There was recently a letter to the editor on the topic of Asian and Asian American applicants to college in “The Los Angeles Times” by Geralyn Yparraguirre that we figured we’d discuss. In the letter, Ms. Yparraguirre, who states that she previously worked in admissions at UC Berkeley, states, “I can wholeheartedly affirm that the University of California system does not advantage or disadvantage certain applicants based on their race. Such practices across all college systems are unconstitutional. Suggesting that the opposite is true, as several people quoted in your article do, plays on both fear and the high amount of pressure that Asian American parents and most importantly Asian American students place on themselves for getting into elite institutions.”
Ms. Yparraguirre, while likely well intentioned, is — in a word — wrong. Of course highly selective colleges discriminate against Asians and Asian Americans. Of course when they read about how an Asian applicant plays first chair violin, they think, “Another first chair violinist.” It’s human. It’s social psychology. Ms. Yparraguirre’s assertion defy psychological science. In a batch of seemingly ordinary applicants, college admissions officers at highly selective colleges look for the extraordinary. They look for the applicant who stands out. If every student is a first chair violinist, you can bet your bottom dollar that these first chair violinists will be discriminated against. To suggest otherwise, we believe, is rather naive.
One of the purposes of our college admissions blog is to debunk misconceptions about the highly selective college admissions process and here a misconception is publicized in “The Los Angeles Times.” To suggest that Asian and Asian American applicants don’t face discrimination in the admissions process is to convey a lack of understanding of how admissions decisions are made.