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


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.

“Personal Statement”- Hilarious YA Novel About Admissions Arms Race


Screaming “Let Me In” at the top of your lungs….

Thanks to the generosity of Ms. Saira Rao over at In This Together Media, I spent the last three days engrossed in Personal Statement, a hilarious young adult novel about the perils of the college admissions arms race. The author, Emmy-nominated Jason Odell Williams, has the keen ability to climb into the minds of over-stressed, competitive teenagers in a privileged suburb of CT as they plot and plan their way into their perfect “personal statement” scenario: natural disaster volunteering. On their journey, they discover that perhaps they’ve lost their way, and question whether or not the stress they face is worth the battle! I commend Mr. Williams for taking often ignored but bubbling under the surface topics like race (Asian American stereotype – one of my favorite topics), class, privilege, the technology revolution and its impact on education and pressure to succeed by any means necessary(!!!) all in this short novel targeted toward young adults getting ready for the college process!

The four characters, Emily Kim, Robert Clinton III, Alexis J. Could, and Rani Caldwell, all read like familiar applicants…probably because I read personal statements from many students like them during my former career as an admissions officer at Stanford University. The four of them are highly motivated, academically excellent, cut-throat competitive and don’t take “NO” for an answer. They are also personifications of privilege and wealth, and aside from Emily and two romantic interests that come and go, almost all benefit from their parent’s educational background and societal know-how. I was impressed how Mr. Williams can ferociously mock Asian American stereotypes (with the Korean American immigrant parents dressing Emily in Ivy League one-zies) as well as wealthy legacy African Americans (using “summer” as a verb and trying to keep connected with their “folks in the community”), while at the same time keeping up with teenage tech and lingo…I would recommend it to parents just that they can get a primer on the newest app that their kids are using! (While at the same time, I worry that the technology citations will make the book lose it’s “newness” as trends come and go…)

For me, two things really stood out: the parents who don’t listen to what their kids want, and the kids who are “racing to no where” with their ambitions in hand. All of the main characters are balancing their genuine and sometimes desperate need to please their parents and their own intellectual curiosity and desire to make a difference. Everyone sees college as an end goal – from the kids who want to post their acceptances on social media to the parents who can’t wait to brag to their gym buddies about the future of their offspring! I saw so many parents just like this in information sessions at Dartmouth and Stanford, raising their hands high Tracy Flick style and asking questions about “HOW WILL MY SON MAKE FRIENDS HERE?” while their child was slumped to the side taking a nap. Lady, chill, it’s not about you. I especially loved the dialogue by parents who talk like they themselves work in the admissions offices (ex. “I know for a fact that XXX got your sister in to Princeton”), even though when they applied most of these universities were letting one out of every three applicant in. The main take away from me was that parents should focus on the kid in front of them rather than wishing for someone else, and for students to take a moment to truly reflect on what will make a satisfying and meaningful college experience that will contribute to their growth and happiness. Of course, that’s easier said than done. All in all, I couldn’t put this novel down, and the first few chapters were especially hilarious that I laughed out loud. Thanks and congrats so much for your debut novel and hope to see more of your writing in the future!

One last word about In This Together Media — which I think is a wonderful publishing organization (started on Kickstarter? How cool is that!) that supports authors who write novels that focus on girls’ empowerment! I was even excited to see one of my former colleague’s books on the site as a Amazon best seller! Keep up the great work! If you’re ever looking for non-fiction about college admissions, please let me know! I’d love to work with you!

Asian American College Applicant Profile on NYT & Senior Check List!

Vietnamese American College Applicant

Love this young Vietnamese American girl – she is so modest and adorable, and she believes in the good in people…I have to say that she comes off totally likable, but shows her love of learning and curiosity by letting us know that she is interested in technology and biotech and tinkers with games and electronics. LOVE that she’s a woman in science and she’s not shy about it. This type of geeky-smart is well liked in admission offices across the county! She does not seem overly stressed and comes off as friendly and calm. Please approach college in the same way that she does.

Thanh-Tran is so likeable because to me, she acts like her age. She isn’t trying to be overly sophisticated or adult. I meet so many students during college interviews who are trying to pretend to be something that I would be impressed with…and a lot of them miss the mark because how can one high school student try to guess what their admission officer (reader of their application would like…?) Students should just try to be authentically be the same!

She is a A/B student, and honestly, there are more students like Thanh-Tran who aren’t the tippy top of their class and curing cancer. I was in the bottom half of my senior class during high school, but I still graduated from college cum laude (I think that’s top third of my class), had a wonderful first job at a university and went on to graduate school…so deciding how successful you will be at 16 or 17 years old is just ridiculous. Don’t stress out students…learn from Thanh-Tran!

She says

Right now, I’m waiting to hear back from college fly-in programs. Given that I can’t afford to make cross-country college visits, these fly-in programs would help me get a real sense of what I’m looking for in a college, as well as firsthand experience of the colleges I’m going to visit.

I applied to Oberlin College’s Multicultural Visit, the Multicultural Open House at Colgate University, the SEED program at Brandeis University, and the Voices of Tufts Diversity Experience.”

She’s on the right track to pursue these diversity programs, and I hope that she will be able to visit many schools and see which one is the right fit for her. She mentions that she needs financial aid, so perhaps she comes form a modest family?

I got this blog post from the NYT admissions blog, The Choice, where they profile eight students every year who are going through the college process. Wow, it must take guts to let the entire nation know what your college process is like…from where you applied to where you are accepted and denied! I like the video format they have this year a lot!

Below is a quick checklist for our seniors who are getting ready to apply to school: Making a List and Checking it TWICE!

My Mom is a Panda Mom

I’m a little late in commenting on Amy Chua, the Yale law professor who got famous by writing a memoir about raising her two daughters in the Asian way.

The book raised a lot of questions about how to raise successful children (success in this book is defined by getting into Ivy league schools and having straight As) and whether or not there is a superior way to accomplish such goals – Western or Eastern?

I was recently talking to one of my close friends from college who met Amy Chua in person. She told me that the encounter was a bit odd, because Chua was mildly narcissistic and just kept saying that her daughter is a second year at Harvard. This coming from the mother who said that she was trying to poke fun at her parenting…

I’m not going to write about whether or not I think her way of parenting is right or wrong, but it did spur more media attention and lead to more stereotyping of Asian Americans. I find that problematic. I wanted to share what kind of mom I had growing up, and the kinds of parents I saw during the admissions process (good ones and bad ones).

I would not know what a “tiger mom” is like, because I was raised by a “Panda Mom.” What is a Panda Mom, you ask? Well, think of a Panda – cuddly, cute, eats bamboo (well scratch that last one). My mom never pushed me to do well in school. She never forced me to do any activities. She never told me I was fat. When I came back with mediocre grades from school, her response was to take a quick glance at the report card and say, “I think you can do better next time! If you’re happy with a B, that’s great! Ok, time for dinner!” There was never any screaming or fighting over grades. I did go to Japanese School on Saturdays. I also did a few years of Kumon (pure terror and misery….but it made me good at mental math for a while).

My mom worked full time my whole life – she still works – and she was not focused on small details of my academic life. If I would come home from school with a permission slip for a field trip, she would sometimes respond, “I’m busy right now, can you sign it yourself?” In a more extreme example, she started to send me off on a plane to visit my grandparents in Japan alone when I was about nine years old. I would hop on the plane from my hometown, transfer planes in LAX, land in Tokyo, and then take the bus for three hours and then a train for another 45 minutes to reach my final destination. I was nine.

Basically, my Panda mom trusted me to be able to take care of myself and make my own decisions. Nowadays, I meet so many high school and college students and EVEN GROWN ADULTS WITH TWO DEGREES FROM HARVARD who do not know how to choose between two options. (There is even a NYTimes article on this) They. drive. me. crazy. (I don’t even like people who can’t decide what to eat off a restaurant menu.) I am not a parent so I can’t comment on other people’s parenting, but all I can say is that I’m so happy that my parents treated me with respect and let me make my own choices. I still ended up going to two great schools for college and grad school and will start a career in September that is my DREAM. No one pushed me to get up in the morning, do my homework, or excel in activities. So, I was left to really consider what I liked and spend my energy doing things I really enjoyed.

So many of the kids I see nowadays are OVER SCHEDULED, EXHAUSTED, and just plain tired-looking. All the time. I feel sorry for them. I also feel sad for Asian American families – even though I know they mean well – who push their kids to do piano, violin, chess, SAT prep class, Chinese School, science competition etc…and then they all look very similar to each other in the application process for college. I don’t think the parents even realize what they are doing to their kids. Do their kids even enjoy these activities? Do they even ask their kids? Sad.

Switching over to these parents in the college process…you have no idea how many times I would get calls from moms who say things like “Um…I need your help. I’m on page 6 of the Common Application trying to fill out information for my son.” HUH!? WHAT ARE YOU DOING LADY…STEP AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER. Your son needs to do that on his own…because if he doesn’t do this on his own, he wont be able to do anything on his own in the future. Then, some unfortunate woman has to marry him and take care of him for the rest of his life. No one wants that. Stop filling out your son’s application.


Our Dean would make us personally take these calls from distraught parents who scream at us about how we made a mistake and that their precious perfect children should have been admitted. Uh. NO. The admissions office never changes it’s mind, first of all, and no, you calling and screaming at us will never make a difference. I would always respond calmly (biting my tongue) and say something like, “Congratulations, it sounds like your son has some really amazing opportunities, and I wish him the best of his luck on his educational journey.” But on the inside, this is what I wanted to spit back at these parents:


So, that was kind of a mean rant. On the other hand, I do feel sad for these kids because it’s like nothing they ever do is enough for their high achieving parents who try to live through them. Finding a good fit is more important than the brand name of the school or the rank. Also, if 92% of all applications are rejected from places like Stanford…then you’re in good company, and there is nothing wrong with your child. Lastly, this is NOT your place to be disappointed. Let your children process the disappointment, but then quickly shift gears to celebrating what they have accomplished!

To tell you the truth, I applied to eight colleges back in 2002-03 and got rejected from seven of them. My mom was there every time I opened the thin envelope..and she never said one mean thing to me. Her response every time was “the next one will be better.”

Thanks Mom. (This picture is of my Panda Mom the day before she gave birth to me. See, she’s a calm lady.)

An Admission Officer’s Response to Willa’s World

Lately, this infographic/cartoon drawn by an Ivy-League grad has been trending on my facebook feed. I think it’s supposed to be a response to popular belief that many Ivy-League grads are pretentious and out of touch with reality. I think there is some truth to both sides.

The blog link is here: Willa’s World and it’s a cute, entertaining, quick read.

I agree with Willa that so much of our own perspective on education comes from our parents. Did we grow up with more than 50 books in our house? Did our parents read to us when we were growing up? Did they love learning and go to school? Did you grow up thinking that going to college was the obvious thing to do? All of these things would influence your attitude toward education.

I DO HAVE TO STRONGLY DISAGREE with the graphic of the fruit pile. Willa asserts that admissions “often comes down to which one they randomly grab.” Uh. No. At the highly selective schools like Dartmouth, Harvard, Stanford…and probably Princeton too…there is no RANDOM GRABBING of applicants. We do not just pick into the pile of 34,000+ applicants and just randomly pick a student and say “YOU’RE IN.” If that is the way things worked, I would have been on holiday for most of my job.

The reality is more like this: I spent four months painstakingly reading every single word of 1,200+ essays my last year at the job. I read through every essay WORD FOR WORD, delved into the words of teachers to see how the student would be like in the classroom, and scanned resumes to imagine the impact they would have on the sports field, science lab, and choir group. I did not spend 12 hours a day reading application to pick “students RANDOMLY.”

I understand what Willa is trying to say – that she’s fortunate that she grew up in an education-centered household, and that she feels like it was a miracle that she got accepted to a place like Princeton. I appreciate her humble character. A LOT. The Ivy-League could probably use A LOT more people like Willa.

On the other hand, admission officers take pride in their work and take their work SERIOUSLY. We do not RANDOMLY make decisions. Sure, that year the Latin Department may need a couple more students, or the orchestra really needs a cellist, but at the end of the day, students get in on their own merit: what they have to offer the school from an intellectual AND non-academic perspective. Image

Who graduates? Who Doesn’t? And Why It Matters…

Today’s find is incredible! The Chronicles of Higher Education has an interactive website that shows research regarding college completion rates. It’s the most comprehensive website that I’ve seen with this information. It blew my mind!

I’ve discussed college completion before in an article about the South, but this website illustrates it with graphics and tables. You can start by doing a national search, then narrow down state-by-state to find the schools that you want to research. Then you can click on the specific school to see the stats. There are comparison tools that are really useful too.

For example, if you look at the rates for Dartmouth College, you can see that 88.1% of the students enrolled graduate within 4 years.  15.5% of the students at Dartmouth receive Pell Grants.

According to the Pell Grant website: “The Federal Pell Grant Program provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and certain postbaccalaureate students to promote access to postsecondary education.”

Please pay attention to the graduation rates within 4 and 6 years, AND the PELL GRANT PERCENTAGES. It’s also disturbing to look at the racial breakdown of who is graduating and when…

Click here to learn more about the project.

Why is this relevant to you if you are a high school student looking at different colleges? You should ensure that the institution that you choose has the support system that will guarantee that you will graduate! Especially if you are about to embark on your higher education journey with a lot of loans…please make sure that you will be able to graduate. The Pell Grant percentages also says a lot about the school’s student population’s diversity…or lack there of…and if that school prioritizes promoting access to low-income families.

I’m going to continue to explore the website and share what I find for the next couple of posts…as always please email me at asian.am.education@gmail.com with questions or comments!