This question is talking about the US btw

On reddit (reliable source I know), in a life tips thread, someone mentioned that if you're Asian/White, you can put yourself down as white/POC on college applications. Thus, you won't suffer any reductions in college admission chances. The poster says you're allowed to do this because the college legally can't question the validity of the race you put down. Not sure why this is, maybe it's because it's your self-identified race?

A possible reason that this is illegal is that this could be considered fraud. You are lying about your race to take advantage of a university's diversity policy for material gain (acceptance into college).

So, can you legally be charged with fraud for lying about your race, or does the redditor's defense make perfect legal sense?

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    – feetwet
    Sep 22, 2022 at 21:22

2 Answers 2


It's probably legal. This is not a sworn statement subject to perjury prosecution. Even if you can make the case that the statement is knowingly false, there is ample evidence (from colleges) that this is not a material consideration in admission. (I don't care where it actually is, that is plainly the statement that colleges make regarding race and admission). A fraudulent statement has to be material. It might violate college rules and they could conceivably throw you out for breaking the rules, if there is such a rule. Admissions materials are full of false statements. They are required by law to ask, you are not required to answer.

Actual cheating on entrance exams is actionable (as we recently discovered); it is possible that in the future it will be "discovered" that exaggerations on entrance materials is also legally actionable.

  • 2
    +1, but would your answer change in the case of an admission policy which involves positive discrimination (e.g. under Section 158 of the Equality Act 2010), where the applicant pretends to have the favored protected characteristic? It seems to me there would be an arguable case for fraud.
    – JBentley
    Sep 22, 2022 at 11:05
  • It’s probably illegal to treat the information as “material”, so a university can treat it as material but can’t claim it does because it would admit yo act illegally.
    – gnasher729
    Sep 24, 2022 at 22:18

Yes it’s illegal, but …

First, we will deal with the easy bit: if you knowingly employ deception (stating something on the application that you don’t believe is true) in order to receive an advantage (admission to college), then that is most definitely fraud.

However, action against the applicant by the college or police is problematic and probably won’t be pursued.

Race in US law

Race is certainly a legal construct in US law but the statutes that use it, don’t define it. It is therefore for the courts to define it in the context of the particular case according to current societal understanding.

This is a pretty thorough overview.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine define race as “a complex concept and viewed as a subjective social construct based on observed or ascribed characteristics that have acquired socially significant meaning.”In other words, race is socially defined by grouping people into distinct groups based on real or stereotyped physical features (e.g., skin color, hair texture).

Most likely for college admission is this self-referential definition.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) define race and color as they relate to discrimination:

Race discrimination involves treating someone (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because he/she is of a certain race or because of personal characteristics associated with race (such as hair texture, skin color, or certain facial features). Color discrimination involves treating someone unfavorably because of skin color complexion.


So, given that there is no objective “test” for race but merely a moving social consensus, it would be necessary for the college to prove that the persons self-identification of their race was a deliberate lie. That is, they, personally, don’t actually believe they belong to the race they self-identified.

While objective evidence that they had, before and since, not identified as that race almost certainly exists it would be difficult to find and not definitive as a person’s self impression of their race may change over time. This change could be the result of external stimuli (e.g. a DNA test or learning more about their ancestry) or it could be purely internal: they felt they were that but now they feel more like this.

Even if it was a bald faced lie (a statement of fact without belief), if the person persisted in that lie, including perjuring themselves, there is no real way to prove the lie. However, a judge or jury may still decide that they don’t believe you (whether or not you believe yourself) and find there was fraud.

  • Interesting point about self-identification. That might be slightly easier to counter in E&W at least, where a representation can be merely misleading rather than untrue, and the person making it doesn't have to believe that it is misleading but merely that it might be misleading. So for example if a person self identifies as a race but knows that other people are unlikely to see it that way, that might fall within "the person making [the representation] knows that [it] might be [...] misleading." of the Fraud Act 2006, s 2(2).
    – JBentley
    Sep 23, 2022 at 8:51
  • On the other hand, a person who genuinely self-identifies as the race might not meet the "dishonestly" element of s 2(1) even if they know the representation might be misleading.
    – JBentley
    Sep 23, 2022 at 8:59
  • In practice, I suspect prosecutors/claimants would seek evidence of intention to defraud, e.g. telling a friend of your brilliantly diabolical scheme, or posting about it on the internet.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 26, 2022 at 13:58

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