The Model Minority Myth: How Asian Americans are Disadvantaged in College Admissions


By Angelina Tang

*To begin, we’d like to offer a disclaimer. When we discuss Asian stereotypes in this article, we do not intend to impose these stereotypes on you, our readers. We do not intend to suggest that they apply to East, even; in many ways, the Asian Americans in our community actually go against the stereotype. However, in many ways, we also fit into some of the molds other people have created for us, and that’s okay! You are you. You are not a stereotype. We are not a stereotype.

For us juniors, one of the biggest things on our minds is undoubtedly college admissions. No matter where you’re aiming, whether it be U.B. or a Top 25, the amount of stress surrounding the subject is immense. This is especially true for many Asian American students, whose cultures traditionally demand academic excellence from them. Thus, I spent my winter break doing some college research, and I stumbled upon a video about what college admissions officers don’t like to see. Intrigued, I clicked into it, and the phrase “Asian doing stereotypically Asian activities” popped up.

The video cites a study done in 2017 that was published in the Asian Journal of Social Psychology. In it, two groups of admissions officers for top schools were asked to judge hypothetical student profiles on how likely they’d accept them, how socially competent they are, and how much diversity they’d bring to the campus if accepted. Group one of officers were presented with two Asian students: one with “stereotypically Asian” activities like violin, Science Olympiad, math club, and fencing, and one with “non-stereotypically Asian” (read: stereotypically white) activities like drumming, student government, baseball, and yearbook club. Group two of officers were presented with two white students with the same activity sets as group one’s. In the study, the two white students were judged to be equally competent, the Asian student with non-stereotypical activities was judged to be more competent than them, and the Asian student with stereotypical activities was judged to be less competent.

Old as this study may seem, its subject is still absolutely relevant. No amount of calling for minority rights and affirmative action can change this; in fact, these programs actually hurt Asian students more, especially in combination with higher standards for Asian students in admissions both academically and in extracurriculars. For instance, an article in the New York Times from December of 2022 discussed the struggles of Asian students trying to appear “less Asian” in admissions to avoid this bias. These struggles include not declaring race, not listing certain activities they enjoy like chess, piano, or violin, and generally avoiding immigrant experiences in essays. This is also exemplified in the affirmative action case against Harvard currently in the Supreme Court, which accuses Harvard University of giving Asian students a lower personal rating score in admissions (in addition to vying for higher admission odds for white students). This is seen as reinforcement in the belief that appearing less Asian and hopefully dodging the admissions bias is beneficial.

And yet the question remains: why should Asian American students have to appear less Asian to have a wider chance of being accepted? What is so wrong with being Asian? Mind you, these stereotypes were not decided by Asian American students, but rather imposed upon them, upon us. Why must we be targeted just because many of us fit the model minority myth? How my parents or my friends’ parents raised us should not be your problem. It’s okay if you weren’t raised the same, but that isn’t an excuse for us to be more severe and demand more of us. In addition, not all of us are held by our families to that high academic standard. By clumping all of us into one mold, those students who are okay with not having straight A+ in all their APs are horribly disadvantaged. Why make the difficult process of admissions even harder by not permitting us to be ourselves if we want a fair chance?

This is not to say that affirmative action is bad. This is not to say that the proportion of Asian students in prestigious schools is low–on the contrary, Harvard’s class of 2026 is 27.9% Asian American. On the one hand, I must admit that it’s reasonable that Asians are not given as much leniency as other minorities, because let’s face it, the school would be 50% Asian if we did that. But it’s not okay to stereotype Asian students. It’s not okay to actively lower our chances of admission because of our race. There is a distinct difference between supporting other minorities and going out of your way to reduce Asian Americans’ acceptance rates in particular, and that is what higher education needs to recognize.

So dear college: stop viewing Asian Americans as cookie-cutter students. Stop blatantly trying to make the odds lower for us. Just don’t be racist, because we just want to exist without being made into a stereotype or whitewashed. Thank you.