Various little factors can make your application stand out in the application pool. The most commonly discussed “carrot” is minority status. This applies to students who are minorities in the college admissions pool. This includes, for the most part, Hispanics, African-Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans. Most schools do not have quotas for the number of applicants they would like from each ethnic group. However, it is commonly known and accepted that colleges will favor a URM over a non-URM in the admissions process if all other factors are equal. The important thing to remember here is that URM’s are only favored in instances where all other factors are equal. Many people ask why such a system exists, and the short answer is that it is used to foster diversity on campus. However, some argue that this hurts the other applicants and gives some applicants an unfair advantage. The Supreme Court considered these arguments in 2013, and they upheld that Affirmative Action, which is what under represented minority recruitment is called, was a constitutionally sound policy. The important thing here is not that it is a hotly debated issue, but that it is a policy that is in place.
There is nothing you can do to make yourself more or less of a URM. It is better to ere on the side of the truth, even when it comes to small things. If you had one great-great grandfather who was part Native American, it doesn’t make sense to put yourself down as Native American. However, if you have a grandparent, or parent who is Native American mention it along with the other ethnic backgrounds you have.