Asian Americans Are Significantly Underrepresented on Elite University Admissions Staffs

Asian Americans lead the admissions staffs of zero of the top 25 universities in America. That’s right. Zero. Photo credit: Djkeddie.

As admissions officers at America’s elite universities post #stopasianhate on social media, it seems like an opportune time to discuss the history of discrimination against Asian American applicants in the admissions process. And while many are already quite familiar with the implicit bias Asian American applicants face in admissions thanks to the testimony and discovery in the high profile Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard University case, there has been no better time than now to shine a light on one particular point of hypocrisy: the dearth of Asian American admissions officers at America’s elite universities. But why does it matter? Because, historically, admissions officers have a tendency to admit students like themselves.

Admissions Officers Create Incoming Classes in Their Own Image

In his recent book Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions, Jeffrey Selingo vividly — and correctly — detailed the typical profiles of admissions officers and how their own profiles often influence their decision-making. The admissions officer who is a former college athlete has a predilection for going to bat for athletes. The admissions officer who is a musician has a predilection for — you guessed it — going to bat for musicians. So if admissions officers are, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, creating incoming classes in their own image, then why is there not more Asian American representation on the staffs of our nation’s elite college admissions offices? If there are former athletes and musicians and Black and Latinx admissions officers — as there certainly should be — then why are there not more Asian American admissions officers on these staffs as well?

Why the Dearth of Asian American Representation in Admissions Matters

One might question why this matters if the representation of Asian Americans on America’s elite college campuses already far outpaces the representation of Asian Americans in our nation’s population — as it does. The answer is simple. Even with significant representation in the incoming classes of elite universities, scores of Asian Americans, who would have otherwise been deserving of admission, are not earning admission based solely on their race. In fact, when admissions officers admit applicants blind to race — as they do at the University of California schools — Asian American applicants stand a far higher chance of earning admission. At the University of California – Berkeley, as an example, Asian Americans constitute about 42% of the Class of 2024. The percentage of admitted Asian American students is less than half this figure at many of our nation’s top universities, all of which consider race as a factor in admissions. It seems, in a word, unfair.

Asian Americans Lead Zero Ivy League Admissions Offices

With this sense of unfairness in mind, coupled with the notion that admissions officers so often admit students in their own image, we decided to take a look at the number of Asian Americans on admissions staffs at elite universities. At the eight Ivy League universities, there are currently zero Asian American deans of admissions. White men lead the admissions offices at Harvard University, Yale University, Dartmouth College, and Cornell University. White women lead the admissions offices at Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania. Princeton University and Brown University are the only two Ivy League schools with people of color as admissions leaders, although neither is Asian American. Among the other top 25 universities as ranked by US News & World Report, Stanford University, Duke University, Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins University, the California Institute of Technology, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago, Vanderbilt University, Emory University, the University of California – Los Angeles, and the University of Southern California are all seemingly led by white men. White women lead the admissions staffs at Northwestern University, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Notre Dame. The admissions czars of Rice University, the University of California – Berkeley, and the University of Michigan are not white, but none, by our count, are Asian American.

In Fact, Asian Americans Lead Zero Admissions Offices at America’s Top 25 Universities

Surprisingly, Asian Americans lead zero admissions offices at America’s top 25 universities. White men seemingly lead 15 of these 25 admissions staffs (60%). 20 of the 25 top universities in America are seemingly led by either a white man or a white woman (80%). And still zero are led by an Asian American person. Despite the fact that large cohorts of each incoming class at all of our nation’s highly selective universities are Asian American (e.g., 20.8% at the University of Pennsylvania, 20% at Yale University, 19.8% at Cornell University, etc.), these Asian American young people don’t see people who look like them atop the admissions staffs at their dream schools.

Asian American Discrimination, Ivy League Discrimination, Asians in Ivies

Asian Americans Are Few and Far Between on Admissions Staffs at Elite Universities

Unfortunately, there isn’t only an underrepresentation of Asian Americans among undergraduate admissions deans. Asian Americans are few and far between on the full-time undergraduate admissions staffs of these institutions as well. Have a look for yourself. At Dartmouth College, we count one Asian American admissions officer on a team of 22 publicly listed admissions staff profiles. By our count, that’s 4.5% representation at a school in which about 14.6% of its student body is Asian American. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, just like at Dartmouth, we count one Asian American on the admissions team out of a staff of 22 publicly listed admissions staff profiles (and MIT’s Dean of Admissions is not listed among the profiles, though he is white). Approximately 42% of members of the MIT Class of 2024 are Asian American, yet only 4.3% of members of the admissions team at MIT are Asian American. That’s 37.7% less representation for Asian Americans on the MIT admissions staff than in the MIT Class of 2024.

MIT Admissions, MIT Class Profile, MIT 2024

The Time Is Now to Increase Asian American Representation on Admissions Staffs at Elite Universities

The lack of Asian American representation in admissions offices can and must change. With our country’s longstanding discrimination against Asian Americans finally capturing our national attention, now is the time. Asian Americans deserve to be better represented in undergraduate admissions at America’s elite universities. Just as life imitates art, these institutions should create admissions staffs that mirror the wonderful diversity of their student bodies. It’s wonderful that these institutions preach the beauty of diversity, but until institutions hire more Asian American representatives on their admissions staffs, they are failing to practice what they preach. It’s no wonder that Asian Americans continue to face discrimination in admissions. If admissions officers really want to #stopasianhate, they can start by looking within because these admission staffs truly are the gatekeepers to America’s meritocracy.


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  • Isiah Fish says:

    Can we please stop focusing on what color people are? Yes the white communist profs and admins in US universities are hypocrites- agreed. How about focusing on merit and a panoply of ideas for a change? Two Asian US Senators said yesterday they will not confirm any white people. What if white men said that about Asians? Universal heart atacks, right? This openly violates the Civil Rights laws from racist lawmakers themselves. Is this still America? Seeing two openly racist asian senators while the Coach talks of ‘Asian hate’ is a bit rich. Doesn’t fit your agenda when Asians hate Whites, Coach? Do you not watch the news, Coach?

    Dem Sen. Tammy Duckworth vows to vote no on all white, straight Biden nominees until an Asian is picked.

    As a black man, this race garbage irks me, as much as it did when I was at a top college seeing the university use African blacks to fill their diversity slots while my American black friends had to attend HBCUs. These universities are the most racist of all.

  • Yeong Kwok says:

    Caltech director of undergraduate admissions is Nikki Chun, part Native Hawaiian, Part Chinese.

  • Daisy Cantero-Balart says:

    Karen Richardson, a black woman, is admissions chief at Princeton. An Asian woman was #2 in command until recently (think she left). Lot of blogs here about helping Asians- guess they are your customer base? I think too many white liberal women inhabit college admissions offices – agreed. But don’t you think the most disadvantaged should get those spots, which are blacks and Latinos? The only group over represented in college admissions by far? Asians. I don’t think they really need advocates in admissions. I mean can you do the math and look at their percentage of the US population or not? Hispanics Whites and Blacks are all underrepresented.

    • James says:

      It is not just about the under representation. It is also about why? I don’t think blacks or latinos are disadvantaged based on their qualifications. In fact they are pushed ahead in spite of their qualifications while Asians are not. I propose that we should stop including race in admissions at all and let chips fall where they do. That way we can stop talking about race and percentages and just focus on merit.

    • Amanda Horn says:

      Statistics look at overall numbers, not just two people. And, we all should be against hate and discrimination against Asians.

  • Ton says:

    Thank you for writing this article and voicing for Asian Americans!

    • Eleen Woo says:

      They should give blind admissions a shot – no race, no names , just the application . See how the pans out for a bit .

  • Ivy Coach says:

    We ask that commenters please keep their comments respectful and avoid racist language in their posts. As our loyal readers know, we attack the left. We attack the right. We’ll even post your comments critiquing or poking fun at us. But we will not stand for racist language.

  • Derrin Howard says:

    I have heard you speak up for the following groups needing to get more admissions slots:

    1. Asians
    2. Jewish Faith
    3. Blacks
    4. Latinos

    I think that’s great! But all those groups have representation commensurate with their percentages of the population or way over (#1, #2). Groups #3, #4 have commensurate representation or slightly under what would be commensurate.

    The only group you never advocate for are Whites. Why? Just because whites 50 years ago were the vast majority of students (not based on their race but because very few blacks and hispanics applied to college), does not mean a very poor 16 year old Appalachian boy should be discriminated against today.

    The reason I have mentioned this is because Whites are the only group vastly underrepresented in college enrollments foe elite school. We are not talking about 5-10 %, but more akin to 20%. And for White males about 25%.

    So, if you look at the word racism as it applies to college admissions, white males are the real victims of racism. And now it is happening in corporate America. White males have very tough time finding good jobs and internships nowadays. I think you have a good blog providing useful information here. I just one day you would do a piece on the real victims of elite schools. It is very easy. Just look at the numbers. I’m half Jewish, and I have a unique perspective. I see you advocating for one part of my family and not the other. That is not cool. I purposely avoided writing this until this piece was off your main page. I am more interested in getting this message to you than I am interested in getting others to see what I wrote. Brian, you did a great job on your recent interview. Like to hear your viewpoints. Maybe you can consider a video blog?
    Take care.

    • Ivy Coach says:

      Hi Derrin,

      You’re right. You will never find us advocating for increasing slots for white students through policymaking on the pages of this blog. We believe such students don’t need further advocacy in terms of admissions policymaking because the policies in place, including the admission of recruited athletes and legacy admission, already favor white students. With respect to “the white male,” that doesn’t make any sense to us. Males already enjoy a distinct advantage in the highly selective college admissions process over females because they are significantly outnumbered. So why does the white male need more help?

  • Brian Aspey says:

    You said:

    Males already enjoy a distinct advantage in the highly selective college admissions process over females because they are significantly outnumbered. So why does the white male need more help?

    Based on What STATISTICAL INFO?

    • Ivy Coach says:

      If you look at the applicant pool for the vast majority of highly selective universities, there are significantly more female than male applicants. In an effort to create balance, males enjoy a slight advantage over females. Also of note, female applicants to our nation’s elite universities, as a group, tend to have stronger scores and grades as compared to their male counterparts in the applicant pools. So males are often admitted with slightly lower grades and scores. The bar is — ever so slightly — lower.

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