HS2 Academy in Arcadia helps prepare students for college admissions. Her primer on college admissions begins with the basics: application deadlines, the relative virtues of the SAT versus the ACT and how many Advanced Placement tests to take. Then she eases into a potentially incendiary topic — one that many counselors investment seminars los angeles her have learned they cannot avoid. Lee’s next slide shows three columns of numbers from a Princeton University study that tried to measure how race and ethnicity affect admissions by using SAT scores as a benchmark.
SAT points an applicant’s race is worth. She points to the first column. She points to the second column. Hispanics received a bonus of 185 points.
Asian Americans, Lee says, are penalized by 50 points — in other words, they had to do that much better to win admission. Do Asians need higher test scores? Is it harder for Asians to get into college? College admission season ignites deep anxieties for Asian American families, who spend more than any other demographic on education. At elite universities across the U. Asian Americans form a larger share of the student body than they do of the population as a whole. And increasingly they have turned against affirmative action policies that could alter those ratios, and accuse admissions committees of discriminating against Asian American applicants.
That perspective has pitted them against advocates for diversity: More college berths for Asian American students mean fewer for black and Latino students, who are statistically underrepresented at top universities. But in the San Gabriel Valley’s hyper-competitive ethnic Asian communities, arguments for diversity can sometimes fall on deaf ears. For immigrant parents raised in Asia’s all-or-nothing test cultures, a good education is not just a measure of success — it’s a matter of survival. They see academic achievement as a moral virtue, and families organize their lives around their child’s education, moving to the best school districts and paying for tutoring and tennis lessons. Lee is the co-founder of HS2 Academy, a college prep business that assumes that racial bias is a fact of college admissions and counsels students accordingly.
At 10 centers across the state, the academy’s counselors teach countermeasures to Asian American applicants. Everyone wants to be a doctor, and write about immigrating to America. You can’t get in with these cliche applications. Like a lot of students at Arcadia High School, Yue Liang plans to apply to University of California campuses and major in engineering — or if her mother wins that argument, pre-med. She excels at math, takes multiple AP courses and volunteers, as does nearly everyone she knows.
The problem, she says, is in the numbers. Asian families flock to the San Gabriel Valley’s school districts because they have some of the highest Academic Performance Index scores in the state. But with hundreds of top-performing students at each high school, focusing on a small set of elite institutions, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. Of the school’s 4,000 students, nearly 3,000 are of Asian descent, and like Yue are willing to do whatever it takes to gain entrance to a prestigious university. They will study until they can’t remember how to have fun and stuff their schedules with extracurriculars. But there’s an important part of their college applications that they can’t improve as easily as an SAT score: their ethnicity.
In the San Gabriel Valley, where aspirationally named tutoring centers such as Little Harvard and Ivy League cluster within walking distance of high schools, many of them priced more cheaply than a baby-sitter, it didn’t take long for some centers to respond to students’ and parents’ fears of being edged out of a top school because of some intangible missing quality. Helping Asian American students, many of whom lead similar lives, requires the embrace of some stereotypes, says Crystal Zell, HS2’s assistant director of counseling. They are good at math and bad at writing and aspire to be doctors, engineers or bankers, according to the cliches. She works with her students to identify what’s unique about them — and most of the time, that’s not their career ambitions or their ethnicity. But that’s because they don’t know about anything else. If a student wants to be an engineer, she makes sure to show other options.