History of the Admissions Application

Today I’m sharing and interesting piece from the NYT that chronicles the history of the college application.

While I think the Common Application (with a whopping 517 colleges and universities participating) cuts down the anxiety of having to fill out multiple forms to apply to schools, I do remember my former admissions dean complaining that the ease of applying drives up applications from students who may not be competitive for that school. This year, the application is fraught with controversy, as the article mentions, because of technical errors and glitches. What you don’t want is hundreds of thousands of stressed out high school students and their parents complaining about glitches in the system that can delay or cancel an application! Good luck to the schools out there dealing with that…! Thanks to the NYT for the graphic below:

It’s the one month countdown for the Jan 1 deadline for most Regular Decision schools! Good luck!  Image


Reader Response: Educational Attainment in the Hmong Community

Today I want to share a heartfelt letter from a young Hmong woman who explains the lack of educational attainment in her community. Since I worked closely with the Hmong community at Stanford, and I was able to do recruitment programs in Fresno, Sacramento, and other Central Valley cities, I was really interested in her perspective. I think that the lack of peers and adults with higher educational degrees can be a limiting factor for students, and I hope that universities understand that in order to break that cycle, they have to be very aggressive about recruiting talented students from these communitites.

I read your article, “Highly Qualified Students from Low-Income Backgrounds Don’t Apply to Top Colleges”. It reminded me how frustrated I felt when my high school senior baby sister wanted to stay home and go to a community college for a “Nursing” degree because the mentality that “it is not where you attend school, it is how hard you work and how you utlilize your degree”. That mentality is dangerous considering her applying for the Gate Millenium Scholarship.


I asked her, “You are applying for the Gate Scholarhsip and you want to use that fund to go to an over-crowded community college?” She said yes and my parents and my other siblings supported her decision. Here is a kid who is graduating valedictorian, who have such a promising college career but her thought is, “Other people got their degree here, so why not do the same?” She doesn’t understand the world consist of a lot more than a brain drained town.


I agree that in the Hmong community, if one sibling get accepted to a high caliber school then the younger siblings will follow suit. Part of my frustration is that I wasn’t that sibling; I could have but I didn’t aim that far because of the fear that I didn’t want to burden my parents with the debt of attending such high caliber university with a big tuition. There was no one to hold my hands when I was a high senior. But I am here telling her she can do better than a overcrowded university or some burned out university that is cutting classes and prolonging graduation. The response I get is, “Why didn’t you do it then?” Because I didn’t do so; therefore, she think she don’t have to as well.


Other people come to the defense of her decision by saying, “I  went to a community college; those UC kids, they’re not all that! They’re pretty stupid too, you know”, which is beyond the point why I push her to attend anything else either than a community college. I grew up in an environment in which if you have a high school degree or a doctorate then people will bash you for not knowing anything because you only have a high school degree, or being a “smart ass” because you have doctorate degree. And because of stories about young Hmong folks who go off to big universities and come right back to this town to work at the fields instead of being a doctor or a lawyer. Or come back and tell people here the way we live here is wrong because they got to induldge in culture unlike here where the Hmong population is big and stigmas are strong. That really discourage people to seek more because if it is going to turn them into ignorant brats then they don’t want to go there and spend that much money. That instill a mentality that if you see that there are folks who aren’t successful by attending a high caliber university then you don’t have to go there because even people who went there aren’t successful; therefore, it is not the school but the person.


But I see it differently. It is the school that provide the resources and people that one needs to have in order to be successful. It is the school: either you attend one where you constantly fight for classes or where you know you will have a spot in the classroom. She can go where she can meet people who will push her to be successful or stay here and kind of just hang out like all of us here. I feel like a mother who push the child to do something I couldn’t accomplish but it is for her own good. I an older child and I didn’t have a sibling as my personal driver or bank account when I was in high like how she have me and my older siblings as her driver and bank. It is so frustraing and disheartening, it make me sad. Until someone in the family go out and beats the odds and prove everything that had been said about going away to a high caliber university is wrong; until someone break that old mentality that as long as you have a degree then you will be fine in life (employers still care about where you attend school); then everyone will just keep following the same path.


My boyfriend is the same. He wanted to attend [A High Calibe University] for their great English Department but he changed his mind that he don’t want to study English anymore; he want to be a [another degree] so he will settle for his local university. That is not bad but when given the top 10 choices for him to pick from, he said he don’t want to because it is cheap to go to the local school, even though he will be transferring out from the community college with honors and a GI Bill package. Money is not the problem here. The problem is people are too well rooted where they are. But he is bright enough to tell me, “You don’t want me to stay here because you don’t want me to be rooted here just like you. You don’t want me to get stuck here in this small town just like you.” OF COURSE. Plus, he is the youngest child and he don’t need to stay home and work to provide for his family. Everyone else can take care of themselves so why is he limited himself?


My suggestion is to break the poor man’s mentality that he should be complacent with what he have. If we are all complacent with what we have, our people and our community will not advance. High school counselors are not trained to do that. They were trained to tell us how to apply for college. They don’t know why we think any college is good enough for us. Rick Santorum said people shouldn’t attend college, they just need to work hard. The reason is he don’t want other people competing with him – he don’t want young poor colored kids to learn about working smart where you don’t have to shed a sweat, competing with him for equal power and money. We are just going along with it when we settle for last.”

Thank you so much for sharing your perspective, and I hope that as educational professionals, family members, and community leaders, we are able to support our young people reach their highest goals for education.

Do you have comments that you’d like to share with this reader or me? Please write at us at asian.am.education[at]gmail[dot]com


Stanford University’s Hmong student group used to help with recruitment outreach with an overnight admissions visit and workshop! It would be so wonderful if students at different univesrities could help their siblings and communitites in this way too!

To Early Or Not to Early…that is the Question…Reader Q About Stanford REA


This is a question from a young woman thinking about applying REA (Restrictive Early Action) to Stanford University:

I have another question for you… I’m considering applying Restrictive Early Action to Stanford this fall. I know that I would be really happy there, and it is the only school I am considering applying early to, yet I’m not sure that Stanford is my first-choice college right now. I understand that Early Action is not binding. Do you know if applying early affects acceptance rates at Stanford? The percentage accepted seems to be higher for Early Decision applicants than Regular Decision applicants at many schools, but I don’t know if this trend holds true for Stanford as well. If applying early could increase chances to get into Stanford, then I will likely go for it, but if not then I will consider applying Regular Decision and using that extra time to continue strengthening my application.”

My Response:

Sounds great that you are considering Stanford. Having worked there for two years (and I grew up in the area because my mom went there), I can tell you it’s a beautiful campus, and people are really bright and happy and seem to have balance in life there! Always a good sign.
I am happy to discuss REA at Stanford – the deal is that only about 7-8% of students are admitted overall to Stanford from a pool of 34K applicants. The truth is that if you look at the stats, more people get in (almost double) through REA in terms of the admit statistics. So, the easy conclusion is that it is easier to be admitted through REA. The truth; however, is that it is a MUCH MORE competitive pool. The students who apply during REA are students who are SERIOUS about Stanford being their first choice, and they know that they have the strongest grades, recommendation letters, and awards and recognition from their out of school activities (having won regional or national recognition even before half of of senior year is over)…SO, what all of this means is that they have an application package that is as strong as it is by November, and they aren’t worried about having better grades by the end of first semester of senior year, and they don’t need to get to know another teacher to get a senior year instructor to write a killer recommendation letter. Therefore, the applicants that we see during the REA cycle (it goes by super quick) are SUPER strong, and stand out in the broader applicant pool. Also, Stanford defers fewer students than some of our peer schools, like Georgetown, so if you are rejected, that’s it. Does that make sense?
My recommendation is that if you think that your application is as strong as it can be by November of this year, then it is a good time to apply during REA. If you think that another debate championship, art award, regional concert for band, other volunteer activities would strengthen your application, in ADDITION to getting super strong grades for first semester your senior year, PLUS you think you want to get to know another teacher who can write you a strong recommendation…then you should wait until Regular Decision. Hope that makes sense, and let me know if you have more questions.

Also here are some official words from Stanford:

Restrictive Early Action is a non-binding early application option for students who have completed a thorough college search and are confident Stanford is their first choice.  Admission decisions are released by December 15, and admitted students have until May 1 to respond to their admission offer, which allows them to compare financial aid awards across institutions. To students who apply for financial aid, Stanford provides an estimated award at the time of admission. The application deadline for Restrictive Early Action is November 1 at 11:59 p.m. (Pacific time).

3 Possible Restrictive Early Action Admission Decisions

  1. Applicant is admitted and has until May 1 to respond to the admission offer.
  2. Applicant is denied and may not reapply for Regular Decision admission in the same year.
  3. Applicant is deferred to Regular Decision and will receive a final decision by April 1.

Stanford’s philosophy is to make final decisions whenever possible. As a result, only a small percentage of Restrictive Early Action applicants are deferred.


  • The student may apply to any foreign college/university on any application schedule.

Early Admissions Stats Up: Diverse and International Students

Happy New Year!

Today I’m sharing an article in the NYTimes about Early Admissions stats. There has been a steady increase in students taking advantage of the EA/ED/REA option and applying to colleges in November. I remember that as an admission officer, parents and students would always ask if there was any advantage to applying early. The party line (office line?) was that “No, the only advantage to the student is that they get admissions decisions early.” The more I understood the nuances of the admissions process, the more I realized that’s not the full story. Early admissions statistics are slightly higher (perhaps double the normal admit rate at a school like Stanford between 08-10), but it’s because the caliber of students were stronger in the Early pool. If you think about the students who are confident enough to apply by their senior year first semester, these students tend to be the ones that have stellar grades (and don’t have to wait on one more semester of grades to show an  upward trend) or have strong relationships with teachers that their recommendation letters will be excellent. I do remember that the pool during the Early cycle tended to have some exceptionally strong students. So, it’s advantageous to apply to a school in the Early cycle if your application is as strong as it can be, and waiting one more semester for grades or a better recommendation is unnecessary.

It’s a great trend that more diverse students are taking advantage of this option, especially when there are schools like Dartmouth that fill up almost 50% of their incoming class using Early Decision.  Schools that use ED use this method to shield against students choosing other schools during the Regular Decision process, when they are not locked down to their first choice.

Students and parents were also confused around the “Deferred” process – I believe around 10 % of the students who applied REA/ED were deferred, and the message that the school is trying to send is “We like you, but we just need more information.” This information could be more grades, another letter, more essays from you, or simply waiting to see how the rest of the applicant pool shapes up to be. We realize that making students wait from November to April is already tough, and most schools will NOT waitlist a student after a deferral. I can’t comment on all schools, but my Deferral process when I applied to Dartmouth (almost 10 years ago!) included another letter/and some phone lobbying from my guidance counselor, an additional recommendation letter, and some more essays. It was my absolute first choice, so I was so determined to show them how much I wanted to go. I would warn against “overkill,” you  DO NOT want to over do it, but I do not think it hurts to show the school that you still consider them your top choice.

Hope these are helpful insights into the Early process. As always let me know if you have any questions: asian.am.education@gmail.com


2011-2012 Common Application Launched July 31st!

For those seniors who want to get started on their applications early, the Common Application, used by 300-400 colleges and universities, launched the new application on July 31st.

You should register and start taking a look around at all of the questions asked, essay options, and what the recommendation writers will be looking for!

As a timeline, I would recommend that by Sept or Oct, you have at least a draft of your personal statement…and keep working on drafts during the fall! For those who are applying Early Decision, you need to have a essay draft ASAP. Make sure that you have taken all of the standardized tests by the required deadlines as well!

Good luck!

Application Deadlines – When to Apply?

So, as you can probably see from the half-completed status of this blog (as in…it’s still pretty much as the same as the template that I found), I am very much a novice at the concept of blogging, so I’ll keep improving it as I learn…

In any case, I want to rotate my blog posts around the topics of college admission, which I know a lot about from working in admissions, and education research/news related to the Asian American community. Diversity in schools has been a passion of mine since college, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and working in related careers. I hope that by sharing the things I’ve learned, I can help Asian American students understand their own communities better and see themselves in the national context of education. In my intro, I talk about the students who try to distance themselves from the “typical Asian” stereotype, and although I understand that it’s an attempt by young people to assert their own identity, it also makes me sad when the students take it so far as to reject their own background. I think it’s necessary to strike a balance between learning how to reject negative societal stereotypes while constructing one’s own identity.

We’ll discuss more on stereotypes and communities later…today I want to talk about the mundane, yet important topic of deadlines.

It seems like obvious news, but you have to keep in mind when your applications are due. The university where I worked received over 32,000 applicants in the last cycle, and you wouldn’t believe how many 100s of applicants tried to turn in their application after the deadline. 99% of schools will not accept your application after the deadline has passed.  The university’s response, even if you had a computer error or a storm wiped out your internet connection, is that if 32,000+ students could get their materials in on time, then you had enough time. Get your stuff in on time.

Planning college applications can take a lot of time. I would consider it as an additional class for your senior year. The summer is a great time to get started on applications, especially the personal statements and the additional essays that you may have to write. It’s a good idea to take a look at the application around this time, and familiarize yourself with all of the components (essay, recommendation letters, SAT tests, etc). If the application requires an essay, the summer before your senior year is a great time to start writing drafts.

Sticking to the topic of deadlines, make sure that you’re aware of the different types of deadlines that the school offers. For example, does the university or college offer Early Decision? Does the school have an Early Action program? If so, how many rounds does it have? Are the programs binding? Can you still apply to other schools? All of these terms, if you don’t keep them straight, can get pretty confusing. For example let’s look at two schools: Stanford and Dartmouth.

Both these schools offer a different type of “Early” program. Dartmouth’s Early Decision deadline is November 1, and if you are admitted, then you are required to attend. Under ED (Early Decision), you can’t apply to other schools early, because it means that you’ve chosen Dartmouth as your first choice. Stanford’s Restrictive Early Action deadline, also November 1, means if you’re admitted, you can still apply to other institutions.  You can’t ; however, apply to other universities under their Early programs. The word Restrictive means that you can only apply for one school. There are other programs out there like Georgetown’s Early Action program, where you can apply early to their institution, but also apply to other universities’ early programs.  The biggest advantage to applying early is that you hear back early from the schools. These programs are designed for students who know their first choice school, and they would be ecstatic to attend if admitted.

Don’t try to game the system and try to apply to more than one ED or Restrictive EA school…even though schools don’t share lists of applicants, the Deans of the universities are all professional colleagues and they talk. If you are caught, it’s possible that you will lose your position at both schools.

Regular Admissions, which for schools that are on the Common Application is January 1, is when most students apply. If you apply with this deadline, expect to hear back from a school around the beginning of April. Most schools will give you until May to decide where to enroll.

(I have to admit that I don’t know very much about Public School admissions, never having worked at a State/Public institution, so my posts will be focused on private/liberal arts colleges and universities).

If you have any questions, email me at asian.am.education@gmail.com

Also, I want to say that the information that I’m sharing on this blog isn’t anything confidential from my previous jobs. The information that I discuss is either readily available on admission websites of the universities or things that admissions officers would tell you if you called the office.  🙂