Should you include your Muslim identity on college applications? Some people fear that in our post 9-11 world, advertising Islam on an application could negatively impact the outcome. However, individuals in the process, from those who are currently applying to those who recently applied, and even those who evaluate college applications, suggest that when presenting yourself, it is best to be yourself.
Muhammad, a freshman a Johns Hopkins University (JHU), reflected on his experiences from applying for college last year, “I felt that Islam is such an integral part of my life that it can't be excluded from presenting myself, because it is part of me--and the whole point of the app is to portray yourself to the university.” Ayesha also a first year at JHU, echoed this sentiment, “For any application in which discussing my activities was relevant, I included my Islamic activities because I consider them to be as relevant activities as volunteering or tutoring.”
Toulaye, a high school senior from Maryland who just finished applying explains “I said that I was Muslim in all of my college applications and said I was a part of the MSA. It’s important that they know.”
Calvin Wise, a Senior Associate Director of Admissions at Johns Hopkins University, also shared encouraging words, “We strongly believe in the educational benefits of a diverse classroom experience.” Wise, who has read over 4,000 application essays after working in admissions for five years at two different institutions said via email, “If I were to guess, I would say that a good majority of our applicant pool includes religious activities within their application.”
If including religion is normal according to admissions officers, then why do some of us think twice about listing Muslim on an application? Ayesha, remembers, “I did ask my friends and family about whether or not to include my Islamic activities in my application, but I received many mixed answers.”
Prejudice against Muslims exists. The Public Religion Institute found in 2011 that nearly half of Americans believe that Islam is at odds with American values. However, it is our responsibility to change this perception through action. The current prejudice stems from misunderstandings, and Muhammad, the freshman at JHU viewed his application also as a teaching opportunity. When asked if he felt that his Muslim identity would influence the college admissions decision, he answered, “Yes. I was not sure how it would affect it only that someone who is religious might pique admissions' interests, especially a Muslim. I believe that there is such a lack of understanding of what Islam truly is and preaches, so people are genuinely interested in what it actually is and therefore will want to look into the subject matter more out of curiosity.”
Ultimately, it is up to you whether or not you want to reveal your Muslim identity on an application. If Islam gives your life meaning, this passion will come through, and make your application stand out. Many of us also stand out already without extra words—a name like “Muhammad” or a hijab during an interview presents a Muslim identity, and that is something to wear with pride and humility. Islam commands helping the poor, spreading peace, protecting the environment, and seeking knowledge, not as extracurricular activities, but as tenets of faith.
So when you list volunteer experiences, school clubs, academic achievements, and sports awards, it will not hurt to share the deeper reason that drives you to success everyday. In fact, it may help. According to Wise, at Johns Hopkins, “We strive to enroll the most diverse class possible.”
May Allah guide all Muslim high school seniors into the best colleges where they will serve as messengers of Islam through action. Ameen.