The Personal Statement as a Marginalizing Rhetorical Device: Merit and Racism in College Access

  • Hoang Do Pham (University of Rochester)


This paper is a literature review on the personal statement, merit, race, and racism through the application of colorblind and race-neutral policies. In an attempt to avoid racist admission policies, higher education place overwhelming emphasis on objective merits, such as grades. However, during the personal statement writing process, minoritized applicants’ expression of merit may be affected by racial inequities, experiences, and educational preparation, both consciously and unconsciously. Therefore, by excluding race, colorblind merit policies may contribute to unexpected and unintentional racism in admissions. In this paper, college-choice theory (CCT), critical race theory (CRT), and critical literacy theory (CLT) are used to interrogate colorblind merit in higher education to suggest why race is an important feature of applicants’ narratives in the personal statement context. If race is significant to applicants’ identities, then their narratives would be incomplete without it. There is a need to centralize both merit and race in personal statement research to allow education professionals to appropriately assess applicants’ statements. Reintegrating race in assessments could improve our understanding of selective college admission processes and inform recommendations to refine instruction and evaluation of applicants’ personal statement writing.

Keywords: personal statement, racially minoritized applicants, selective college admission process, college choice theory, critical race theory, critical literacy theory

How to Cite:

Pham, H. D., (2021) “The Personal Statement as a Marginalizing Rhetorical Device: Merit and Racism in College Access”, Journal of Critical Thought and Praxis 10(2). doi:

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Published on
02 Apr 2021
Peer Reviewed