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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

To get into Princeton, show ‘cultural flavor’

Asian-Americans look alike to Princeton admissions officers, reports Molly Hensley-Clancy on BuzzFeed. She analyzes documents produced in an Education Department investigation of alleged bias against Asian-American applicants.

Michael Wang filed a bias complaint against Princeton, Yale and Stanford.

One admissions official described an applicant as a “first-generation Chinese student whose own life has not been easy, trying to make the lives of others better through service. One of the best we’ll ever see from [high school].”

A second official conceded the applicant was “perfectly able and appealing,” but wrote, “very familiar profile.”

“Bright premed, but like many others,” said a third.

Asian-Americans are held to higher standards than others, writes Michael Wang, who filed a bias complaint. A 2009 study found that Asian-Americans “had to score 140 points higher than whites on the SATs, 270 points higher than Latinos and 310 points higher than blacks” to have an equal chance of admissions to an elite private college, he writes in the San Jose Mercury News.

Coyote Blogger, who quit doing alumni interviews for Princeton because of bias against Asian-American applicants, saw something unexpected in the BuzzFeed report: Non-Asian minorities must highlight their race/ethnicity or it doesn’t “count.”

Of a Hispanic applicant, an admissions officer wrote, “Tough to see putting her ahead of others. No cultural flavor in app.” “Were there a touch more cultural flavor I’d be more enthusiastic,” one officer wrote of a native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. . . . “Nice essays, sweet personality,” one admissions officer said of a multiracial applicant. “Bi-racial but not [National Hispanic Recognition Program] and no recognition of her [background] in app by anyone.” When one reader called an applicant’s Native American heritage “appealing,” the other noted that the only place the boy had mentioned the heritage was in a checkbox on his Common Application. He called himself “a white boy,” the admissions officer noted.

Coyote Blogger assumes “cultural flavor” is code for “race-based activism.”  Admissions officers “only want kids who obsess about their race and ethnicity, and perhaps act really angry about it,” he writes. They “don’t want African-Americans or Hispanics or Native Americans who just seem like normal, reasonably happy, well-adjusted smart kids.”

I wrote about Mexican-American students writing college-admissions essays for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Ernest, a B student trying to get into a small Roman Catholic college, had to write about “the challenges you’ve overcome.” The question was begging him to write about the problems of being Mexican American, but Ernest missed the cue. His challenge, he wrote, was to overcome his fear of math. He’d learned that if he asked his teacher for help, doubled his study time and took deep breaths at the start of tests, he could ace algebra, geometry, advanced algebra and trig. There was no time to produce an essay that would highlight his disadvantages, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him he was supposed to be handicapped by his ethnicity. “I’d admit you,” I said.

He didn’t get in. I guess he lacked “cultural flavor.” However, he was admitted elsewhere and earned his bachelor’s degree in four years.

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