Getting into the Ivy League for Asian Americans

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Asian Americans, affirmative action, college admissions

As the baby boomers and population have steadily increased, enrollment rates at Ivy League for Asian Americans at the nation’s most competitive universities have stayed at the same rate – slightly under 20%.

It’s no secret that college admissions are most competitive for Asian Americans and Jews, who typically have higher SAT scores and GPAs than other ethnicities, but have much lower enrollment rates.

A complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights alleges that for Asian-American students to gain admission, they need to have SAT scores 140 points higher than white students, 270 points higher than Hispanic students, and 45 points higher than African American students.

A female student filling out an admission form.

Admissions at competitive universities such as the Ivy League base their admissions decisions around holistic factors: extracurricular activities, leadership, community service, and personal qualities to build a diverse student body.

But we’ve seen Asian American students with stellar extracurricular activities and test scores get turned down by admissions officers time and time again.

The personal score that the admissions officers take into consideration and that was hotly contested for debate through the Harvard lawsuit is based on a variety of factors, including interviews, personal statements, and letters of recommendation, among others.

Since interviews are conducted by the alumni of the universities, not the admissions officers themselves, there is a wide degree of variance among interviewers when it comes to determining the personal interview score.

At AdmissionSight, we believe that admissions officers should invest in really getting to know an applicant, such as the Oxford/Cambridge tutorial style, where the admissions committee meets every applicant who applies and gets to know them on a personal level.

Determining a personal score based on a piece of paper without ever meeting the applicant (at least, not the admissions officers of the universities) is just plain silly and speaks to the flawed and broken state of college admissions in the US.

Oxford University old building

The personality can be understood through the essays, recommendations, and interviews. Those three factors will play a role in terms of how they understand and view a candidate’s personality.

So it’s important to get those three right – especially the essays. And by personality, you need to let your voice shine. Not every personality is viewed favorably in the college admissions world.

If we were to describe the personality that is a strong card to play, it would be a high level of maturity, humility, and introspective understanding of societal issues.

It would not be someone who loves to crack jokes, or insensitive, or arrogant, or someone who tries to elicit pity, etc. Those can come off really quickly in the essay if not written correctly.

The only universities where Asians aren’t discriminated against are the University of California, Berkeley, and the California Institute of Technology, where a high number of Asians are accepted based on their qualifications. For other competitive universities like Princeton, Harvard, or Stanford, this may not be the case.

A quick look at a popular college admissions website collegeconfidential.com where students post their stats and scores shows strong, well-rounded students getting turned down every year.

In reality, Asian American students are really competing against themselves within the 20% quota that Ivy Leagues place on Asians – which makes college admissions extremely competitive. But despite this, we tell my students not to worry.

Five students are gathered to watch on a digital tablet.

We work with many clients of Asian descent, yet we continue to place our students into the top universities every year despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

The reason for this high success rate is because of our expertise in demonstrating the soft personality qualities that Ivy League admissions officers are looking for in every single one of my student’s applications.

These come in the form of well-drafted and thought-out personal statements and extracurricular involvement to show the depth and breadth of their leadership and commitment to their community.

Of course, getting national awards such as the annual Intel Science and Engineering competition or the Math and Science Olympiads could definitely help and increase chances of admission – and which we encourage all of my students to pursue.

But this isn’t what ultimately gets them in – getting these awards is merely the cherry on top that helps, but what’s even more important is putting together a convincing and well-thought-out college application to convince the admissions officers that you exhibit the leadership skills to contribute to the campus community and beyond.

It is only getting more and more competitive at the nation’s top universities, especially for Asian Americans if the enrollment rates with a cap of 20% continue to stay the same.

But in life, and especially in college admissions, you’ve got to play the cards you’re dealt – and understanding how to succeed in this challenging environment is a crucial part of the process that we help walk all our students through.



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