Affirmative Action: What Will Change in MBA Admissions?

affirmative action

As you may have heard, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) recently ruled that affirmative action in college admissions is unconstitutional. Therefore, U.S. colleges may not use race as a factor in their decision-making process. This ruling will impact every student regardless of ethnicity. As with any major change, MBA aspirants should plan and adjust their application approach.  Here, we’ll share our insights on the following:

  • Initial reactions 
  • The new reality
  • Predicting changes ahead

Initial Reactions to the SCOTUS Ruling on Affirmative Action

We’ve seen a surge of opinions and questions about the fallout of the SCOTUS ruling among MBA applicants. In particular, many applicants who feel adversely affected by the ruling seem to follow advice that either relies on a “Let’s pretend nothing has changed” mindset or the “Let’s lean heavy into my race in my essays” approach. 

affirmative action

At the same time, we’re hearing that organizations specifically designed to help under-represented minority MBA applicants are advising applicants that their admit chances are now stronger than ever because of their explicit affiliation with minority outreach groups. 

Most are trying to search for ways to circumvent the SCOTUS decision. In a recent Zoom discussion at Harvard Law, Harvard professors concluded that if applicants can speak to how race has impacted them in their essays, that should be a sufficient signal to MBA programs seeking diverse students.

The Court’s ruling reads that “nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.”

These professors imply that discussing race in essays is fine even now that we’re in a race-agnostic admissions process. After all, SCOTUS determined that colleges may no longer explicitly consider race in their admissions processes. However, a race-related essay response is not at odds with the new mandate. 

affirmative action

What are Universities Saying?

Higher education institutions have contributed to mounting uncertainties on this issue. On the one hand, they’re reasserting their commitment to attracting a diverse student class. At the same time, they claim they will follow the law, even though these sentiments appear to contradict each other.

“In the weeks and months ahead, drawing on the talent and expertise of our Harvard community, we will determine how to preserve, consistent with the Court’s new precedent, our essential values,” a statement from Harvard University leadership read.

“To our students, faculty, staff, researchers, and alumni—past, present, and future—who call Harvard your home, please know that you are, and always will be, Harvard,” they wrote. “Nothing today has changed that.”

Naturally, intentions are good all around with institutions and organizations. “Everything will be okay, don’t worry…” has also been the reaction across-the-board among MBA admissions professionals. But will everything be okay?

One MBA applicant asked us, “In the worst case scenario where schools decide to throw out all diverse and equitable approaches to forming the incoming class, would I no longer be competitive enough because my relatively lower test score is not offset by my race?”

Understanding the New Reality

An empathetic approach is needed as emotions and sensitivities run high.  A recent MBA applicant wrote to us saying, “I perceive this as an attempt to silence voices like mine. Embracing students from diverse backgrounds in terms of sex/gender, race, and experiences allows for a richer tapestry of perspectives in the classroom.

“Furthermore, it offers individuals like myself an opportunity to gain admission to esteemed institutions, despite potentially lacking the same access to resources as others. Throughout my journey, I have consistently grappled with feelings of inadequacy, doubting my worthiness for admission into prestigious programs at elite institutions. This remains an ongoing struggle for me.”

“Now, with the removal of affirmative action, I cannot help but feel uncertain about my prospects of attending a top-tier MBA program,” shared another concerned MBA applicant.

SBC’s Take on the Issue

Stacy Blackman stands in solidarity with the many feeling dismayed by the new ruling. “The SCOTUS decision has undone decades of incremental progress toward fixing the wrongs of systemic discrimination and imbalances from early education years and dismantles a critical component of racial justice,” she says.

While it’s tempting to hope for easy application workarounds in this new race-agnostic reality, we must acknowledge that the decision will have a significant impact on the MBA admissions landscape. Before this ruling came down, we believe that race was likely weighted equal to each of the other application inputs (e.g., GPA weighed the exact same as race), so the weighing and coding of application criteria without race altogether will be very different.

On a recent Poets & Quants podcast, the speakers shared, “We are not in a race-blind society, and the bigger issue of underlying discrimination that has been built into our education system can’t possibly be addressed without some sort of affirmative action.”

We also acknowledge that there are proponents of the decision who view affirmative action itself as discriminatory and favoring certain racial and ethnic groups over others at the detriment of Asian and white students.

“SBC is committed to advancing representation at MBA programs of those who are disadvantaged or discriminated against and will continue to support those MBA applicants wholeheartedly and through pro bono initiatives within our SBC Gives Back program,” says Blackman.

“Building diverse and inclusive student populations is essential to the quality of learning for all. We live and work in a global, diverse world. We remain a steadfast champion of preparedness and equity in higher education and beyond.” —Stacy Blackman

“Through our work in uncovering the authentic stories and personal journeys for each of our clients, we will continue striving to affirm, uplift, and celebrate the range of voices and experiences for all that make up the MBA applicant pool,” Blackman adds.

But, we have to move beyond statements and emotions to get to the tactical predictions.

Predicting Changes Ahead

affirmative action

1) Goodbye to the checkboxes 

The race and ethnicity checkboxes should disappear on MBA applications moving forward. With the litigious system our colleges are now enduring, we predict these checkboxes will disappear entirely from the application forms. 

Those checkboxes were the reason why SCOTUS overturned the lower court rulings because the plaintiffs were able to demonstrate clear disparities according to race and test scores. Colleges will need to minimize data-driven liabilities moving forward. When the race and ethnicity checkboxes are removed from applications, analytical reports that show how race reliance violates the equal protection clause cannot be generated.

2) Incremental decline in diversity

We can look to California’s public school system, which enacted a ban on affirmative action in 1996, to predict that underrepresented minority student representation at top MBA programs may decrease moving forward. An illustrative chart follows below.

Further, within this specific case, the defendant, Harvard University, stated in court materials, “…if Harvard were to abandon race-conscious admissions, African American and Hispanic representation would decline by nearly half. Such declines would seriously undermine Harvard’s educational goals.”… “Diversity in college is vital to preparing individuals to work and participate as citizens in a pluralistic democracy. Americans have come to view diversity as integral to learning and to trust the path to leadership is open to all.”

We predict that overly-strategic lawyers will keep an eye on whether diversity drops by “half,” as Harvard stated in court materials, as a way of assessing compliance with the Supreme Court ruling.

3) A shift in focus to socioeconomic status

The consensus is that higher education will now pay closer attention to socioeconomic status in this race-agnostic admissions world. Ironically, the plaintiffs, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), claimed in their case that socioeconomic status is a more fair predictor of a student’s upbringing and opportunities than race. For example, SFFA claimed that Harvard admitted more than twice as many non-disadvantaged African American applicants as “disadvantaged” African American applicants under previous race-preference practices. 

But, socioeconomic background measures are not currently part of the MBA application process. They’re also harder to capture for MBA applicants since they are usually seven-plus years out from their childhood home. Current and previous salary has always been part of the MBA application and may provide clues to the MBA admissions teams, as does undergraduate and high school type, location, and caliber.

“HBS Admissions looks to see how far you have come, relative to what you have been given,” explains a former HBS Admissions Officer on the SBC team.

Growth and resilience, personally and professionally, over time is a proxy, as well. Other proxies will include first-generation college status, geographic exposure and/or citizenship attributes.

One of the former HBS Admissions Officers who now works on our SBC team reflected on her time reviewing applications, saying, “The class demographics certainly shift over a period of time, sometimes driven by HBS priorities. External factors can also drive demographic shifts.”

How MBA Applicants Can Prepare

There’s no doubt that the recent SCOTUS decision striking down affirmative action will place more emphasis on an applicant’s personal story. Going forward, candidates should focus on exploring the nuances of their identity, inspirations, challenges, and lessons learned. There has never been just one single application bucket, such as race alone, that is a dealmaker. 

Top MBA programs have always valued a multi-faceted human experience paradigm for MBA admissions—long before the SCOTUS decision came down. The dimensional structure of our SBC system has allowed our clients to earn the admit by sharing how their own backgrounds, perspectives, lived experiences, and quality of character matter and predict their contributions to the higher education student class. 

If you identify with a race or ethnicity that previously benefited from Affirmative Action, make sure to define the unique ways race has influenced your choices and predict your potential. If you identify with a race or ethnicity that was hindered by Affirmative Action, double down on what makes you special. All candidates should double down on their own unique story and holistic application positioning.  

Finally, get started and get inspired by themes of your life by taking a look at the seven factors for admissions success for our clients who received admits to both HBS and the GSB.


As you navigate the post-affirmative action application landscape, consider engaging with Stacy Blackman Consulting. We offer multiple services to meet your MBA application needs, from our All-In Partnership to test prep to hourly help with targeted tasks. Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant. 

SBC’s star-studded consultant team is unparalleled. Our clients benefit from current intelligence that we receive from the former MBA Admissions Officers from Harvard HBS, Stanford GSB and every elite business program in the US and Europe.  These MBA Admissions Officers have chosen to work exclusively with SBC.

Just two of the many superstars on the SBC team:
Meet Erin, who was Assistant Director of MBA Admissions at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) and Director of MBA Admissions at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

Meet Andrea, who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at Harvard Business School (HBS) for over five years.

Tap into this inside knowledge for your MBA applications by requesting a consultation.


(323) 934-3936

Latest Blog Post

Friends Can Help Review Your Application Materials—If They Limit Well-Meaning Advice

As Round 1 deadlines near, you’ll probably consider asking a trusted friend or family member to review your application materials. At some point, you’ll have read your responses so many times that errors will ...