Are You an Underrepresented Minority? It Depends

Whether the first in the family to go to college or from a low-income background or whether an African American or an American Indian, a student who isn’t represented enough on a college campus is an underrepresented minority student.

Being one can impact your pursuit of an undergraduate degree, which can start from the college application process.

Worried that your being an underrepresented minority student might undermine your desire to get into your top-choice school as well as earn a bachelor’s degree from it?

Here’s what you need to know on the topic.

Who Qualifies as an Underrepresented Minority

Students who are a part of a group on a college campus that are disproportionately represented are considered underrepresented minorities.

They include students from racial and ethnic groups such as:

  • Blacks or African Americans
  • Asians
  • Hispanics or Latinos
  • American Indians
  • Alaska Natives
  • Native Hawaiians
  • Pacific Islanders
  • Two or more races

Some of them are from disadvantaged backgrounds that meet certain criteria like:

  • Were or currently homeless
  • Were or currently in the foster care system
  • Were eligible for the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program for two years or more
college student

The following are those who are considered as underrepresented minority students:

  • First-generation students
  • Low-income students
  • Racial and ethnic minorities
  • LGBT+
  • Students with disabilities

It’s important to point out that all minority college students are underrepresented college students because they tend to make up a small portion of students at most institutions of higher education.

Meanwhile, not all underrepresented college students are minority college students.

Many things can make an underrepresented student in college underrepresented, including socioeconomic status, religious preferences, and sexual preference or gender identity — some are not necessarily minorities.

While there are some benefits that come with being an underrepresented minority student in the college admissions process as well as on-campus services and opportunities available, there are also disadvantages associated with it that can impact a student’s decision to apply to college and also the likelihood of completing one’s academic program.

Difference Between Underrepresented and Minority

Underrepresented students are students that make up only a small percentage of the college population.

Other than minority students, they also consist of first-generation students, students with disabilities, etc.

Minority students, meanwhile, are students who belong to racial or ethnic groups that are underrepresented on college campuses.

Pros of Being an Underrepresented Minority Student

Increased Admissions Chances

While colleges and universities are prohibited from intentionally considering race in the admissions process, they are still allowed to look at the said non-academic factor in the review process.

For instance, according to the common data set (CDS) reports of elite institutions Princeton University and Carnegie Mellon University, the racial or ethnic status of applicants is taken into account.

The former “consider” it, while the latter sees it as “important”.

Needless to say, being an underrepresented minority student allows for an edge in the college admissions process — so much so that some applicants lie about their race or ethnic status when applying to colleges.

According to the findings of a study published by Black Voice News, around 34% of White college applicants confessed to claiming a different race on their college applications.

Of those, 48% admitted to claiming to be Native Americans.

The same study revealed that male college applicants were three times more likely to lie about their racial or ethnic status on their college applications than female college applicants.

However, refrain from assuming that being a part of the minority is enough to get you in — you will still need to have various components of your application impressive enough in the eyes of college admissions officers.

As a Hispanic Outlook on Education Magazine report puts it: being an underrepresented minority student with high scores is not a handicap in the college admission process but an advantage.

Contribution to the Diversity of the Student Body

A diverse college campus is defined as a campus where the students have a wide assortment of:

  • Countries of origin
  • Cultural and ethnic identities
  • Religious affiliations or beliefs
  • Income levels
  • Political affiliations
  • Sexual preferences
  • Gender identities

Because of the fact that minority students have unique backgrounds and experiences, they are some of the top contributors to diverse college campuses, the vast majority of which are dominated by White students.

53.4% of college students in the US are Whites or Caucasians.

However, it adds, too, that the percentage of non-White college students has increased by 125.5% since 1976, and Black students make up 3.5% more of the entire college student population today than they did in the same year.

Let’s take a look at the top institutions of higher learning in the country (as per US News’ Best National University rankings) and the percentage of minority enrollees:

InstitutionPercentage of Minority Enrollment
California Institute of Technology68%
University of California, San Diego65%
Massachusetts Institute of Technology64%
Johns Hopkins University63%
University of California, Berkeley63%
Stanford University62%
University of California, Davis62%
University of California, Los Angeles61%
Rice University57%
Brown University52%
Harvard University52%
Yale University52%
Carnegie Mellon University51%
University of Pennsylvania51%
Cornell University50%
University of Chicago50%
Emory University49%
Northwestern University49%
Princeton University49%
Duke University48%
Washington University in St. Louis47%
Columbia University45%
University of Florida45%
Vanderbilt University44%
Dartmouth College38%
University of Virginia38%
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill37%
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor35%
Georgetown University32%
University of Notre Dame29%

Source: US News

Specialized Program Access

Various services and opportunities are available for underrepresented minority students who wish to pursue a postsecondary education or are already working on their respective degree programs.

In many instances, minorities can obtain support in the college selection process tailored to their needs.

Harvard University, as an example, has the Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program (UMRP), which is designed to provide underrepresented middle and high school students information about the Ivy League’s application process.

Getting support does not begin and end with choosing a college and applying to it, though.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for instance, has the Office of Minority Education (OME), whose mission is to promote academic excellence and build strong communities among underrepresented minority students.

Meanwhile, the Career Services of Arizona State University offers various resources and opportunities for students of color, from campus clubs and organizations for networking prospects to job market insights.

Scholarship Opportunities

Minority students are more likely to come from low-income families than most other groups of students.

As such, for most of them, the availability of financial aid is one of the major factors that affect their ability to attend college.

To encourage them to apply to college, many scholarships are designed to help them pay for their postsecondary learning.

The University of Washington Tacoma, for instance, lists a number of scholarship opportunities available for different students who fall under the underrepresented minority group.

As an example, there’s the Legal Opportunity Scholarship for first-year law students, the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans for kids of immigrants, and the Point Foundation Scholarship for LGBT students.

Cons of Being an Underrepresented Minority Student

Prejudice and Discrimination

A more diverse college campus has fewer students who believe that their peers are prejudiced.

Unfortunately for underrepresented minority students at institutions where they are, well, underrepresented, they may feel isolated and marginalized, which can interfere with their being well-rounded undergraduates and reaping academic success.

A lack of diversity on campus as well as among the faculty members and teaching staff can make certain programs ineffective for minorities, including those that are specifically laid for them.

The scene, however, can vary according to the type of institution.

For instance, a study talked about in a post by Inside Higher Ed found that minority students, including first-generation college students, at two-year colleges feel like they belong so much better than their peers at four-year colleges.

Lack of Resources

We talked earlier about the fact that underrepresented minority students have plenty of scholarship prospects. Despite this, unfortunately, not a lot of them end up receiving financial assistance.

White or Caucasian students receive about 72% of all available scholarships.

On the other hand, only around 28% of minority students receive them even though they represent approximately one-third of all scholarship applicants at American colleges and universities.

There are many reasons for the low enrollment rates for underrepresented minority college students, and one of the things responsible for it is the difference in access to financial resources.

Unfamiliar Environment

Up to 30% of all college students in the US are both racial minorities and first-generation students.

With not so many equally underrepresented groups on campus and the absence of parents who are unfamiliar with working on an undergraduate degree, it’s not uncommon for many minority students to face extra challenges.

A number of them may encounter additional hardships at the outset: the college application process.

The rate of college success is also generally lower among underrepresented minority students for different reasons, including limited access to quality K-12 education which prevents them from being fully ready for college-level courses.

Impact of Your Status on College Admissions Chances

In an attempt to create a diverse community for their students, some colleges and universities in the US factor race and ethnicity as well as other traits that make an applicant underrepresented in the admissions process.

Truth be told, many of them also offer special programs and activities for prospective and college attendees.

While highly valued, your being an underrepresented minority student alone is not your ticket to getting into your dream college — you will still need to have a strong application overall, especially when applying to a selective institution.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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