The Bamboo Ceiling: Asians Being Advised To “Appear Less Asian” by College Counselors

[DIGEST, June 1, 2015, Boston Globe, NY Times, LA Times] Admission to an Ivy League college is a dream for many young Americans. As gaining entrance into these schools grows more difficult with each year, students increasingly have turned to independent advisors and counselors for help. The majority of students who consult these college counselors are Asian American. And the advice they are receiving can be jarring: Be less Asian.

As reported in the Boston Globe, college applications strategist Brian Taylor advises Asian families on how to get their kids into Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Yale. His advice for them: “We will make them appear less Asian when they apply,” he says. “While it is controversial, this is what we do.”

While it may seem distasteful that academically successful Asian American students should need to appear “less Asian” on their college applications, the stark reality is that there are too many Asian Americans applying, and that they are pitted against each other for the same slots. Asian Americans already comprise a disproportionate percentage of the student body at Ivy League schools compared to other races. And these schools seek–whether officially or not–what they believe would be a “balanced” student body. That translates into harsher odds for Asian American applicants, in most cases much harsher.

It’s called “the bamboo ceiling” of racial quotas: Prestigious schools turn down scores of Asian American seniors with 1600s on their SATs and perfect GPAs in order to limit the number of Asian looking faces in their student bodies.  A 2009 Princeton University study of seven top colleges concluded an Asian applicant needed an average SAT score (out of 1600) of 1460 to be admitted, while whites with similar academic qualifications needed 1320, Hispanics 1190, and blacks 1010.

According to a New York Times article, in 2008, over half of all applicants to Harvard with exceptionally high SAT scores were Asian, yet they made up only 17 percent of the entering class. Further, while Asians are the fastest-growing racial group in the U.S., the proportion of Asian students among Harvard undergraduates has remained stagnant for nearly twenty years.

Top colleges justify these discrepancies by citing outmoded stereotypes, principally that Asian Americans fare well on tests but are less compelling on other aspects of their applications, such as extracurriculars. But this myth has been debunked as well. According to the New York Times, a study conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles found no significant correlation between race and extracurricular achievements in over 10,000 applicants. If anything, Asian American students now understand that they are now expected to work that much harder in their extracurriculars to be noticed by Ivy League schools.

Joey Kim, an Asian college student from Chicago, discusses how he was accepted into

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