Asian Americans face discrimination in highly selective college admissions. We’ve been saying it for years from atop Ivy Coach’s soapbox in college admissions. Of course, colleges won’t acknowledge any bias against these applicants. In many cases, admissions officers aren’t even aware they’re stereotyping students and rendering admissions decisions based on these fixed action patterns. And while we are among the loudest voices against Asian American discrimination in college admissions, we don’t believe the strategy some Asian American groups have chosen to hope to end this practice is the right one.
The Wrong Poster Child of Asian American Discrimination
Michael Wang, a student at Williams College who filed complaints with the Department of Education against Yale, Stanford, and Princeton, is the self-appointed proverbial poster child of Asian American discrimination in highly selective college admissions. Today, he’s featured in a “Business Insider” piece in which he perpetuates misconceptions about the college admissions process. But while Michael Wang may be the poster child of Asian American discrimination in college admissions, make no mistake — Michael Wang is the wrong poster child. And why? Asian American applicants are absolutely discriminated against in highly selective college admissions but…wait for it…it’s not because they’re Asian American. Not on its own. If this were the case, then why oh why do Ivy Coach’s Asian American applicants so often earn admission to their top choice colleges? It’s because so many Asian American applicants too often present the same or similar profiles to college admissions officers. You know the profile. The student with perfect grades and perfect scores who plays the piano (or violin!) and excels in math (or science!).
Is it a stereotype? Yes. But, sorry, stereotypes are based on kernels of truth. They’re fixed action patterns wired into our brains from back in the time when we were hunter-gatherers and had to determine if we were about to get eaten. Admissions officers — who are people — have these fixed action patterns too and if Asian American applicants choose to showcase stereotypical profiles, well, they shouldn’t be surprised by the results. In business, differentiation is key. The same holds true in highly selective college admissions.
As Aaron Mak writes for “Slate” in a piece entitled “The Price of Admission,” “[Wang] scored a perfect 36 on the ACT entrance exam, placed third in a national piano contest and first in California for a math competition, competed in national debate tournaments as a finalist, graduated second in a class of more than 1,000 students, and sang in the choir at Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Yet out of the seven Ivy League schools to which he applied, only the University of Pennsylvania accepted him, which he holds as proof of rampant racism in the admissions process.” …Need we say more? Oh but he sang at President Obama’s inauguration! Well, we sang in the shower this morning. So what?
Writing, Writing, Writing
But, you know what? Let’s say more. Since we’re on the subject of psychology with our discussion of fixed action patterns, allow us to share one other psychological tidbit. There’s a psychological study that found bystanders can judge the health of a romantic relationship more accurately by watching the couple argue for mere seconds than if they observed the couple going about their routine for months or even years. It’s the short glimpses thesis, one made famous by Malcolm Gladwell in “Blink.” So allow us to share a Comment that the very Michael Wang, the very Michael Wang who has become the poster child of Asian American discrimination in college admissions, posted on our college admissions blog:
“well I am quite sorry for inform you that working in the legal field myself, complaint and invoking the judicial process are two very different things. Filing complaint and actually filing a lawsuit involve very much different information and vastly different resources. A filing of an actual brief in accordance with Local Federal Rules is necessary for a lawsuit as compared to a complaint. Sure, a complaint can lead to a lawsuit, but this is by no ways invoking a lawsuit. Are there are any official hearings before a judge? No, this is simply a request for an investigation. If I felt there was clear wrongdoing, I would have filed a lawsuit a long time ago. Also, since you believe I clearly filed a lawsuit, it shows your lack of understanding of this case and the entire story in which in all my interviews, I have never said the words I filed a lawsuit. If you want to put words in my mouth, that show your lack of understanding in this area. Given you are a for-profit organization, I can understand that you want to promote yourself and your company into getting students into these institutions. But if you’re level of research and understanding is not even complete, I begin to question things.” He goes on and on…
Do our readers notice anything through this short glimpse into Michael Wang’s writing? …That’s right. Michael Wang, who apparently now works in the legal field (all while attending Williams College — amazing!), can’t write very well. We’re not going to begin to dissect the typos and grammatical errors in his writing. We’re all about a colloquial writing style and defying the rules our English teachers taught us but his writing is just plain poor. Allow us to share one conclusion we’ve drawn from the world of dating: when someone doesn’t know the difference between your and you’re, it’s probably not going to work (just as it didn’t work for Michael at so many Ivy League schools). Our guess is that the piano-playing, math competition winner likely expressed himself in a similar way in his college admissions essays.
Highly selective colleges seek singularly talented, interesting, likable, exceptional students. They seek students who zag when others zig. Michael Wang presents to us as someone who doesn’t zag. If the Asian American groups challenging Asian American discrimination in admissions want to mount a real, formidable challenge to the practice, they need to find a zagger. But they’ll have trouble finding that zagger. Why? Because the zaggers — like our zaggers at Ivy Coach, our Asian American students who so often earn admission to their dream schools — so often get in. And, yes, we’ve totally made up the word zaggers! Deal with it.
Do our readers think Michael Wang is the right or the wrong poster child for Asian American discrimination in college admissions? Let us know your thoughts by posting a Comment below. We look forward to hearing from you. And, Michael, we know you’ll be writing in too in 10, 9, 8… Let us know if you’d like to do a podcast with us. We’d be happy to review your application file and let you know exactly what went wrong.