Changes in Response to Recent Supreme Court Decision in the Cases of Harvard and North Carolina

The recent Supreme Court decisions in the Harvard and UNC cases have important implications for graduate admission at the University of Iowa. This page provides an overview of some of the important changes to graduate admissions at the University of Iowa resulting from the SCOTUS decision during the 2023-2024 academic year. Additional guidance will be periodically provided to graduate programs throughout the fall 2023 semester. Specific questions can be directed to gradcoll@uiowa.edu.

The University of Iowa remains fully committed to promoting access to high-quality, inclusive learning environments for all graduate students. We seek to recruit and retain students with a wide range of perspectives and life experiences to graduate school at Iowa.

We have carefully reviewed the Supreme Court decision.  It is essential that we remain true to Iowa's values while also ensuring that our practices and policies fully comply with all applicable federal and state laws. Recognizing that graduate programs are preparing to commence admissions consideration for the Fall 2024 incoming class, we would like to provide specific guidance with regard to the following critically important aspects of graduate education:

Overview of Changes

Application Changes

After careful consideration, and in line with the approach adopted by many of our BTAA peers, the Office of the Provost and General Counsel, along with the Graduate College, have asked Graduate Admissions to mask applicants’ race and ethnic information on graduate applications.. This information will still be collected, e.g., for institutional reporting purposes, but it will not be available through MAUI Admissions Online as part of departmental admissions considerations.  This change will help the University of Iowa conform to the prohibition on the use of "race for race's sake" in the admissions process. 

Also new this year, the Graduate College is working with Provost and General Counsel Offices to develop four new, short-answer, questions for the grad app (graduate application for admissions).  These questions will be designed to solicit statements from students on how their lived and educational experiences have shaped their academic and personal journeys, and helped them prepare for graduate school.  This initiative is in line with the Court's determination that admission consideration must be grounded in students' character attributes.   

To help ensure that students understand the importance of communicating the ways in which their experiences and backgrounds have helped to prepare them for success in graduate school, and that they can effectively and appropriately communicate this information to admissions committees, the Graduate College adapted these four, short-answer, questions from those implemented by colleagues at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.  These questions will be included in all graduate applications for students entering in Fall 2024.

New Application Questions

The four questions and instructions for answering them are:

Thank you for considering graduate study at the University of Iowa.  We want to make sure that you have every opportunity to tell us about your interest in the Iowa graduate program to which you are applying. The questions below provide all applicants with the opportunity to share additional context on their academic, personal, or professional background as well as their preparation for a specific program. Iowa admissions committees want to understand how your academic and lived experiences have shaped you for success in graduate school.

Each of these questions is optional. If you have addressed these topics sufficiently elsewhere in your materials, or one or more question(s) is irrelevant to your application, you may skip any or all of them.  Each response is limited to 200-350 words.

1. Please describe any experiences (including successes and/or challenges) that have shaped your educational journey and/or personal development.  

2. Please share how your insights and experiences would contribute to an inclusive community of belonging and success in which students with an array of perspectives, backgrounds, abilities, and experiences can learn and collaborate productively and positively.

3. Please address any concerns you may have in your application. If, for example, you do not believe that your academic credentials demonstrate your true capabilities, please explain why. Also, describe any gaps in your academic career and work experience, or any extenuating circumstances in your profile of which the admissions committee should be made aware.  

4. If there is anything that you would like to highlight that you have yet to discuss in other areas of the application, please do so here. 

Admissions Committee Requirement

To help ensure that applications are being reviewed by faculty with a range of perspectives and expertise, programs will be required to have a formal admissions committee that includes at least three faculty members. The Graduate College also recommends that, where committees divide the overall pool of applications among faculty to make the review process more manageable, that every application be reviewed by at least two members of the committee.

It is important that every committee includes members with an understanding of the implications of the Supreme Court decision and changes for this fall.  To this end, one member of each committee will be required complete a brief overview about the Supreme Court decision and its implications for graduate admissions. Committee members who have taken the training will advise the whole committee regarding the Court's interpretation of the law in the admission context.  This module will be made available to all members of admissions committees early in the fall semester.

Most departments on campus have long relied upon admissions committees to promote fairness and consistency in the in the review of applications, so any changes offered in the wake of the SCOTUS decision may have limited impact. They will, however, ensure the consistent adoption of these important and widely recognized best practices in graduate admissions across University of Iowa graduate programs.

Applications to Graduate Programs

At Iowa, MAUI Admissions Online is overseen by Graduate Admissions.  In partnership with Graduate Admissions, the Graduate College is leading the campus response to the SCOTUS decision.   

Many aspects of the application process remain unchanged from previous years. One significant change, however, is the adoption of a series of short-answer questions that will now be included in all graduate applications, beginning in Fall 2023.

These questions are designed to help prompt students to share the ways in which their lived experiences have helped to prepare them for graduate school and to help them understand what information about their own backgrounds and preparation graduate admissions committees need to best understand the range of skills, expertise, and perspectives that they would bring to graduate education at Iowa. They are designed to make the admissions process and the criteria that graduate programs use more transparent and accessible for all perspective students.

These questions will be automatically included in the MAUI Grad App used by many programs. Programs that subscribe to a vended or other third-party admissions systems will be required to incorporate these questions into their admissions system. Any programs that do not believe this will be possible for this upcoming admissions cycle should contact the Graduate College as soon as possible.

Application Review & Decisions

The recent Supreme Court decisions in the cases of SFFA v. Harvard and SFFA v. UNC prohibit the consideration of "race for race's sake." While the full decision provides more detailed guidance on what is and isn't permissible, in general:

  • It is not permissible to consider an applicant's race, in itself, as a factor—positively or negatively—in an admissions decision. While applicants' reported race and ethnicity will not be transmitted to admissions committees, applicants are still free to share information about their racial or ethnic identity in their personal statements. Even where applicants choose to share this information, admissions committees may not consider race independently as a factor for or against selection.
  • It is permissible to consider a race-neutral but identity-related accomplishment or experience as a factor in making admissions decisions. If, for instance, a student has taken on a leadership role in a Black fraternity or organized a mentoring program through a student group focusing on promoting diversity in STEM, admissions committees may consider this information as evidence of students' involvement, engagement, leadership, or preparation for graduate school.
  • It is similarly permissible to consider applicants' personal statement stories about confronting or overcoming identity-based challenges such as racial discrimination as evidence of applicants' perseverance and determination or as an explanation of possible concerns in an applicant's undergraduate record.

We encourage admissions committees to discuss this guidance and to adhere to it strictly within their conversations. Committees may also find it helpful to clearly establish a holistic rubric in advance of their review of applications to make sure that members of the admissions committee are aligned about the criteria they are using for reviewing applications and to cultivate a shared understanding of the attributes programs are looking for in their graduate students. Examples of these rubrics drawn from other Big Ten Academic Alliance institutions, and further guidance on implementing them, and other elements of a holistic admissions process can be found within the admissions toolkit that will be made available to committee members in the first half of the fall semester.

If you have questions, please don't hesitate to reach out for guidance or clarification.

Resources for Programs

Admissions Toolkit

A task force drawn from across the Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA) is currently developing an admissions toolkit that will provide guidance for admissions committees as they recruit and admit students. The Iowa iteration of this toolkit will be housed in an ICON site that will be accessible to all members of graduate admissions committees yet this fall semester.  To request access to the tookit, complete this request form.

The toolkit will contain detailed guidance on topics including:

  • Details and implications of the recent Supreme Court decisions in SFFA v. Harvard and SFFA v. UNC.
  • Admissions Committee Best Practices
  • International Applicant Considerations
  • Interviewing Best Practices
  • Recruiting Applicants & Building Your Applicant Pool
  • Examples of Holistic Admissions Rubrics
  • Offer Letters Best Practices

These resources will provide departments with additional information and guidance as they work, under new interpretation of the law, to navigate this first admission cycle to recruit and admit high-quality applicants with a wide range of experiences, backgrounds, and intellectual interests.

Members of admissions committees identified in programs' response to the Graduate College's Admissions Practices Survey will automatically be added to the ICON site but other faculty and staff may also request access.

September DGS Meeting

To help programs understand how to effectively respond to the changes necessitated by the recent Supreme Court rulings, the Graduate College has invited two experts from the Rackham Graduate School at the University of Michigan to share their experiences and insights at the September DGS meeting (Wednesday, September 6th).  Assistant Dean and DEI Implementation Lead, Ethriam Brammer, and Associate Dean, Dr. Anna Mapp, will share their expertise.

Their presentation, "Graduate Admissions after SFFA: Integrating Evidence-Based, Race-Neutral Holistic Admissions Practices” will be open to the campus community, and we encourage all available members of graduate admissions committees to attend. More information and details are available on our DGS meetings page.

The link for the DGS meeting is https://uiowa.zoom.us/j/92478717728. A HawkID and password will be required to access the meeting.

Survey of Admissions Practices

To help the Graduate College understand how best to support graduate programs as they navigate changes to the admissions landscape, the Graduate College will be surveying all departments about their current admissions practices. This survey will help The Graduate College and our partners to understand the range and frequency of admissions practices like interviews and holistic admissions rubrics. It will also allow us to highlight and share promising practices that individual programs have found effective.

Directors of Graduate Study will receive an email with a link to the survey and additional details and we ask that they or another department representative complete the survey by Friday, September 1st.

We will use this information going forward to help provide additional resources and guidance for departments and to help facilitate collaboration and the exchange of ideas between programs.

Fellowships & Funding

Guidance about recruitment fellowships and the impacts of the Supreme Court ruling on funding are still being finalized. Please check back soon or reach out to gradcoll@uiowa.edu with specific questions or concerns.

Recruitment & Mentoring Programs

Guidance about recruitment and mentoring programs and the impacts of the Supreme Court decision is still being finalized. Please check back soon or reach out to gradcoll@uiowa.edu with specific questions or concerns.