NYU and ETS Support Dis-aggregation of AAPI in Admissions — Great Report with Case Studies

I’m grateful to my friends and former colleagues who send me AAPI/Admissions related articles. Today’s update is an important one — albeit it’s a little outdated since it came out this past summer — but is JAM packed with great arguments on why admissions offices / testing organizations/ higher education in general needs to see AAPIs as separate and independent groups. I’ve argued before that clumping all AAPIs makes no sense when they have historical/immigration/income/educational attainment differences (just to name a few).

This article from Inside HigherEd gives a succinct summary of the full report. I am really impressed that Educational Testing Services, home of the GRE and TOEFL, supported this research. I have to call out the College Board SAT Test and ACT Test for stubbornly using “Asian American Pacific Islander” as one group to ID students. I think the years when I was working at Stanford, even ASIANS FROM ASIA (ie, international students) were clumped in to that data. How stupid is that? Let’s hope further research will encourage organizations to be more sophisticated about our populations.

Below are two graphs with the differences in Median Household Income for Asian American Sub-groups, and their educational attainment in the next graph. Thanks to the NYU CARE report for the data.

As always if you have comments or questions, email me at asian.am.education[at]gmail[dot]com



Thank you to my loyal readers — from all over the world!

I’m coming up on 100 posts — after which I plan on publicizing my blog more! Thanks so much for all of my readers from around the world! It’s been such a pleasure writing about my passion: college admissions, and sharing my ideas with you!

I wanted to share the map of readers of this blog: what country are you reading this from?

Please follow me on twitter!


“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!

Suzy Lee Weiss: Where Do I Even Start

Ahhhh spring. The smell of fresh blossoms and warm winds fill the air, and along with them comes the long awaited college admissions decisions. The hype was as crazy as ever with “record breaking” admit rates at many schools, but this year the media buzz surrounded one young woman from PA who wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal to all of the schools that rejected her.

Suzy Lee Weiss’s piece, “To (All) the Colleges that Rejected Me”

I honestly don’t even know where to start with this piece. I watched a t.v. interview of her where she claimed that it was satire and she was trying to make a point, and oh boy, did she. I found her “point” to be offensive, mean spirited, and frankly deaf to her own privilege. She does not mention anywhere in her op-ed that she was able to publish this because her sister worked at the WSJ, and her parents also had a lavish spread in the WSJ of their beautiful home a year or so ago.

For this young lady, who knows nothing about the admissions process beyond her 6 months of writing up an application, to accuse schools of only accepting those who have had “sob stories” or “challenges” for the sake of diversity, is beyond absurd. For her to go after Native American students, children of gay parents, students who do volunteer work, is just pathetic. I am frankly glad that so many schools saw her for exactly what she was. Average. Boring. Would not contribute much to a campus community. In the admissions offices where I worked, there were many applicants who would end up in the DENY pile because they were, frankly, just average. The news media freaking out over her 4.0+ GPA and 2000+ SATs and “internship as a page in the U.S. Senate” made me chuckle. At Stanford and Dartmouth I saw tens of THOUSANDS of profiles like that. Honestly, it does not even make me blink or think twice to hit delete on a file like that. I am not saying that to scare students, but I just want them to understand that simply getting good grades and test scores and doing an easy internship (sorry, I’ve seen those pages and sure you wear a geeky jacket, but you aren’t doing much) won’t get you in to the college of your dreams. Suzy was confused – “be yourself” isn’t a formula for success when you are just a boring individual without much to contribute, and you react to your failure by blaming everyone else except for yourself. Pathetic. Get a life girl!

I don’t want to focus too much on Suzy, because I think the real pain that some students who did get into colleges by writing about difficult experiences my feel like they don’t deserve to be at their dream school. I had a lot of times during my first year of college when I just didn’t think I belonged at my school. I thought everyone was smarter than me, and I thought I was an admission mistake. It took me a while to figure out that a lot of my friends thought so too. Especially for my friends who were coming from first generation backgrounds or people who didn’t know a lot of college graduates in their communities back home…this was a huge transition to attend a Ivy League school far away from home. I wish that universities did a better job figuring out ways to support students who are non-traditional and don’t fit in to the stereotype of the traditional Ivy-Leaguer…but I take some comfort in knowing that we can always find each other and support our friends. If you are Native American, if you did grow up with two moms, if you did start your own non-profit, own that experience, and don’t let negative Nancies who can’t get their own act together get in the way of your success. I certainly would want to be your classmate and NOT Suzy’s.

I saw that she was admitted to University of Michigan in her t.v. interview, and I hope that she has a good 4 years in college learning about herself and the world around her.

Research Shows Asian Americans Disadvantaged in College Admissions

Are admissions officers too harsh on Asian American students? Do they evaluate Asian Americans on a different standard and punish “over-achievers?” My experience working at universities is that there are certain Asian American populations that are targeted for minority recruitment and affirmative action, while it is also true that there are middle/upper class Asian Americans that seem to be punished for not “jumping off the paper” with their achievements.

As admissions deadlines loom, the New York Times has kicked the dust up on the Asian American/Affirmative Action debate once again, this time showing various perspectives in addition to research backing the claim that Asian Americans are discrminated. One contributor shows stats proving that Asian American student populations are declining in the Ivy League (even as the population of high school aged-Asian Americans nationwide increases).

While test scores and grades are a common subject of debate, I am glad that Khin Mai Aung, director of the educational equality program @ AALDEF points out the need for diversity WITHIN Asian American populations at colleges.

“Far from harming Asian-Americans, the consideration of diversity in admissions advances equal opportunity for many Asian-American applicants who continue to face educational barriers. Southeast Asians like Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians, most of whom came to the U.S. as refugees, have significantly lower educational attainment and higher poverty rates than many other Asian and non-Asian ethnic groups. Without the consideration of diversity, many of these students would be denied an equal opportunity for higher education.”

I agree with her 100%, and worry that so many of these debates simplify the Asian American population into one big monolithic group. I’ve been writing about that problem for years on this blog and faced it in my career as teachers do not seem to understand differences between one Asian group and another when writing teacher recommendations or school policies ignoring these at risk populations all together.

A LA-based journalist in The Atlantic also points out the subtle discriminatory wording in the explanation of a former admission officer discussing why Asian Americans with high test scores may be lacking other attributes that add to a diverse and dynamic learning environment.

So what’s the bottom line? There are many students that have high test scores and great grades that do not make it through the Ivy League admissions process, not just Asian American students…but the excuses and explanations on why Asian American students were not desirable did disturb me at times. “Sounds quiet”…”Will s/he contribute in the classroom?”…while admission officers are trained to look for potential for excellence, I wonder if sometimes we were overly harsh on our Asian American students. AsianRF_NYT

What saddens me the most is Professor Carolyn Chen‘s anecdote that she finds many of her Asian American students are ashamed of their background.

“At Northwestern, Asian-American students tell me that they feel ashamed of their identity — that they feel viewed as a faceless bunch of geeks and virtuosos.”

What a terrible thing not to acknowledge the success and effort of our successful students…! My hope is that admission offices find ways to 1) incorporate under-represented Asian Americans as part of affirmative action and 2) train admission officers to be cognizant of their personal biases and institutional biases against Asian American students. With no other group – Black, Latino, White, Native American, would we punish students for going above and beyond.

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!

Education Arms Race: Don’t Spend $2M on Tutoring to Get In to Harvard…Oh Asians…

Sharing a little bit of crazy sensationalism today…apparently a Hong Kong family paid $2 million dollars for private admissions consulting in the hopes of their son’s admission to Harvard. Big Fail. He didn’t get in…and now there’s a law suit over the $$.

Remember, no private consultant can guarantee your admission to Harvard. Money or no money.

My father also sent me this gem regarding high power celebrity tutoring in Hong Kong. I love how the comments section has students celebrating that it’s no longer pop starts and movie actors that are in the spot light…but tutors. I suppose that’s one way of saying that education is honored in Asia…but mostly I think it’s just crazy. These tutors have tv shows and have fan clubs…what?

I’m so glad that my parents didn’t pressure me to kill my self over grades and test scores…and neither should y’all! If you need 100 hours of tutoring a week to get into these schools…you probably shouldn’t be going there, because you can find a school that is better suited for your academic needs and goals…but that’s just my two cents. Trust me, you don’t want to go to college and have to have an army of tutors helping you all the time…enjoy college! Relax everyone…please stop perpetuating Asian stereotypes by going crazy with the academics! (Although I recognize that these articles are about Asians…but I know there’s crazy tutoring in NYC and the Bay Area too with Asian Americans!)

Enjoy a pic of my young dad holding me as a baby:)