Diversity v. Merit
I believe that a discussion of race, ethnicity, and other diversity factors in the application process is essential to helping an applicant decide whether he or she will be admitted. So before I begin the substance of this section, I'm going to say a few words about my philosophy on speaking the unspeakable.
Every law school I know of uses the “party” model of admissions in some form. Even with the new "World Series" model, there's an understanding that people with diversity help the team. The result is that people with diversity to offer can be accepted with lower GPAs and LSAT scores than people without diversity -- “mainstream” applicants. But virtually none of the law schools will discuss it. This lack of information hurts both mainstream and diversity applicants.
So, in an effort to correct this problem, I shall now boldly go where no person has gone before.
The Ethnic Advantage
I've heard a lot of people saying, "I know my numbers are weak, but since I'm Asian..." Or, conversely, "No fair! If I were black..." So let's try this again.
The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges--and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates, by Daniel Golden, Crown Publishers, (Random House), New York 2006, shows that far more mainstream students are admitted for reasons other than numerical merit. Or if you need more convincing, try reading The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, by Jerome Karabel, Houghton Mifflin Co., 2005. For specific examples, read my section on maximizing rewards in the admissions process.
Conversely, race is not a magic wand -- abracadabra, you're in! Not anyplace, not ever. On the other hand, race is an easy place to look for disadvantage.
I could give dozens of anecdotes here. Or I could cite studies and statistics. Either way, I would lead you to the following conclusions:
The question is rarely "What race are you?" The question admissions officers ask is, "Which of those factors do you express in your app?"
If you show the admissions officers the disadvantages you've overcome and the insight you've gained, you'll have a chance of being admitted with lower numbers. If you don't, you won't.
Over the years, I've helped as many white people from extraordinary backgrounds gain admission to top schools as I have minorities. It's the background that matters, not the color.
A Second Opinion
For a look at diversity from the law school's point of view, there is no better person to explain just what "diversity" means than Sarah Zearfoss, the University of Michigan's Assistant Dean and Director of Admissions. In particular, she put to rest the idea that diversity is measured in points. For an enlightening (and entertaining) look at the admissions process, click here.
Do you know about the old one? 1950s, HUAC, Communist witch hunts? It was a real low point in American history, a time when our fears fueled the power grab of a hate-monger.
And now it's happening again.