Having helped Bay Area Asian students through this process and applicants from around the world, I want to share some insights we have learned at Empowerly. These insights relate to standing out and demonstrating interest. In this article, I will go over an overview of how Asian applicants are viewed; how they can stand out; and tips we have for all applicants, based on the experience and perspective I have in college admissions. Applying to college as an Asian student may present certain obstacles, but there are opportunities to stand out as well.
First, we need a mental model to think about applicants. This model applies to all types of applicants, and is the basis of the advice we give. At Empowerly, we think of the applicant in a pyramid.
Without the base, it is tough to apply to top schools. The base consists of test scores, unweighted GPA, and class rigor.
The middle of the pyramid has activities. What students did during high school helps them articulate their thoughts and prove their passion.
At the top of the pyramid is vision, which is the intellectual maturity students can show in essays and interviews. Students demonstrate vision by being truly passionate about what they are doing; additionally, by showing that they can figure out what they like to do over time.
Our goal is to get every applicant to the top of this pyramid.
The Asian Applicant Hurdle
We define this hurdle as the academic metrics Asian applicants must attain to be considered. In our Pyramid approach, we find that Asian applicants have a higher bar at the base; but then, are fairly consistently viewed afterwards.
Several studies have shown that Asians need higher scores in order to get into top schools. This does not mean they cannot get in, it means they have to adjust their college lists and expectations depending on their scores. The New York Times published a profile explaining that Asians need SAT scores that are 140 points higher (on the 2400 scale) than those of white peers.
What It Means
For Asian students with top 1% grades, focus on your activities and continue to execute. For those applicants with scores not necessarily at the top of their class, adjust your college list and retake the SAT/ACT. Consider rebalancing course load to get your unweighted GPA higher. For Asian applicants with lower than the median scores at their top choices, move down the list of colleges and makes sure you have some strong safety schools.
Grades are at the base of the Pyramid. Activities help us once candidates are academically competitive; and for Asian applicants, this is a higher bar.
How Can You Stand Out
This is where all the fun happens. Asian applicants can stand out just like any other applicant. At Empowerly, our approach is to help students first discover and then focus on their interest over time, starting from 9th grade.
So instead of choosing an interest because others are not doing that, focus on what you really like. How do you find what that is? Try a lot of activities, reflect, focus on one or two you liked, and iterate. Iteration is key.
Once you find an area of interest, focus on 2 or 3 activities at most in that field and really build a story. This is where vision starts to be built. Students find a sense of purpose and meaning and that reflects itself in the writing. Often, our job is to give these students confidence in who they are and who they want to become after they have found an area of interest.
Tips for All Applicants
All college applicants need to consider the Pyramid. Understand that grades are the starting point, but it is your activities, essays, and reflection that gets you into the top schools.
Further, understand that you do not need to have your lifelong passion figured out by the time you are junior in high school. The US system allows for this. Instead, focus on finding something you really love now. Admissions officers understand this can change over time.
In the end, embracing admissions for what it is—a reflection of who you are—is the most important part of the process for any type of applicant. In this article, we cover one of the basic ways Asian applicants are viewed differently than other applicants, and will follow with a series of insights in future articles.