What Ethnicity Should I Report in My Application?

Business School AdmissionsRecently we received this question from an applicant who will apply to top-ten MBA programs this year:

I have a mixed heritage. My mother is Indian and my father is white. In my applications, should I list myself as white or Indian? My name doesn’t sound Indian… Will it hurt my chances if they figure out that I’m part Indian?

In short, no it won’t hurt your chances. Not as much as this applicant thinks, anyway. Admissions officers are definitely not on a witch hunt to try to keep out every applicant that comes from a certain background. Beyond that, let’s take a step back and talk a little about how race factors into the business school admissions process. While no one can argue with a straight face that race plays zero role in the admissions process, applicants tend to overestimate or misjudge how their ethnic background or nationality will affect their chances.


Many applicants — especially those who have the bad luck of coming from an overrepresented group — tend to assume that admissions officers start with “Let’s see… Oh God, another Indian / white male / investment banker / whatever. Next.” This is definitely not how it’s done. It’s much more like this: “Wow, impressive work experience, GMAT score looks good, undergrad GPA is decent, realistic career goals… I think I’ll take a closer look at everything else.”

It’s not a linear process, and it never starts with your race or your sex. Yes, all thing being equal (which they NEVER are), you are better off being a female from South America than a male from India, simply because there are so many of the latter applying to top MBA programs that it’s harder to stand out. That’s not going to change as long as schools stay committed to preventing any one group (no matter how you define that group) from overwhelming the classroom.

But, it still matters less than you think, not because MBA programs are so politically correct and fair, but because they’re far more obsessed with finding high-potential applicants who will go on to do a lot of good in the world, build successful careers, and make a lot of money. That mission is far more important than finding applicants who aren’t too white, too Indian, or too whatever.

So, to that applicant, we say that there’s not much to be gained from trying to hide his ethnicity, especially if it means misrepresenting himself on his application. If he feels more comfortable identifying himself as white than Indian, that’s fine, but he’ll probably be disappointed with how little of an impact that decision will have on his application. All of what he’s accomplished in the last seven years (since he started building an undergraduate transcript) matters much, much more.

Thinking of applying to business school this year? Give us a call at (800) 925-7737 and speak with one of our business school admissions experts today. And, as always, be sure to subscribe to this blog and follow us on Twitter!

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