College odds are better without affirmative action: Asian American students
June 30, 2023
“I always felt like it was practically an impossibility for me to get into an elite college, at least in part because of my ethnicity,” Leo, a 16-year-old first generation Chinese-American living in Brooklyn, told The Post.
“It made me a little despondent.”
Now, though, Leo — a high-achieving student and rising junior — now has his sights set on Stanford and MIT, where he’d like to study biochemistry and become a research journalist.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that race-conscious admissions practices in colleges and universities are unconstitutional.
Students of all backgrounds — and particularly Asian-American students like Leo — are already changing their calculus as they apply to school.
“It no longer seems like an impossibility. It’s at least on the table,” said Leo, who asked to withhold his last name over privacy concerns. “Now I can apply to these schools with at least some hope of actually getting in, rather than just applying to them ceremoniously.”
Christopher Rim, the 29-year-old founder of college admission consulting company Command Education, agrees that Asian-American students are going to have better chances at elite university admissions now
“I always have so many Asian students who are disappointed,” Rim told The Post. “But I think this is really going to level the playing field.”
Rim says he was barraged by calls from more than 30 clients when the Supreme Court ruling dropped on Thursday.
Parents and students alike said they were more optimistic about their dream schools — with some even deciding to newly apply to more selective schools.
“I think this is very motivating and inspiring for some students,” Rim said. “A lot of people haven’t even been trying [to apply to top colleges] because they know the odds are stacked against them, but now I feel like we’re going to see a change here.”
Alex Sheih of Massachusetts said that even though he is headed to his dream school Brown University in the fall, he thinks his race was a factor in his admissions prospects.
“It’s honestly a little off-putting and unsettling knowing that the Brown admissions officers were not just viewing me as Alex, but as Alex the Asian American,” Sheih, 18, who is Korean and Taiwanese, said. “I would rather just be viewed for who I am, not for my race.”
But Sheih is happy that students like his sister, who is a sophomore in high school, won’t have the same thoughts in the back of their head: “I just feel happy for the class of 2024 in high school because they don’t have to worry about how racial stereotypes might impact the way that admissions officers view them.”
But not all Asian Americans are so optimistic.
James Chen runs Asian Advantage College Consulting, a firm aimed at helping Asian American students get a leg up in college admissions.
He said it’s inevitable that colleges will find loopholes that allow them to continue to evaluate race in the admissions process.
“I think a lot of students will be lulled into a false sense of relief,” he said. “I don’t believe this is going to affect anything in the immediate future. The colleges are going to find ways around it.”
He points to Harvard University, which released a statement possibly alluding to its intention to evaluate race through admissions essays.
“The Court … ruled that colleges and universities may consider in admissions decisions ‘an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise,’” the statement read. “We will certainly comply with the Court’s decision.”
For some students from underrepresented minority groups, it’s a frustrating predicament.
Bunmi Omisore, 19 of Baltimore, just finished her freshman year at Duke University where she majors in public policy and African American studies. Had she applied after the Court’s decision, she said, her application would have had to “center on her blackness” rather than her personality.
“I wrote about things like my family, the ‘Bachelor’ and biking in my application essays,” she told The Post. “But if I were applying now, I think I would have to forfeit writing about some of those parts of my personality and opt for writing about things that I don’t really like thinking about, like my experiences with racism or my racial trauma.”
“You’re going to be having a lot of minority students basically telling a single story, and it’s not fair because that takes away from the uniqueness of the applicant,” Omisore added.
She opposes the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down race-based affirmative action, arguing privileged and connected students actually take up more spaces in elite schools than minority students.
“Black and Latino students don’t even make up 10% of a lot of these top universities, but they are supposedly ‘taking’ spots from others,” she said. “I think the bigger issue when it comes to inequality in college admissions is things like legacy or athletes getting a bigger boost.”
An analysis of Harvard University’s admissions data by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that 43% of white students at Harvard were either legacies, children of faculty, kin of donors or recruited athletes.
That’s something Ivy Coach college consulting managing partner Brian Taylor, who says the ruling marks “a sad day for America,” agrees must change.
“Affirmative action has been used as a scapegoat for the unjust discrimination that so many Asian Americans face in the college admissions process,” he told The Post. “What about offering preferential treatment to the progeny of the school’s alumni base or to athletic recruits? Why did we not attack those policies?”
How exactly schools will respond to the decision remains to be seen.
But, in the meantime, some Asian-American families are holding onto renewed hope as they head into application season.
“I don’t think [the decision] stusntatively accomplishes anything yet because colleges still don’t have to be transparent about their admissions,” Leo said. “But this is a landmark case, and it’s absolutely a step in the right direction for Asian Americans.”
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