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U.Va. changes essay prompt to give students opportunity to discuss race, ethnicity and background

Admissions officers will not have access to any self-disclosed “checkbox” information about race

The June Supreme Court ruling restricted the way race is allowed to be considered in college admissions.
The June Supreme Court ruling restricted the way race is allowed to be considered in college admissions.

The required essay prompt on the University’s Common Application will ask students to discuss their “background, perspective or experience” as it relates to their ability to contribute to University life following the Supreme Court’s reversal of race-based affirmative action. A second optional prompt invites students to discuss their personal history with the University — including legacy status or connections to any enslaved laborers — according to an email sent to the University community Tuesday. 

Application readers will not have access to candidates’ self-disclosed information regarding race or ethnicity in any sort of “checkbox” form, but the required essay prompt provides applicants the opportunity to talk about their background and personal history. 

“To the extent a candidate’s race or ethnicity is disclosed through this process, that information only will be considered as it relates to that person’s unique ability as an individual to contribute to the University, and not on the basis of race or ethnicity alone,” University President Jim Ryan said in the email.

The Court’s June ruling also brought forward criticism over the discriminatory role of legacy admissions in university admissions. Virginia Tech announced recently they would no longer consider legacy status with potential students, one of the most recent in a list of schools which made the same change — including Wesleyan College, John Hopkins and Amherst College. 

Previously, the University has noted that legacy status is “acknowledged” in the review process for potential students, but has remained quiet on details or specifics. 

Now, the University’s application will no longer offer a direct option to indicate legacy status, but the new optional prompt offers candidates to discuss their “personal and historic relationships” with the University. 

“We hope this prompt will give 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,” Ryan said. . 

Overall, Ryan affirmed the University's commitment to following the law while still getting to know each applicant on an individual level. 

“We also will do everything within our legal authority to recruit and admit a class of students who are diverse across every possible dimension and to make every student feel welcome and included here at U.Va.,” Ryan said.  

The two prompts went live Tuesday.

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