Key Takeaways

  • 34% of white Americans who applied to colleges or universities admit to lying about being a racial minority on their application
  • 48% of people who lied claimed to be Native American
  • 3/4 of people who faked being a racial minority on their applications were accepted by the colleges to which they lied

Every year, aspiring college students complete admissions applications, with the hopes that their grades, extracurriculars, and recommendations will lift them above the pack, and earn them acceptance at the school of their choice.

However, some college applicants are misrepresenting their race in an effort to use their desired school’s diversity efforts to gain admission, or obtain more financial aid.

Intelligent.com asked 1,250 white college applicants ages 16 and older if they lied on their application by indicating they were a racial minority.

34% of white applicants falsely claimed to be a minority on their application

The survey found that 34% of white Americans who’ve applied to college falsely claimed on their applications they’re a racial minority.

The number one reason why applicants faked minority status is to improve their chances of getting accepted (81%). Fifty percent also lied to benefit from minority-focused financial aid.

Men are three times as likely than women to lie about their race on a college application. Forty-eight percent of male respondents claimed to be a minority on their college application, compared to just 16% of female applicants.

Lying also varies by age groups, with 43% of people 35-44 years old, and 41% of 16-24 year-olds admitting to faking a racial minority status when applying to college.

Those rates are lower for 25-34 year-olds (31%); 45-54 year-olds (28%), and people 54 and older (13%).

Native American most popular minority status to claim

Nearly half of all respondents who lied about their minority status (48%) identified themselves as Native American on their applications.

Thirteen percent claimed to be Latino, 10% claimed to be Black, and 9% claimed to be Asian or Pacific Islander.

Twice as many men as women claimed Native American heritage on their applications (54% compared to 24%). Meanwhile, one in four women (24%) claimed to be Latino. Women are also more than twice as likely as men to pretend to be Black (18% compared to 8%).

According to Intelligent.com Managing Editor Kristen Scatton, the prevalence of applicants who claim Native American ancestry is possibly due to the popular narrative that for many Americans, a small percentage of their DNA comes from a Native American tribe.

“For college applicants who are trying to give their application a boost by pretending to be a racial minority, they may seize on this notion that many Americans of European descent have some Native American DNA in their bloodline,” Scatton says. “However, research has shown that’s not all that common, particularly among white Americans. But applicants are banking on the fact that no college is going to ask them to provide a DNA sample to verify.”

3/4 of students who faked minority status were accepted

Seventy-seven percent of people who claimed to be a racial minority on their applications were accepted by the colleges to which they lied.

While other factors may have played a role in their acceptance, the majority of applicants who lied and were accepted (85%) believe that falsifying their racial minority status helped them secure admission to college.

Despite the ethical and moral drawbacks, Scatton warns future applicants that trying similar ploys to increase admissions chances isn’t worth the risk.

“Lying on a college application about anything, including your race, is never a good idea,” she says. “Colleges can and will rescind admissions offers if they discover students lied during the application process.”

Methodology

All data found within this report derives from a survey commissioned by Intelligent.com and conducted online by survey platform Pollfish. In total, 1,250 white Americans were surveyed. To qualify for the survey, each respondent had to have previously applied to a college or university in the U.S. Appropriate respondents were found via a screening question. This survey was conducted on July 13, 2021. All respondents were asked to answer all questions truthfully and to the best of their abilities. For full survey data, please email Julia Morrissey at [email protected]