Friday, January 16, 2009

Don't be a boring Asian

Let’s face it, some people are just more affable or more likeable than others. An admissions officer is really asking himself, "Would I like to hang out with this guy or gal for the next four years?" So if you come off as just another Asian math genius with no personality, then it’s going to be tough for you. An admissions officer is not going to push very hard for you.
--Current admissions officer, Ivy League University, on meritocracy in college admissions


My [alumni] interviewer complimented me as a breath of fresh air because he sees a lot of really smart Asian fellows come in with absolutely no personality, who just do well in school, and he laments that they don't seem to have lives outside of school, making for really boring interviews.
--Anonymous Yale student of Mexican heritage


I had a 2-year stint at an Ivy League admissions office (no, not Dartmouth). The information presented in the Ivygate piece is extremely accurate.

A bit of friendly advice for the Asians:

1. You should never, EVER talk about affirmative action in your application and/or interview. Yes, the system is actively hurting you and you may support Prop 209 in California, but if anyone asks, you full-heartedly support affirmative action because you value diversity. Most admissions officers know that it’s an unfair system, and they don’t like to be reminded of this fact by a bunch of snot-nosed 18-year-olds. They probably know a lot more about affirmative action than you do. On a related note, please don’t make references to the Bakke or Gratz/Grutter case in your essay(s). Admissions officers have allergic reactions to anything un-PC.

2. Although there is no explicit/implicit quota, many admissions officers have certain negative preconceived notions about an Asian applicant. Unfortunately, many - if not most - Asian applicants don’t deviate too much from the stereotype. Smart Asian applicants can take advantage of this. Devote yourself to extracurricular activities which are typically devoid of Asians. If you are interested in music, pick up a guitar or become a composer. You are not helping yourself by picking up a violin or any other stereotypically Asian instrument. Pursue these classical instruments ONLY IF you are going to be good enough for prestigious conservatories. Instead of joining math/science teams, get involved with the poetry club, journalism, theater, cooking, etc. In general, be artsy and (at least seemingly) independent-minded. If you are an athlete, try to avoid tennis/badminton. Try football or other organized sports. If you are going to volunteer, try to avoid working at a hospital (screams premed) or go on church-sponsored missions. If your true passion is the violin/math/science/medicine, well… tough luck. Unless you are really, really good at what you do, you have to choose between your passion and Harvard.

3. #2 applies to your academics as well. If you attend a public school with an honors track, do not pick the combination of courses that will yield the highest weighted GPA. Chances are, there will be 10+ other applicants from your school who took the same classes. Take at least one or two classes per year that are atypical (and don’t necessarily have the honors/AP designation). You may sacrifice your rank/GPA a bit, but you’ll be infinitely more interesting.

4. If you first language is not English, it doesn’t help to take an SAT II in your primary language. On the other hand, it does help if you have attained proficiency in a third language.

To sum it up, if you are an Asian applicant, your job is to play against the stereotype. You want to be the “breath of fresh air” - a pleasant surprise. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have perfect numbers. But that’s far less important than finding and presenting a unique voice.
--Anonymous comment on IvyGate

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