The Secret Way Admissions Officers Talk About Race—And What To Do About It

Thanks to a racial discrimination lawsuit against Princeton, Buzzfeed got its hands on some secret admissions documents—and boy, are they a doozy.

As a result of that lawsuit, civil rights investigators at the Education Department examined allegations of racial bias in the school’s admissions system. Though they came up short and no racial bias was found, the comments below are not exactly innocent.

Once you're done wincing, here's the takeaway. One common thread? A desire for more "cultural flavor" in your application. My interpretation of this admissions office jargon is that they want to see more of your heritage represented throughout, whether it's the essay or a recommendation letter or your list of extracurriculars.

So if you're not sure what to write about, start with your identity and heritage as potential topics. Think about your culture and all the ways it manifests into your life: food, clothing, language, knickknacks, etc. Freshman or sophomore? Consider joining your heritage clubs at school if you're interested.

But the key to any part of the admissions process: don't force it. If it's fake, there's a 100% chance admissions officers can see right through that.

Princeton’s admissions officers repeatedly wrote of Asian-American applicants as being difficult to differentiate, referring to them dismissively as having “very familiar profiles,” calling them “standard premeds,” or “difficult to pluck out.”

“Were there a touch more cultural flavor I'd be more enthusiastic,” one officer wrote of a native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.
Of a Hispanic applicant, an admissions officer wrote, “Tough to see putting her ahead of others. No cultural flavor in app.”
"Nice essays, sweet personality," one admissions officer said of a multiracial applicant. "Bi-racial but not [National Hispanic Recognition Program] and no recognition of her [background] in app by anyone."

Of a black student, another said, “Very few African Americans with verbal scores like this.”
“Not many Native Americans with scores like this”