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Asian Students Striving to be Less “Asian”

How do Asian students set themselves apart in an increasingly competitive environment and break through the stereotypes?

I was recently reading an article on BuzzFeed about The Business of Making Asian Students Less “Asian” after a coalition of 64 Asian-American groups filed a federal complaint alleging Harvard’s admissions process discriminated against Asians. There’s a lot of discussion about the “fairness” of the admissions policies of elite universities. I don’t want to debate the merits and drawbacks of Harvard’s admission process. Instead, let’s talk about what you can do to counter these stereotypes and biases in an authentic way.


I never advise “gaming” the system. People talk about changing last names to something less Asian. This is crazy! And looks terrible if it’s discovered, which it probably will be. It’s OK to be Asian and good at math and want to be a doctor or even play the violin. The key to overcoming stereotypes is to be aware of them. Once you’re aware of them, you can reflect if you are playing the violin because you feel parental or societal pressure or because you really love it. If it’s the former, maybe your time would be better spent doing something you enjoy more. If it’s the latter, go for it. Don’t stop doing something you love just because it’s a stereotypical activity.
This is true for everyone, by the way. Authenticity is a huge boost to your application. Even though overcoming biases is especially important for the Asian community, it’s very obvious in applications and interviews if you just did something because you felt like you had to or because you felt pressure to do it.
So what does this mean for you and your application? I was talking to an Asian mother recently who’s daughter wants to be a doctor. When I asked her why her daughter wanted to be a doctor, she did not give me a generic response like it’s a good job or she wants to help people or because I told her she has to be a doctor :). Her daughter needed glasses at a very young age and was profoundly affected by her ophthalmologist. This respect and passion for the profession is reflected in years of service to the visually impaired all around the globe and other aspects of her resume. With this background, her daughter goes from another Asian girl who wants to be a doctor to someone with unique passion and vision to help others.

Now I want you to spend some time reflecting on your activities. Do any of them strike you as stereotypical? If they are stereotypical, do you really love doing them or do you have a really good and unique reason you do them? Leave a comment about how you can overcome stereotypes or biases.

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Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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