To Asian-American Students: Be Less “Asian”

Asian American stereotypes, like all racial stereotypes, are wrong and harmful. All Asians play piano. All Asians are test machines who can do dirty work but cannot think for themselves. All Asians are good at STEM and want to get into good colleges. Asians suck at sports and are better with books. These labels exist everywhere, from the sports world to yes, the college admissions process. Obviously, all these are wrong.

The sad thing is, we Asian Americans in general are reinforcing those labels.

About a month ago, groups of Asian American advocates filed a lawsuit against Harvard University claiming that despite higher standardized test scores and higher grades, Asian Americans were being unfairly held to a higher standard than that of other races. Lawsuits like these have increased with the implementation of holistic review, a process that ensures the accepted pool’s diversity in interest, socioeconomic background, experience, and lastly, race and ethnicity.

Asian American families specifically bristle at the race and ethnicity factor, accusing colleges of specifically targeting Asian Americans and calling it racial discrimination. However, by fighting holistic review, they are only proving colleges right—they may ace test scores, but when it comes to diversity, Asian Americans are lacking big time.

As evident, Asian Americans are the most competitive group applying to top-notch colleges. But when faced with a large pool of applicants who all have high scores and spectacular academic success, colleges can only make the logical choice of picking those who stand out – those with unique personalities or compelling stories.

Unfortunately, Asian Americans are, in general, quite uniform. When I asked around my Asian friends at school (which is predominantly Asian) about their potential career paths, the answers were always doctor, lawyer, engineer, doctor, lawyer, engineer, and so forth. I found myself to be the lone Asian at my school wanting to be a journalist or writer, and only a few others wanted to be in careers that weren’t STEM or high-paying. I found a surprising majority of Asian Arcadia students who played piano but very few, like me, who do not. Even their backgrounds were quite similar—taking SAT classes, studying for a lot of APs, aiming for good grades, etc. seemed to be what everybody was doing.

Yet, because so many Asians, Arcadian or not, follow this same path, it has become the definition of what it means to be “Asian,” racial stereotypes applied by Asians themselves. Thus, when colleges are looking through their applicant pools, they see all the same things among Asian-Americans. So no, they are not being racist when they reject an Asian despite his or her high qualifications; they are rejecting most Asians because they are unqualified in the diversity aspect—too many are doing the same thing and have the same background and thus are not compelling enough to stand out.

As a result, many admissions counselors have already advocated Asian American students to “be less Asian.” No, they are not asking students to take away their cultural identity, as many critics claim; they are simply asking to break away from those stereotypes. Such actions might entail pursuing something other than the typical STEM jobs or perhaps getting more into sports. None of these actions take away the Asian identity; it only makes them less Asian according to the stereotypes. And along the way, it significantly boosts one’s chances of being admitted.

To do this, however, with the simple goal of getting into college is wrong and dishonest to oneself. One should do it for his or her own good. There is this big shadow in which the Asian American community is shoving all its youth into one direction of pursuing the same fields and achieving the same scores and aiming for the same top colleges. Through this, not only has the stereotypes developed, but it is misleading and forcing many Asian American students to follow this set path that has become the Asian norm. The result is that many are lacking something—to which my personal knowledge and many other witnesses can testify—called passion.

Ultimately, the message is to break that norm. To my Asian-American peers: if you really have a passion for STEM, then by all means pursue it. However, if you are only pursuing it because your parents say so, because it is high paying, or because everybody is doing it, reconsider your choices and allow yourself to explore and break free from those Asian norms. If you do really have a passion for something, do something beyond school and tests that supports that passion. Pursue activities that are unique and different from that of your peers, whether it be football or playing something other than the piano or violin. All these activities will increase one’s chances of admission, but most importantly, it will allow one to become a better and more unique person overall.

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Detrimental Effects of College Rankings

As a high school student, I know firsthand the pervasive presence of college in a student’s life. From volunteering to grades to hobbies, college is always in mind.

However, not any college works. Students aim for the nation’s best colleges, and to find the best, they turn to ranking systems—specifically the U.S. News and World Report’s college rankings. Apparently, it doesn’t just function as a ranking system; it can dramatically influence the behavior of colleges that strive to top the rankings to garner more applicants. The results? Detrimental.

For instance, a key aspect U.S. News analyzes is the amount of money a college spends, whether on classes, teachers, or facilities. Less money spent therefore correlates to a lower ranking, encouraging colleges to spend recklessly. Indeed, benefits have arisen—many universities now contain top-notch research centers and professors. Yet, this reckless spending has not only added to the inefficiency of the college financial system but also to the already staggering tuition rate.

Another aspect is selectivity. The more selective a college is, such as requiring higher SAT scores and GPAs, the higher its ranking. What does this mean? Colleges will, once again, lavish money on ads to entice more applicants. A larger pool of applicants, however, does not result in a larger number of admissions; thus, the acceptance rate is lowered. Perhaps more drastic is due to higher standards, colleges that once catered to pools of lower standings will all now rush for the same elite 2400 SAT score students. Good for the elite, but there will be fewer options for students who aren’t, putting them at a severe disadvantage.

The aforementioned problems trace back to U.S. News’s college rankings, composed by literally, magazine editors. This calls into question: are these rankings even accurate? In many reported cases, colleges easily cheated the system, like in 2011 when employees at New York’s Iona College lied about test scores and other statistics.

Perhaps the better question is, is a ranking system necessary? Harvard University consistently outranks the University of Chicago, but is Harvard really indeed better? Surely, Harvard is superior to community colleges, but even comparing those two is inaccurate; for a student struggling with high school academics, Harvard would in fact be the worst choice. In essence, it’s all subjective.

Ultimately, the easiest way to fix the ranking’s overwhelming influence on colleges lies not in colleges but in applicants and their families. Colleges want to climb the ranks only because applicants follow the rankings. Unfortunately, many families have the incorrect notion that the only good college is a highly-ranked college. Society must rectify this notion, possibly through public campaigns or counselors; this will all allow for a more efficient system.