Many Asian American students are not identifying themselves as such on their college applications, believing that doing so would hurt their chances of being accepted to top universities, according to recent studies including one at Princeton University.
According to these studies, Asian students believe themselves to be evaluated at a higher standard than students of other races.
Kara Miller, who worked as an application reader at Yale, said, “Asians were evaluated more toughly.”
Miller called around to Ivy League universities and discovered them all to have a similar percentage of Asian students, leading her to believe the schools had some sort of quota in mind.
“They don’t feel comfortable going over that percentage,” Miller said.
The Princeton study conducted by sociologist Thomas Epenshade found that, “When comparing applicants with similar grades, scores, athletic qualifications and family history from seven elite private colleges and universities: Whites were three times as likely to get fat envelopes as Asians. Hispanics were twice as likely to win admission as whites. African Americans were at least five times as likely to be accepted as whites.”
“When you’re part of a high achieving group, there is some effort to try to make sure that group isn’t out of proportion in the university. This is understandable,” Miller said.
“There are more women applying to college, too, but you don’t want a school that is 70 percent women, even if they are your best applicants.”
Steven Hsu, professor of theoretical physics at the University of Oregon, believes the effect of ethnicity in the admissions process should be minimized as much as possible.
“There are many forms of diversity,” said Hsu in an e-mail. “Intellectual diversity is as important as ethnic diversity.”
Admitting students on a quota-like basis may be a possibility for private schools, but what about public institutions such as the University of California?
“Prop 209 eliminated much of this discrimination. Simply compare the ethnic makeup of admits pre- and post-209,” Hsu said in an e-mail. “The Asian population fraction went up considerably. What does that tell you about the pre-209 process, or the process still in place at other universities?”
“UC schools used to have a much smaller percentage of Asians, and now it is over 40 percent at many schools,” Miller said .
The National Association of Scholars website stated that Prop 209, which was approved in 1996, prohibited all state agencies from using race, gender, or ethnicity to discriminate against or give preference to people in public employment, competition for a state contract and university admissions.
“Our admissions policies have complied and will continue to comply with the California Constitution, which prohibits granting preferential treatment on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin or gender, in accord with Proposition 209,” said Dianne Klein, media specialist at the UC Office of the President.
Timothy Groseclose, professor of political science at UCLA, has had a somewhat different experience with the effects of Prop 209. Groseclose resigned from the UCLA admissions committee in 2008 in protest of unwillingness on the behalf of the school to submit to him admissions data that would aid him in his investigation of preferential admissions practices.
Groseclose found that there was pressure on UC admissions committees to admit more African American and Latino students.
“It’s mainly based only on casual observation, but I don’t think it really matters whether an Asian student checks the Asian box,” Groseclose said in an e-mail.
And, as Miller points out, there are ways of getting around knowing things even if the box is left unchecked.
“If your last name is Wang, you can mark whatever you want, but admissions can still figure it out,” Miller said.
Miller does not see a clear solution to problem within the admission system. She does, however, think campus diversity is important.
“You have to balance the needs of individuals with the macro need of creating a student body.”
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