Learning to Stand Out Among the Standouts

Jay Mathews, Washington Post, Mar. 22

Robert Shaw, an educational consultant based in Garden City, N.Y., was working with a very bright Chinese American student who feared the Ivy League would not notice her at New Jersey’s Holmdel High, where 22 percent of the students were Asian American, and she was only in the top 20 percent of her high-scoring class.

So, Shaw said, she and her parents took his daring advice to change their address. They moved 10 miles north to Keyport, N.J., where the average SAT score was 300 points lower and there were almost no Asians. She also entered, at his suggestion, the Miss Teen New Jersey contest, not a typical activity for the budding scholar.

It worked, Shaw said. His client became class valedictorian, won the talent portion of the Miss Teen competition playing piano and got into Yale and MIT.

“As admissions strategists, our experience is that Asian Americans must meet higher objective standards, such as SAT scores and GPAs, and higher subjective standards than the rest of the applicant pool,” he said. “Our students need to do a lot more in order to stand out.”

Asian American students have higher average SAT scores than any other government-monitored ethnic group, and selective colleges routinely reject them in favor of African American, Hispanic and even white applicants with lower scores in order to have more diverse campuses and make up for past discrimination.

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At some selective colleges, the percentage of Asians on the admittance list is reportedly significantly lower than the percentage of Asians who applied. But colleges usually do not release the ethnic breakdown of their applicants, so there has been little research on the matter.

Stanford University and Brown University, however, studied their admissions data in the late 1980s and found enough evidence of cultural bias and stereotypes to alter procedures.

“Since then, the Stanford staff has been very careful to guard against all kinds of bias in the selection process,” said Robin Mamlet, Stanford’s dean of admissions. For several years, admissions staff members were trained annually on such issues as shyness to be sure as little bias as possible affected the decision process, she said.

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