The Heartbreak of Asian American Applicants

Asian American Applicants, Harvard Asian Applicants, Asian Discrimination in Admissions

It’s high time colleges acknowledge what the world already knows — that Asian American applicants face discrimination in the admissions process to our nation’s most elite universities.

Asian Americans face discrimination in highly selective college admissions. Our regular readers know this implicitly. After all, we’ve been writing from atop our soapbox in the admissions space about the discrimination that Asian American applicants to our nation’s most elite universities face for many years. But with the lawsuit against Harvard University brought by the group known as Students for Fair Admissions in full swing, we figured we’d write about this discrimination even more frequently in the coming weeks on the pages of our college admissions blog.

The Heartbreak of So Many Asian American Applicants

We recently came across an editorial in “The Washington Post” written by Max Boot entitled “Why I changed my mind about diversity in academia” that showcases his own struggle with coming to terms with highly selective schools denying so many Asian American applicants with perfect or near-perfect grades and test scores. Boot, the father of two half-Asian American stepchildren, believes it’s heartbreaking that Asian American young people who perform so admirably in school and who value education so dearly are so often denied admission to their dream schools. As he writes, “This is an agonizing debate. On one side are smart Asian American students who study hard. Many are first- ­generation immigrants whose parents toil at bodegas or dry cleaners, sacrificing everything so that their children can get an education. It is heartbreaking to tell those kids that they can’t get into the school of their choice.”

Admission Based on Numbers Alone is Not the Answer

And yet Boot is torn. You see, he also articulates that if highly selective universities admitted students based on grades and test scores alone, it would lead to the formation of a class that isn’t diverse. As he writes, “But if Asian Americans predominate in elite institutions, that means opportunities are being denied to African Americans, Latinos or whites who also grow up in poverty but in cultures — whether in the inner city or Appalachia — that stigmatize rather than celebrate learning. Many minorities must also cope with racial discrimination, crime, broken homes and police abuse to a far greater extent than Asian Americans do, and they lack access to test tutors.” Indeed as Boot writes, Harvard determined in a 2013 review that if admission to the university was based solely on academic achievement, the Asian American portion of the incoming class would rise from around 19% to 43%. With Asian Americans accounting for about 5.7% of our nation’s population, that kind of breakdown would most certainly not mirror the rich diversity of America.

Colleges Should Acknowledge Discrimination Against Asian American Applicants and Take Rectifying Steps

It’s high time that highly selective colleges — and Harvard is not alone here — acknowledge that they discriminate against Asian American applicants. If an admissions officer tells you at an information session that a school doesn’t discriminate against Asian American applicants, know that you were just told a lie. It’s high time these schools come up with a plan to counteract this discrimination. Our students at Ivy Coach have been counteracting this discrimination for many years. To put it simply, our Asian American students at Ivy Coach so often overcome the discrimination that they would otherwise face in admissions by presenting with a very different profile than just about every other Asian American applicant. To put it even more simply, we make our students weird. That’s right. Weird.

But that doesn’t mean admission to our nation’s most elite schools should be based on grades and test scores alone. If colleges were to admit students based on these factors alone, they’d end up with a less interesting class that does not mirror the greatness of America. Yes, it’d be a snoozefest to attend that school. We said it. In his editorial, Boot wisely cites a piece the great Malcolm Gladwell once wrote for “The New Yorker” called “Getting In.” Boot invokes Gladwell when he writes, “[Harvard is] not just trying to select the best academic performers but also the students who will go on to have the greatest success after graduation.” The students who are going to go on to become the great successes of their generation in our world are not always the students with the best grades and the best scores. Gladwell is right. In fact, we’ll tell him as much. He often writes nearby at the neighborhood coffee shop.

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