October 15, 2018

The Rise & Fall of Affirmative Action

“In 2012, Michael Wang, a senior at James Logan High School, in the Bay Area, was confident that he had done enough to get into one of his dream schools: Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton. He had the kind of G.P.A.—4.67—that looks like a typo to anyone older than thirty-five. He had aced the ACT and placed in the ninety-ninth percentile on the SAT. But Wang didn’t want to be seen merely as a bookworm—he was an accomplished member of the speech-and-debate team, and he had co-founded his school’s math club. He played the piano and performed in a choir that sang with the San Francisco Opera, and at Barack Obama’s first Inauguration.

The following spring, Wang was rejected from all the Ivy League universities he had applied to, except the University of Pennsylvania. (He made the wait lists at Harvard and Columbia, but was eventually turned down at those schools, too.) He was devastated, and wondered what more he could have done. Then he started thinking about all the impediments that no amount of hard work could overcome. Some of his classmates who had got into these schools, he thought, had less impressive credentials than his. But they were Hispanic and African-American. Had he been rejected because he was Asian?

Wang had always been told that Asian students in America were held to higher standards than everyone else. When he was young, his parents suggested that, if he wanted to go to a school like Harvard, he would have to outwork other Asian students. Swearing off television became a competitive advantage. In high school, his friends, who were predominantly Asian, believed that their race would work against them in the admissions process. Wang knew students whose families were mixed Asian and white who identified themselves as white on their applications, lest they be lumped in with all the other overachievers. The Princeton Review has, in the past, encouraged students of Asian descent to try to conceal their cultural identity. There are admissions-counselling companies, like Asian Advantage, in the Bay Area, that help students strategize their extracurricular activities (less piano and tennis), and others, like Ivy Coach, based in New York City, that promise to make students “appear less Asian” in their application materials.”

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