• The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments Monday that could affect how colleges use race in admissions.
  • The effects of the court decision will surely be felt by the nation’s elite colleges and the students trying to secure their spots there.
  • However, a majority of colleges generally accept most students who apply. These include some public flagship universities.

College admissions experts want to let students and their families in on a little secret: It’s not really a prospective student’s fault when they are turned away from an Ivy League institution or similar college that rejects most applicants. 

And race matters far less than they may think. 

Most people – Black, white, Latino and Asian Americans included – who apply to Harvard, Stanford or Princeton are rejected. The story is the same at dozens of other selective schools in the country, while the remaining thousands of institutions of higher learning are likely to accept almost everyone who applies

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Of the more than 1,000 institutions that use the Common Application, for instance, just 70 admit fewer than 25 percent of their applicants, CEO Jenny Rickard said. 

At those few colleges, “it’s not about you,” Rickard said. ‘It’s not about your race. It’s not about your gender. It’s actually about the pool of applications and institutional priorities.”   

Some public institutions, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, cap the number of out-of-state residents allowed to attend. Colleges looking to grow their undergraduate student body may opt to enroll students they hadn’t in years past. And universities are likely to alter their admissions practices as the pool of traditional college students continues to shrink.

But it’s the recruitment practices of America’s top universities that will be thrust into the national consciousness as the Supreme Court weighs the constitutionality of considering race in college admissions in two cases involving Harvard and UNC. Observers in the college admissions space fear the court’s conservative majority will strike down affirmative action, setting back efforts to diversify the nation’s elite colleges. 

Columbia University President Lee Bollinger is one of the many university officials raising the alarm. He was the president of the University of Michigan when Barbara Grutter, who is white, accused the public institution of denying her entrance to the university’s law school based on her race more than 20 years ago. The Supreme Court ultimately took up that case, Grutter v. Bollinger, in 2003, and ruled the university could consider race in limited circumstances.

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Justice Sandra Day O’ Connor wrote in her decision that within 25 years affirmative action would no longer be needed. Justice Clarence Thomas agreed, but said if a practice 25 years in the future would be unconstitutional, it would also be unconstitutional at the time.

In a call with reporters Thursday, Bollinger said he appreciated O’Connor’s decision overall, but disagreed that the need for considering race in admissions would wind down within a quarter of a century.