Asian American applicants to America’s most highly selective universities should not have to hide their heritage in order to earn admission to their top choice colleges. It’s a point that Aaron Mak laments in a piece in “Slate” entitled “The Price of Admission” (we have a feeling the name of the piece will be changed soon since “The Price of Admission” was the name of a seminal 2005 book on the college admissions process authored by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Daniel Golden). In his piece, Mak, a Yale senior, discusses how he hid his Asian heritage and earned admission to the New Haven-based university, whereas the student, Michael Wang, who has become, as Mak puts it, “a vocal poster child for alleged discrimination against Asians in college admissions” did not hide his Asian heritage and did not find the same success in the college admissions process. At Ivy Coach, we are vocal opponents of the discrimination that Asian Americans face in college admissions and we agree with many of the points Mak raises in his piece, though we’d like to point out some mistakes in his reasoning.
Asian Americans Don’t Face Discrimination For Being Asian American
Mak makes a point of distinguishing Asian American applicants who check the optional race and ethnicity box on the Common Application and those who do not. He discusses how when he was going through the college admissions process, it crossed his mind that admissions officers may not have thought he was Asian American based on his last name, which is not dissimilar from the last name “Mack” of Scottish origin. He thought that this would give him an advantage in admissions.
But we don’t agree. Asian American applicants to our nation’s most highly selective universities don’t face widespread discrimination for being Asian American. They don’t face widespread discrimination because of their last names. Rather, they face discrimination when they play into stereotypes. Mak extrapolates on some of these stereotypes in his piece. When so many Asian American applicants to these universities present the same (or a similar) profile to admissions officers, as we are quoted in the piece, “it inspires a yawn.”
We fully recognize that it may offend some folks, particularly Asian American applicants and their parents, to hear that too many Asian American applicants present themselves in the same or similar ways in the college admissions process. But that doesn’t mean what we’re saying isn’t true, as even Mak acknowledged. As much as Mak may have disliked the fact that we help students beat this unfair college admissions system at its own unfair game, it’s work we’re entirely proud of.
We are proud to help Asian American families overcome this discrimination. We jump for joy with them when they learn of their offers of admission. A few years ago, we worked with one family whose reaction remains particularly imprinted in the banks of our collective memory. The father was a Chinese American immigrant who didn’t believe an Ivy League school was within reach for his daughter. He’d have been happy if his daughter earned admission to the public university in his state, which so happened to be one of our nation’s most prestigious public universities. This man sobbed when he learned his daughter had earned admission to an Ivy League institution. He was just the sweetest man and to hear him cry, to see his American Dream realized — it was powerful stuff. We’ve seen a lot of American Dreams realized over the last quarter of a century through our business.
Standing Out Is Important Not Just In Admissions, But In Life
When folks do the same thing everyone else is doing, it becomes difficult to stand out. This isn’t true just of Asian American applicants to America’s elite universities. It’s true for everyone. It’s true not only in college admissions but in life, in love, on the job market, in everything. Would you choose to work with a business that presented itself in much the same way that so many businesses present themselves? Or would you choose to work with a business that positions themselves differently, maybe one that tells it like it is?
When folks ask us why we at Ivy Coach are different, we can recite a whole laundry list of differentiators from other private college counseling firms. But if we had to sum up in one line what makes our business different, it’s that we help bring out the weird in our students. We help make them interesting — whether they’re Asian American, Native American, African American, Latino, LGBT, American veterans…you name it. And we won’t sugarcoat it. We won’t tell you what you want to hear if it won’t help improve your child’s case for admission. We are most certainly not for everyone. And, yes, as Mak derides, we charge a fee for our work — except for the veterans with whom we work. We are an American business. Of course we charge a fee. We charge the fee we command.
The fact is, people stereotype. As they sang it in “Avenue Q,” “We’re all a little bit racist.” It’s true. It’s not right. It’s not fair. But it’s how the world works. We all stereotype. Every. Last. One. Of. Us. But if we can help Asian American students overcome these stereotypes and in turn overcome the discrimination that they face in the college admissions process, well, then we’ve proudly done our job and we’ve done it well.
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