prospective students.
“We have the freedom to do what we’ve done now for many years, which is to recruit a pipeline of students who we very much want to apply and enroll at BU,” he said. “My understanding is that the ruling hasn’t impacted that.”
BU spokesperson Colin Riley echoed this sentiment and said BU is “going to comply with the law.”
The ruling will effectively prevent BU and other colleges and universities from considering prospective applicants’ race and will impact class diversity, according to college admissions experts.
Three out of every five American universities already did not consider race in their application process prior to the ruling, and some have prohibited race-based decisions outright, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.
This year, BU added a new question to its Common App application, allowing prospective students to choose between one of two questions for the BU specific application.
BU wanted to give students a choice in what they want to write about, McEachern said.
Students now have the option to choose between: “Reflect on a social or community issue that deeply resonates with you. Why is it important to you, and how have you been involved in addressing or raising awareness about it?” and “What about being a student at BU most excites you? How do you hope to contribute to our campus community?”
“We thought giving students choice simply just made sense,” he said. “Students still have the opportunity to respond to the essay question about the fit with BU, but also to think critically about communities that are important to them.”
McEachern said BU added question one to learn more about students personally.
“We thought critically about what’s missing, what might students be able to share that were not able to get through other elements of an application,” he said.
Other universities including Northwestern University also changed their supplemental essay from asking students to express why they want to attend the institution to a question about students’ identities.
Jonathan Feingold, an associate professor at Boston University School of Law and expert on affirmative action, said there are legal ways for universities to consider race in applications.
“The Supreme Court did not overturn, at least not explicitly, existing precedent that stands for the proposition that a university may, under certain circumstances, employ race-conscious admissions to further the goal of producing a racially diverse student body,” Feingold said.
Feingold said universities, like BU, will begin to focus on students’ essays.
“What we are seeing at a minimum is almost every college or university that I’m aware of that previously considered the racial identity of individual applicants during admissions, they’re no longer doing that,” he said. “What I think we will see a turn to is consideration of race that is more directly tied to the individual experience of individual applicants.”
In Chief Justice Roberts’ majority opinion overturning affirmative action, he wrote that college admissions officers can consider race by looking at how it affected an applicant’s life “through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.”
Monica Nickolai — a college admissions specialist at Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience, a public high school in St. Louis, Missouri — said colleges will begin to implement a holistic approach to reviewing applications.
“There are lots of colleges out there that are operating under what is required now by law from the Supreme Court, but still thinking about ‘how do we create a campus that is diverse,’” she said. “[Colleges are] working predominantly through the holistic review process, to make sure that they’re still recruiting a class that brings in a variety of thoughts and viewpoints to the campus.”
Nickolai said she believes this new review process will put greater emphasis on applicants’ essays.
“The essays written by the students explaining their identity and their viewpoint and really who they are becoming more important than ever,” she said. “I’m now, more than ever, working with students to make sure that they really … come to life in the essay so that the reader has a true understanding of who they are.”
Jeffery Beckham is the CEO of Chicago Scholars, a selective college access program for first-generation and underserved Chicago students. He said students feel unwanted by universities, following the ruling.
“I always encourage students, ‘that’s not the case. The schools do want you. They reach out to us every day to find you,’” Beckham said. “That’s why we exist, to help those young people find the right school.”
BU is a platinum partner for Chicago Scholars, which means BU meets full demonstrated need for their students, sponsors students’ visits to campus before accepting admissions and provides students with an on-campus liaison, according to the organization’s website.
Beckham said he anticipates a decrease in Black and Brown students as a result of the ruling and hopes colleges invest in partnering with organizations like Chicago Scholars.
“I’m unfortunately afraid that that’s what this is going to lead to out the gate,” he said. “We’ll have to just wait and see what institutions do to create access points and opportunity areas.”
BU’s class of 2026 had 6,309 early decision and 74,487 regular decision applications. Eight percent of students are Black, 11.6% are Hispanic, 20.3% are Asian American, 23% are international and 30% are white.
McEachern said it is “impossible” to know how the ruling will affect next year’s class demographics.
Alexis Martin, a senior at Padua Franciscan High School in Parma, Ohio, is applying to BU this admissions cycle and said she is unsure about how the decision will affect the class composition next year.
“I really want to attend somewhere that has a very diverse campus,” she said. “I just hope that this wouldn’t change the campus atmosphere in the future.”
Carter Findelar, a senior at Rocky River High School in Rocky River, Ohio, said he hopes college becomes “something that more people have access to.”
“Change is never super comfortable for anybody,” said Findelar, who is applying to BU’s class of 2028. “I do hope that we can continue to see the application process work to become more fair and open for everybody.”
Bailey Scott and Maya Mitchell contributed to the reporting of this article.