The "Asian Penalty"

While many stories are published about Affirmative Action and college admissions with regards to Black and Hispanic students, it’s much less common to see anything related to Asian students. Two articles published recently in the New York Times (Link) and the Huffington Post (Link) bring to light how Affirmative Action affects Asian students, and as noble as the concept is, somewhere down the line the actual implementation of the policy became disadvantageous to the Asian student population. The whole concept behind Affirmative Action revolves around taking measures to ensure that minority populations are afforded the same educational and employment opportunities as the majority population, but for a variety of reasons mentioned in the above articles, Asian students end up getting the short end of the stick when applying to college.

 During the application process, it is important to understand what sorts of background factors are at play which may affect your chances at acceptance. The above articles detail the relationship between Asians and other populations, and there are other dynamics at play even within the Asian student population itself.  It is difficult not to believe that colleges evaluate Asian students with less granularity than other minority populations despite all the potential cultural differences and backgrounds. For example, say there is a stack of applications to one school consisting of 15 Chinese students, 10 Japanese students, 1 Indonesian student, 2 Thai students, 1 Filipino student, and 8 Korean students, all with spectacular credentials. Each applicant is more than qualified for acceptance, but it’s not at all unlikely to hear that “all these applications look similar” even though this pool contains students from many countries and covers the spectrum of socioeconomic status. Because of this preconception, many of these students will not be accepted despite having a strong enough profile.

Whether or not this treatment is the result of subconscious bias from the admissions officers or an effort by schools to not radically alter the existing racial proportions of the existing classes, the politically inoffensive reason colleges can always give is that they are looking to create a “diverse” student body, relying on the often times vague meaning of the word to skirt the race conversation. It unfortunately remains that until these biases and differences in treatment are addressed the Asian student population needs to work that much harder just to get to the same starting line.  

TLM Academics aims to help Asian students bring out the unique aspects of their profiles which will prevent admissions officers from saying “this application looks the same as the others”. Through long-term planning based around students' individual strengths, TLM Academics creates a solid foundation and guides students on how to best highlight their distinctive features during the college application process.

Parental Influences

There have been many studies done examining the effects of parents’ educational level on children’s academic and future successes.  Not surprisingly, parents who led by example by obtaining advanced degrees, reading frequently, and fostering strong work ethic raise children who develop the idea that achievement is valuable and worth pursuing. Leaving aside other factors such as socioeconomic status or the child’s own intelligence, it is clear that parents’ own experiences with and perspectives on education will influence how their children view educational success.

This influence is especially notable among Chinese (as well as other Asian) students, as the Chinese educational system places an outsized emphasis on standardized testing. When your entire future rests on the results of one test like the National College Entrance Examination (gaokao), obviously the majority of a student’s time is spent preparing for that test. Chinese parents who have gone through that type of educational system will naturally encourage their children to test well and get good grades; the prevailing thought is that as long as you test well, everything else will take care of itself. This would be perfectly reasonable if the Chinese educational system was the same as the American system, but because of the differences in entrance criteria between American colleges and Chinese colleges, many Chinese students fail to gain acceptance into the top American colleges despite having perfect test scores and grades.

The goal of TLM Academics is to help bridge this cultural gap by helping both parents and students understand the intricacies of the American education system and college admissions process. Insight into parents’ cultural and educational background will help their children adjust to the American educational system and perform to the best of their ability. 

Diversity vs. Race

In recent years there has been much debate both on the high school and college levels regarding diversity and race in admissions. Many of these debates stem from underrepresentation of minority groups and the effects of socioeconomic differences between these minority groups and whites. If you walk through the majority of college campuses in the United States, the student population looks oddly homogeneous, and colleges actively look to change this through diversity initiatives. The distinction between calling these initiatives “diversity initiatives” as opposed to “race initiatives” is a very important one, since “race” is just one part of what colleges view as “diversity”. “Race” purely refers to a student’s ethnic background, while colleges view “diversity” in the student body as encompassing multiple factors such as socioeconomic status, extracurricular activities, and other achievements.

In the United States, there is much controversy surrounding Asian and Asian-American students as they tend to be grossly underrepresented relative to their academic performance. Princeton professor Thomas Espenshade’s research showed that Asians have the lowest college acceptance rate by test score bucket, meaning that there is effectively an SAT point “penalty” for being Asian. On the high school level, Stuyvesant High School in New York is an example of what happens when admission to a school is purely based on academic/testing performance. At Stuyvesant, over 70% of students are Asian whereas other groups are underrepresented. The key takeaway from these studies is that on average, Asian students tend to score well on standardized testing. Why then, did Professor Espenshade find such a disparity between student body representation and testing performance among Asian students?

The answer is that colleges are in pursuit of a diverse student body. At the top colleges in the United States, it is pretty much a given that each student who is accepted has a very high level of academic achievement, be it through grades or standardized testing. Given that, the admissions committee is charged with finding a group of students with a wide range of interests and accomplishments to create a “diverse” community where the students can learn from each other and broaden their horizons. TLM Academics works with students to highlight other facets of their profile outside of academics to create more colorful profiles which will attract the attention of the admissions committee.