Imagine, for the sake of simplicity, that there are 101 people in the applicant pool. All of them have the same stats as you: 1600 on the SAT, 4.0 GPA, 10 APs with all 5s, valedictorian, won awards for the violin and piano, captain of the Science Bowl team, president of math club, and president of chess club. Maybe you also won some physics awards, plus you placed in the local science fair.
A hundred of these applicants are Asian. One of them is black.
Let’s assume that college admissions will never admit two people that have the same qualifications. There’s only so many spots — in many cases, less than a thousand — it would be a waste to have two people represent the same set of background, academics, and interests.
From the pool, two students were admitted: one Asian, one black.
This is where the Asian students cry foul. “Asians had a one percent admit rate, while every black person that applied was admitted! Black people have it so easy. I wish I was black.” Technically, the numbers aren’t wrong. For the record, I’m Asian, and I felt this way in high school, too. You’re sure that if you were black, you’d be admitted too.
You’re missing the point. Colleges want to fill each spot with someone unique, someone unlike anyone else in the class of 2023. It would have been the same outcome if a hundred people liked pizza and the last person liked McChickens. Or if the applicant pool had consisted of a hundred Asians who were presidents of math clubs, and the last person was an Asian who made lip-sync music videos.
You didn’t get rejected because you’re Asian. You got rejected because you didn’t stand out.
Michael Wang, who filed a complaint with the US Department of Education alleging discrimination, thought he “deserved better than what I got”, which was rejection from the Ivies. Why did he think he deserved better? “He graduated with a 4.67 weighted grade point average. He scored a 2230 on the SAT. He competed in national speech and debate competitions and math competitions. He also plays the piano.”
None of his qualifications are outstanding, besides his capacity for self-pity and entitlement.
A 1600 SAT score is a “perfect”, but it’s not impressive. A good score is the bare minimum to apply, while a bad score disqualifies you, and you shouldn’t expect a cookie for doing what you’re supposed to. You studied really, really hard – that doesn’t mean it’s special. “But my score was in the top one percent!” Around 2 million students take the SAT each year, so the top one percent of people comes out to 2,000 people, which is bigger than Harvard’s incoming class. Even if Harvard admitted based on SAT score only, you still wouldn’t be special enough to get in.
The same goes for being valedictorian or being president of math club. Even if only one person from each school fills these roles, there are 40,000 high schools in the U.S., which is 20 incoming freshmen classes. Even if you did math club AND science club AND the violin, well, so what? 20,000 other people did too. It just so happened that the vast majority of those 20,000 people were Asian and white, so being black or having a wheelchair was different. Someone with a built-in hook that Asians envy, such as being a racial minority or having a disability, automatically stands out, because so many Asian and white people are clustered in those activities. Likewise, a non-deaf person who is dedicated to learning ASL and learning about the deaf community will stand out automatically, too.
Asians don’t have it harder by default. We make it harder for ourselves by insisting on a homogenous culture, one that only values STEM activities and classical music. How many times have you heard Asian parents cluck at a kid that’s interested in sports or hip-hop? “Waste of time.” “No money in that sort of thing.” If you were a top a-cappella singer like Sam Tsui or YouTube star like Rachel Fong of kawaiisweetworld, you would be admitted to Yale and Stanford, regardless of your race.
Being Asian isn’t keeping you from standing out. You just have to be interesting, and that starts with doing something other than math club and self-pity.