The Wrong Poster Child of Asian American Discrimination in Admissions
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.
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As alums, my wife and I have interviewed high school seniors for our respective Ivy League schools for more than 10 years. We not only agree with your sentiments but can add the following three observations.
First, we have found it very common for Asian-American candidates to take the SAT and/or ACT, not once or twice, but four or five times trying to hit perfection on each test segment. Now that super-scoring is in vogue (i.e., colleges are OK with cherry-picking the best Math or Verbal score from different test dates), this behavior has become acceptable. What irks us however is when a kid has already gotten a top score on one part, they’ll then work with a personal tutor and sit for additional tests just to improve the other part(s). Does “perfection” after 5 attempts make them a better candidate than others?
Second, we’ve noticed that at least one Asian-American community in our large city has “fabricated its own world”, complete with competitions, executive teams, awards, honors, promotions, etc. It appears that almost every one of the candidates we’ve interviewed has a long resume filled with credentials that their local community has made available only for students from their ethnic group.
Finally, it seems to us that their “low acceptance rate” is a product of their own doing. Rather than being thoughtful about where to apply, a preponderance of students seem to grab the “top 20 schools” list and apply to them all. What’s wrong with that? Well if you think that all these schools are the same, and that you are equally qualified to go to, say, Brown and MIT, then you really haven’t studied much about curriculum and “fit”. And when every Asian-American candidate applies to every top school, the denominator in the acceptance rate formula explodes. No wonder it looks like a higher percentage of applicants aren’t getting in.
If we have noticed this commonality in applicants in just one city, imagine what a beating it must be for someone working in admissions. Considering all the common accomplishments listed on applications from this pool of candidates, we can easily envision admissions officers sitting in their office and thinking, “Didn’t I just read this application?”
Pure nonsense. The facts based on discovery in the Harvard case clearly dispel the arguments being put forth. Additionally, a “kernel of truth” does not warrant rank discrimination. Not all Asians play the Violin, are math savants and introverted. In fact, the students in the Harvard lawsuit completely shatter your hollow arguments. When kids who finished in the top 250 students in the country as Coca Cola Scholars, are State Scholar Student of the Year, are Young Women Leaders of the Year, and recognized by other bodies as highly exceptional, come from non-Asian white homes, excel at arts and can’t play a lick of violin or piano, there is a major problem.
Stop perpetuating and justifying discrimination and racial stereotypes.
Is that you, Michael Wang (the student who filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education against Yale, Stanford, and Princeton)? We haven’t heard from you in a while. Your argument doesn’t hold water. In fact, you’re making our case. One of the stereotypes of Asian American applicants in highly selective college admissions is the artist — just as you suggest. Why would a highly selective college be interested in admitting State Scholar Students of the Year? What even is that? Coca Cola Scholars? That’s not impressive to our nation’s most elite schools. You really just don’t get it. But if you are indeed Michael and you’d like to debate us on this issue, do let us know. We’d be happy to host a live debate.
I wouldn’t look at Williams and Penn as back-up schools. It is difficult to be admitted to either of them. Both schools are among the most prestigious, and will take you wherever you want to go if you do well.. The undergraduate education at Williams is as good as or even better than Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford by many academics. In some areas, notably business/finance, Penn offers probably the highest rated undergraduate business program through its association with Wharton. I don’t know the precise numbers but perhaps 20% cross-admits may choose Williams or Wharton over HYPS so those cross admits made a conscious choice to attend the schools that accepted him. Presumably, whether it was academic program, location, campus vibe, etc., the “fit” of the college was important to them. To me, it is laughable that Mr. Wang feels discriminated because he “only” got accepted at Williams which is ranked as the number one LAC by U.S. News. It is his fixation on college rankings rather than the quality of his education that shows his sense of entitlement and naivite about college education. Are bragging rights more important than the fit and quality of education he received? I agree with one of the respondents, his writing his rather poor for a Williams grad. How did he do at Williams? Was he an academic superstar there? If not, he was surrounded by a highly qualified peer group comparable to him. The only difference is that he had some glittery extracurriculars to decorate his application. They may or may have enabled him to shine at Williams.