Supreme Court Ruling on Affirmative Action: 4 Changes For Students


No more affirmative action? The Supreme Court ruling that occurred on June 29, 2023, marks a major change to the admissions process for both college and medical school applicants.

Let’s break down how this change will affect students and what future applicants need to know.


The Supreme Court Ruling

Affirmative action in college admissions has been around for nearly 45 years, in one form or another. These policies aim to decrease systemic discrimination and increase diversity among students through direct or indirect means.

For example, direct affirmative action policies assign a certain number of seats each year to underrepresented students, such as Black and Hispanic applicants, even if their applications are weaker than those of overrepresented students, like White and Asian applicants.

Indirect policies still benefit these groups but are subtler. For example, giving priority to Spanish speaking students. While it’s very possible that White and Asian students speak Spanish, it’s more likely that Hispanic applicants do, so Hispanic applicants are indirectly given an advantage.

Affirmative action policies have long been controversial and are often far from perfect; however, they have helped certain patient populations see doctors from similar backgrounds as their own, which helps to build trust between patients and physicians.

But now things are changing.

In 2014, the SFFA, Students for Fair Admissions, a non-profit organization founded by conservative activist Edward Blum, sued both Harvard University and the University of North Carolina for unlawful discrimination against White and Asian American applicants. Several lower courts ruled in favor of each college’s policies in the almost ten years that followed.

But on June 29, 2023, in two separate decisions, the Supreme Court determined that college admission policies at Harvard and UNC that included race as a factor were unconstitutional. Therefore, it is not lawful under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. These landmark decisions have effectively ended affirmative action in college admissions.

The impact of these rulings will vary from state to state and school to school, so it’s hard to know exactly how this change will specifically affect applicants. The only thing that is certain is schools in the US cannot consider race as the sole factor in admissions decisions. Students are still permitted to address how their racial background has influenced their life and decision to pursue higher education in their personal essays, and indirect policies like favoring students who speak multiple languages are still allowed.

The New York Times reported that “Asian Americans were at the center of the Supreme Court decision against Harvard and the University of North Carolina. In both cases, the plaintiffs said that high-achieving Asian American applicants lost out to less academically qualified students.”

Increased discrimination and unfair policies against Asian applicants is something the team at Med School Insiders feels passionately about. We unpacked the uncomfortable truth surrounding affirmative action in another video. Check it out to learn more about the benefits provided by affirmative action but also the very real negative impacts of these policies. Link in the description.

With the new Supreme Court ruling, the debate about the merits of affirmative action is over, at least for now. Schools are no longer legally allowed to continue affirmative action policies, but that doesn’t mean schools will prioritize diversity any less.

Here are 4 changes you can expect to see as schools evolve their policies and priorities.


4 Changes Students Can Expect With No More Affirmative Action

Graphic - No More Affirmative Action Changes for Students

1 | Schools Will Expand Outreach Programs

The first evolution you can expect to see from schools is increased outreach and recruitment. By visiting and promoting their programs in diverse communities, schools can boost racial diversity indirectly without going against the Supreme Court’s affirmative action ruling.

Outreach in under-served communities can bring in students from areas that normally have few applicants. Schools will continue to encourage underrepresented students to still apply and not be intimidated by the removal of affirmative action policies. Despite these changes, most colleges and medical schools still consider campus diversity to be a top priority, and expanded outreach programs will reflect that.

2 | Race-Neutral Considerations Will Be Emphasized

Another way admissions will change is race-neutral considerations will have more impact, some of which may indirectly promote increased diversity. Lacking details on a student’s racial background, admissions committees will need to turn to race-neutral factors. What considerations a school prioritizes will vary from school to school based on the school’s values and what they are looking for from their students.

Possible race-neutral considerations could include prioritizing first generation college students, geographic diversity, socioeconomic status, or applicants who speak multiple languages.

Race-Neutral Considerations

By prioritizing skills, like being able to speak multiple languages, schools can indirectly promote diversity from a variety of backgrounds. Favoring first generation college students is a way schools could reduce legacy concerns while helping families at a socioeconomic disadvantage change the course of their family’s future.

3 | More Pressure to Craft Compelling Admissions Essays

Next, the personal statement and other admissions essays will become all the more important. The Supreme Court noted that the changes to affirmative action do not alter a student’s ability to highlight their diversity in their personal statement.

While this is already a space for students to highlight their unique background, schools may start considering these essays as a critical lens into a student’s diverse background. Through essay answers, schools can find applicants who will add diversity to the school campus, whether that be through race or other forms of diversity.

This will mean all students, no matter their background, will need to aim high when crafting an engaging personal statement. No, it’s not enough to plug in a few key traits and moments from your past and then ask ChatGPT to craft a personal statement for you.

As the name heavily implies, a personal statement is meant to be, well, personal. It’s something an AI writing tool can’t accomplish for you. We bring this up because it’s a hot topic for this year’s application cycle. Be warned that admissions committees are on the lookout for AI generated inauthentic personal statements. Learn more: ChatGPT and the Future of AI in Medical School Applications.

4 | Adversity Indexes May Become a Key Measurement

The next way the admissions process may evolve is adversity may become a sought-after quality in students. The broad appeal of adversity is it can cover a wide variety of situations, family circumstances, and hardships.

Adversity might include students who have struggled with a physical or learning disability, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, bullying, chronic illness, the death of a loved one, natural disasters, immigration, and so much more.

Graphic - types of adversity

President Biden specifically mentioned adversity as a new standard to evaluate applicant diversity. In a speech after the Supreme Court ruling, Biden suggested the “adversity a student has overcome” be a key factor for schools, in addition to test scores and other hard metrics.

He continued by saying, and I quote, “The kid who faced tougher challenges has demonstrated more grit, more determination, and that should be a factor.”

Some schools already have adversity measurements as part of the admissions process. The UC Davis School of Medicine currently evaluates applicants based on S.E.D., a socioeconomic disadvantage index. The scale rates all applicants from zero to 99 based on their life circumstances, such as the education level of their parents and family income. Admissions decisions are then based on that score together with other metrics like test scores and interviews.

In the wake of affirmative action ending, expect more schools to develop new ways of measuring adversity as a way to build more diverse classes.


The Future of Admissions

Supreme Court Ruling for Affirmative Action Changes

Unfortunately, the end of affirmative action came about incredibly fast, which has left schools scrambling to evolve their admissions process in a very short amount of time. Keep in mind that in addition to the federal ruling, each state has different guidelines and laws in place for what schools are allowed to do when it comes to recruitment and admissions. It will ultimately be up to students to adapt to the changes and prepare for a new evolution of the admissions process.

Although there were positive aspects of affirmative action, it wasn’t all good. The Supreme Court ruling now gives schools the opportunity to reflect on their current processes and, hopefully, improve upon them. Only time will tell what changes schools will implement and what impact these changes will have on students of all backgrounds.


Applying to Medical School

When applying to medical school, no matter your background, there are so many aspects of the application process that you have total control over. Diversity is only one piece of the puzzle. You still need to achieve excellent grades, perform well on the MCAT, acquire glowing letters of recommendation, gain a variety of extracurricular experiences, and craft a compelling personal statement.

More and more schools are looking to students’ soft components to differentiate candidates. It is critical that you write a narrative-driven personal statement that adds depth to your application without repeating yourself. Each separate piece of your application should add to the overall story you’re trying to paint for admissions committee members.

These are all things our team of doctors at Med School Insiders can help you with. We have an expert team of physicians with years of admissions committee experience who can help you with everything from essay editing to crafting a compelling narrative to one-on-one advising.

We’ll help you every step of the way in crafting a stellar application that gets you noticed by your top choice schools for both your achievements and your unique background, no matter what that background is.


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