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The Savvy Applicant Blog

Asian-American Discrimination in College Admissions: How to Stand Out
Posted by Geraldine Diaz
Stand out as an asian-american

As if gaining admissions into selective colleges weren’t tough enough, as an Asian-American student, you face your own additional set of challenges. Recent headlines surrounding the lawsuit against Harvard due to imposed caps on the number of Asian-Americans accepted for the purpose of ‘racial balancing’ confirm such challenges. An analysis conducted in 2013 found that the Asian-American share of the class would rise to 43 percent from the actual 19 percent if considered based on only academic achievement. This in effect, advances less qualified applicants of other races.

While this isn’t a just situation by any means, facts are facts. And we wish it weren’t so, but the facts are:

  1. Even though the spotlight is on Harvard, they’re not the only college guilty on this front. And even if this lawsuit plays out in your favor, changes will not happen overnight.
  2. Racial stereotypes will influence admissions officers whether consciously or subconsciously.

The good news is, you are the narrator of your story who has the power to combat the stereotype of the over-achieving, piano-playing, passive Asian. Here’s how to emphasize your experience on your application to tell your unique story and play less into outdated stereotypes:

 

Stereotype #1: Too much fear of failure – and judgment

Asians are often labeled as perfectionists who play it safe. This is a damaging perception as colleges look for individuals who are brave enough to take on challenges head-on. Those are the individuals who are more likely to someday lead innovation in their field.

Find opportunities to demonstrate a willingness to go big, and possibly fail – even if not to boost your application, do it for own personal growth. Here are two strategies:

‘Standard’ activities on ‘steroids’: While it may not necessarily be a red flag to engage in ‘standard’ activities such as playing the violin or being a mathlete, if these happen to be your interests, you need to find an edge – take your passion to greater heights. Perhaps compose an opera or research the connection between math and philosophy. Or, if say you happen to have interest in nueroscience and music, conduct research on the impacts of different types of music on our brain/memorization retention.  

Steer away from ‘standard’ activities altogether: Show that you’re not afraid of standing out. Don’t be afraid to pursue quirkier or non-typical activities. Say you have a passion for baking – make something of that. You could organize a Bake-a-Thon, start a baking channel, feature pastries from around the world – even within a niche such as baking, the possibilities are endless.

 

Stereotype #2: Too much deference to authority 

While respecting superiors like your teachers is nothing to be frowned upon, Asians are often viewed as over-obliging. They're viewed as individuals who do as they’re told, as opposed to being independent thinkers who might have the courage to challenge status quo or preconceived notions.

Actively find opportunities to prove this perception wrong. Don’t go looking to start arguments with your teachers or other superiors but there are many opportunities to prove yourself. For instance, think about processes set in place in a club you’re in. Are they procedures that could use some refreshing or refinement? Are there redundancies causing inefficiencies. Or maybe there are completely outdated areas that need a completely new approach.

Take the initiative to find solutions even if it’s not your job to, and have the courage to take it to a superior to voice your ideas. Don’t just do as you’re told, reach beyond your role, and more importantly, dare to act on it.

 

Stereotype #3: Not being active citizens 

Passiveness has been largely associated with the Asian population in general. They’re perceived as individuals who’d rather take a backseat than actively drive change. They’re also seen as people who engage less with the community, which plays into Harvard allegedly rating Asian-American applicants lower on personality traits.

To break away from this stereotype, you don’t have to get carried away with the community engagement. Even the little things can be very telling in this regard. For instance, on the subject of athletics, Asians typically participate in individual non-contact sports. Even if you’re not the most athletically-inclined person, simple activities such as participating in or even organizing recreational basketball can demonstrate interest in being an active member of society.

There are plenty of other opportunities outside of sports. Find an activity that aligns with your interest and leverage it to serve the community. Even if your interest is as unconventional as hair styling, perhaps organize a free hair styling session for the homeless community.

 

The bottom line is, as unjust as racial biases may be, as an Asian-American, you need to operate under the assumption that the odds are stacked against you. This means you need to dig a little deeper to differentiate yourself. Prove stereotypes to be just that – stereotypes.

Our counselors have years of experience helping students of various backgrounds succeed in their admissions journey. We'll guide you through specifics on what you can do to dissociate yourself from stereotypes and stand out in the admissions process. Reach out today for a free consultation!

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