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MIT staff blogger Bryan G. Nance

Should I include my ethnicity on the MIT Application? by Bryan G. Nance

As a minority, how many times have you heard some off-handed comment about someone of color getting into college only because of their race?

As a minority, how many times have you heard some off-handed comment about someone of color getting into college because of their race? The implication, of course, is euphemistically known as affirmative action. You may be hesitant to report your ethnicity because you don’t want to be perceived as an “Affirmative Action admit.” Instead, you want it known that you were admitted on the basis of your merit.

So should you report your ethnicity or not?

Of course you should! Despite all the stereotypes and rumors to the contrary, being Black, Latino, Native, or any other minority is not enough to get you into any college or university, let alone MIT.

So why then do we ask for this information? Simple – it helps us to understand who you are – in context. Remember, we don’t get a chance to meet the vast majority of our applicant pool. We need to capture as much information as possible so that we can make an informed decision. You’ll hear me talk a lot about FIT & MATCH.

Think of your application as you would a giant, complicated jigsaw puzzle. Anyone worth a pound of Harrar coffee (coffee grown in Yemen or Harrar region of Ethiopia) knows the first step to “solving the puzzle” is connecting the corners and the outside border. Once the puzzle is framed, the remaining pieces are easier to connect. Crafting a class is similar – we go into painstaking detail to connect the right pieces.

Why is this piece of the puzzle so important? The truth is: ALL PIECES OF THE PUZZLE ARE IMPORTANT! Again, we evaluate each application in context, and the more context we have, the better.

Ultimately, it is your choice to decide what to include in your application. Certainly students who don’t report their ethnicity get admitted to MIT. If you are that passionate about not reporting the information, don’t. But remember, only you can have the pieces to make the puzzle complete.

34 responses to “Should I include my ethnicity on the MIT Application?”

  1. Kathleen says:

    I understand both sides of this issue….personally I am not going to report my ethicity. Looking forward to hearing you speak at the info. session in VA!

  2. Kathleen,

    Thank you for your comment. I’m curious, why don’t you want to report your ethnicity?

  3. Kathleen says:

    First off, I am about 1/8 or so Native American (verification is complicated–family records show 1/16+ for sure). Probably if others were in my position they would report their ethnicity (including Native American status). I, however, do not see it fair to report this information considering the facts that 1) I am not enrolled in a tribe and 2)I am not connected culturally…only by blood.
    “So why then do we ask for this information? Simple – it helps us to understand who you are – in context.”
    So with respect to the quote above, I don’t think that reporting my ethnicity would help you understand who I am in context—in fact it might distort your view of me.
    Maybe that was the answer you were expecting or maybe not. grin

  4. Kathleen,

    First off, let me congratulate you on your well thought out and well articulated points. What I wrote was a blanket statement designed to reach a wide audience. Ultimately, you must decide to do what’s best for you. I am pleased to hear that you have decided to be honest… with yourself and the process. Part of applying to college requires you to look long and hard into the mirror for honest answers to tough questions. Your final sentence says it all…we really do want an honest view of you.

    One of my mentors once told me the difference between being a responsible adult and a kid is your willingness to take the hard right over the easy wrong. I’m glad to see that you are well on your way to adulthood!

  5. Timur Sahin says:

    I’m not technically a minority, but my question does deal with race. Sorry if this question doesn’t belong here.

    I’m Turkish, and over the past few years (it may only be in Texas), tension towards the middle-eastern ethnicity has grown. While magazines and newspapers report that people are more and more comfortable with middle-easterners/Muslims, I still encounter a few people every month that make me want to roll my eyes (why is Ann Coulter’s stuff so popular!?!).

    I know that MIT is of the intellectual level that it is likely above any such prejudice, but can the same thing be said of Cambridge, Boston, and the surrounding areas? My friends along the east coast (admittedly a bit south of MA) tell me people are still distrustful after 9/11, and I think its a shame. I guess it makes sense considering the bulk of the tragedy was along the east, but that still doesn’t make it right.

    I guess what I’m asking you is whether or not the area is middle-eastern friendly.

    Also: On the MIT application, I didn’t quite know where to put myself, so I checked “Other” and wrote in “Middle-eastern.” Is this okay? I know some schools consider it to be “white,” but I felt I lost some identity when I checked that box.

    – Timur

  6. Timur,


    What are you doing up at 2:04 in the morning? I’ll bet that you are watching CSPAN, aren’t you? To change your ethnicity, send me an email with your complete name and date of birth and I’ll forward it on the appropiate member of the admissions office. I can be reached at [email protected].

    Cheers…get some sleep!

  7. Good Afternoon Timur,

    Thanks for your post. Having spent time at Ms. Coulter’s Alma Mater (Cornell), I too am surprised at her success. As my granddaddy used to say, “Live and let live”.

    I am sorry to hear of your experiences and climate in Texas. I have found MIT to be a very accepting. Overall, academia tends to be a place that is more welcoming than that of the “real world”. With that said, I can guarantee you that MIT is not perfect. Since we draw our staff, faculty and student body from all over the world, we experience the same problems as the rest of the world. The difference is, as a university and community; we have a very low tolerance for actions that pollute the learning environment.

    Don’t take my word for it. I suggest that you reach out to Muslim students/student groups for first-hand experiences. I suggest that you begin with the MIT Muslim Students Association

    I think that your selection on the application is quite appropriate. Although you may identify culturally as Middle Eastern or Muslim, it is much more helpful if maybe you could include your origin or nationality. E.g. Jordanian-American. I hope that this helps!

  8. Timur Sahin says:

    Mr. Nance,

    Thanks for the link, I’ll check it out as soon as I have free time. It’s good to know that MIT is very good with handling these issues.

    I’ve apparently run into a dilemma then. I, like I’m sure many other prospective 2010 students, have already submitted my application via the website. Is there any way to alter the information? It’s clear in Part 2 of the application that I’m Turkish, but Part 1 still just reads “Middle-Eastern.” I was shooting for an ethnicity rather than a nationality.

    Err, to clarify, I was born here in the United States to two parents who immigrated from Turkey.

    Thanks for your advice! I look forward to having you and the other admissions counselors reading my application this year. smile

    – Timur

  9. Timur says:


    Sorry about that, it’s just a habit. Bryan it is. Or Nance Effect… or Nancester… hehehe, Nancester. I like that.

    I was studying (like a good prospective student!). I’ve had six tests (all in AP classes) the past two days, and it’s been a huge drain. ><. I have no clue what I’m going to do when I start work, heh. Likely have a stroke. raspberry

    E-mail incoming!

  10. Nabil says:

    Wow, I am impressed. A whole blog devoted to helping people with ethnicity issues. This is exactly what I need! Ok, I was born in the United States, my white father is from New York. My mom however is from Iran, a native Middle Eastern looking woman. So on part 1 of my application (which I have already submitted), I selected “other” and put “Iranian American” as my ethnicity. Now that I think about it, Iran and America are countries, and they don’t really tell you about the race, so maybe I should have put something different?

    What ethnicity am I?

  11. Timur says:

    Hehe, he just said he believes your nationality is more helpful and gives them more insight on your life.

  12. Timur Sahin says:


    I’m having trouble connecting to my smtp/pop3 servers, so you may not get my e-mail for a few days.

    And I already know what you’re going to say, and in my defense:

    1) I’m on CST, so it’s actually only 3:00, and
    2) It’s because I kind of collapsed yesterday right after classes and thus woke up really early.

    Ah, a highly irregular sleep schedule. I guess in the long run its just training for college. raspberry

  13. Don’t worry Timur, you’re not alone. wink

  14. Vince Jeong says:

    Hello, I have a question about ethnicity also. Well, I am a South Korean with a citizenship there, but I have been studying in Canada for about 5 years or so now (non-citizen, on student visa). I am almost certain that I will be applying to colleges (mostly U.S. ones, including MIT of course wink) in Canada. So should I put my nationality as South Korean on the application?

    One more question, are there a lot of South Koreans going to MIT?

    Thanks =)

  15. Anonymous says:

    Okay, this might sound like a stupid question, but are Indians considered Minorities, in respect to applying to college? (I’m Indian, from Kashmir)

    My father said no, because a lot of Indians apply to /go to college in the U.S.

    Thanks. =)

  16. Timur Sahin says:

    MIT’s website states that the only underrepresented minorities are people of “African-American, Native American, Mexican American and Puerto Rican descent.”

    As for South Koreans, I know a lot of them are active on the web community, but that may just be a vocal minority. Regardless, be warned that there is a quota for international students, so your chances are slim either way.

    Best of luck to both of you,
    – Timur

  17. Amy Lu says:

    Ah, Kathleen, how I agree with you! I’m Chinese, and often that’s all that strangers see about me. To kids I don’t know that well in class, I’m just “That Smart Chinese Girl”. There’s so much about me that they don’t know, like my crippling fear of bugs (ha ha), how I’m a sucker for chocolate ice cream, how I get weepy just watching Bambi, how I like long walks on the beach and…oops. Got carried away there for a second! Anyway, kudos to you!

    And Bryan, at the same time, I do see why your stand makes sense too. People reading our applications do not get to spend a year with us, so the information we provide is all they have. Being Chinese is a big part of who I am, and to paraphrase Amy Tan (not me! ha), I have two sets of eyes – Chinese eyes, and American eyes, and sometimes they don’t agree with each other. I think that sometimes ethnicity can offer strangers a glimpse into our lives.

    So in the end, hm… should I put my ethnicity down? That remains yet to be decided.

  18. Good Evening All!

    I’ve been away form this thread for far too long! Time to catch-up.

    As much as I dislike the word QUOTA, we do limit the number of international applicants (non US-citizens or permanent residents), to between six and eight percent of the entering class.

    Anonymous: Students from Kasmir are not considered under represented minorities for purposes of the application process. By minorities we mean those student groups that (are US citizens or permanent residents) have very small representation within the undergraduate student body. In particular, Native Americans, African Americans and Latino students.

    Vince: Ahn-Nyun-Ha-Seh-Yo! (That’s about the extent of my Korean! Although I did live in Seoul for 2 years) We have a sizable Korean student population.

    I don’t know the #’s off the top of my head. When you apply in section 5 of Part 1 you will be asked your country of citizenship. There you should list the Republic of Korea.

    Timur: As usual you ROCK! I can see that you are VERY familar with our website. Although, I suspect that you never sleep! What’s up with that? Back away slowly form the AP homework and no one will get hurt!

    Great thread! Keep em’ coming!

  19. Amy,

    Your post is incredibly thoughtful! (Non Sequitur

  20. Timur Sahin says:

    Never fear Nancester, I got your back! Actually, I just have a really awesome memory.

    I know the MIT application process is a holistic one, but my grades aren’t too good. I’ve been working twenty hours a week since my freshmen year, and its cut into my grades. So I’m working extra hard my senior year to prove I am in fact quite capable of the grades MIT expects! I’m quite used to not sleeping; sleep has become a luxury here. :D.

    I’m looking forward to having all of you on the AdCom read my app! :D.

    – Timur

    P.S.: The picture on Matt’s blog shows your hair all short. That saddens me greatly. The one on your banner here shows it all long and awesome though. Being a longhair myself (can’t cut it because of a promise I made), I must say I hope that Matt’s picture is outdated. Long hair is just better. :D

  21. Amy Lu says:

    Ah! Bryan, you have hit the mole with the hammer with the reference to the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote! It is like holding two opposing ideas in my head. Believe it or not, filling out college applications has made me do a lot of soul searching! Ha. Sometimes it feels like my head is going to explode…smile

    Actually, I have to admit something…I am an imposter! Well, not really, but I do have an alias. My real name is Yiyang Lu, but I usually go by Amy. Oddly, however, I still don’t have the heart to change my name officially. It feels like losing a part of myself, a part of my ancestors (however old-fashioned that might sound). Silly, isn’t it, so much conflict over a name?

    ~Yiyang Lu

    P.S. Have you read “Joy Luck Club” too? It’s another very powerful book by Amy Tan – I highly recommend it if you haven’t read it! Oh, and see you in Ann Arbor, Michigan! smile

  22. Ben says:

    Timur, that was an amazing explanation – bravo!

  23. Timur Sahin says:

    Yay! I did well! I’ve been trying to help people out here and on CC, where I’m sure you’ve seen me (Olo), as I’ve asked you questions for applying 2010. :D.

    Curing ignorance, one post at at time,
    – Timur

  24. Sorry I’ve been away so long.

    Amy, The Joy Luck Club is one of my favorite book/movie combinations! I look forward to meeting you at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor!


    Finally, let’s clear this up once and for all: The picture of me taken for the Nance Effect is current. My hair is long. The picture of me on Matt’s Blog was taken on a hot summer day when I had my hair pulled back in a pony tail. I’m a dread head for sure!

  25. Sorry I’ve been away so long.

    Amy, The Joy Luck Club is one of my favorite book/movie combinations! I look forward to meeting you at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor!


    Finally, let’s clear this up once and for all: The picture of me taken for the Nance Effect is current. My hair is long. The picture of me on Matt’s Blog was taken on a hot summer day when I had my hair pulled back in a pony tail. I’m a dread head for sure!

  26. Devanand says:

    I was wondering how MIT defines Hispanic/Latino. My father was born in Guyana (British Guiana at the time), so I am half Guyanese. Even though Guyana is geographically in South America (just East of Venezuela), it is an English-speaking nation that is culturally like a mix between India and Carribean nations, quite different from most South American nations. I don’t speak Spanish, so would MIT consider me to be Hispanic or Latino?

    Also, I am of mixed race: half White, half Asian(India). Are people of mixed race considered under-represented minorities?

  27. Dear Mr. Nance,

    I attended the session for “minority high school students and their parents” held on 9/28/05. I enjoyed the session and the information you provided to us.

    I’m a parent and my son is currently a Junior @ Iona Prep. I would like for you to answer your top 10 questions and when is the college campus preview.


  28. Yeah Right says:

    Hi people, I’m half Turkish and half Guyanese to, drop me an email, it’s a lonely world out here…

  29. Marco says:

    It’s a damn shame what American generalization makes diversity out to be.. First of all, there has been far too much confusion between race and color, diversity and nationality. I have noticed that American institutions/organizations try to seem so “diverse minded” or “culturally accepting”.. damn, there is still so much discrimination between the lines, from the people who try and act otherwise, and especially from things like application forms. What the hell is it with the “minority” term? It definitely DOES NOT define itself as “the fewer population/herigate/nationality like it should be! Minority is a term of COLOR, and that’s it! That’s what has been shown here in the States. Applications are interested, not from where you come from and what background you have, but WHAT DAMN COLOR YOU ARE! you dont believe me, read them and analyze them yourselves. Political correctness has made tremendous efforts to minimize racism and discrimination, and I am happy for that. But without a doubt the American ignorance and lack of diversity-awareness will forever remain, even among those who are the “accepting” ones. You yourselves use these terms and incorrect labels! I have read the comments above to prove it! I heard one girl ask guy once where he was from..The guy replied “I’m from Mexico.” then the girl said, “WOW! that’s so crazy, cuz you could totally pass as white!” This girl had just finished graduate school in International Studies. All i have to say is, wow.

  30. Marco,

    I hear you, but what are you saying? Are we doing enough, too much or no where near enough to address diversity issues?

    It is easy to claim the moral high ground…tell me where do you really stand?

  31. Marco says:

    You said, “I hear you”… haha.. that’s it? Do you have no comment, opinion, or response whatsoever on anything I said above? That really shocks me because I saw that no one addressed these kinds of issues, these realities…

    Everyone lives by this system, accepting this hidden discrimination that the government, just like many universities place on society. Did you read Timur’s comment above? One of the first few commments is written by him and it says, “I am not technically a minority…I’m Turkish” By paraphrasing the statement, it says: I am not OF COLOR, I am Turkish… Well, ladies and gentlemen, in terms what minority SHOULD MEAN, Turkish people ARE a minority! But since the term is so grounded on COLOR, if Timur happens to be caucasian, then he is NOT a minority. So a person from Norway or Finland in the state of Montana (just about 0% Finnish or Norwegian population) would not be considered a minority according to this absurd evolution of the term minority. On applications: There is a section called ETHNICITY or ETHNIC BACKGROUND. Let me define Ethnicity for you! : A classification based on Hispanic culture and origin, regardless of race. AND a similar definition: The cultural practices, language, cuisine and traditions used to distinguish groups of persons

  32. Marco says:

    I haven’t received a reply to my comment. Is no one checking this anymore?

  33. Marco says:

    So, what kind of site is this supposed to be?

    I left a strong opinion and no one responds.. Whaat purpose does this site have??

  34. Humble says:

    You have great arguements Marco and what you said has answered alot of my questions about rather i should consider myself an ethnicity or not.

    But you’ve crossed the line from “I have a good point and want to let people know” to pride and selfishness when you wait for a response. Personally pride will get you know where and won’t help anyone else either.