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Everyone agrees that the college
application process is more competitive than ever, but lately I've been hearing
about a kind of coaching service that I just can't get behind: businesses that
promise to help Asian American teens improve their chances of getting into the
Ivy League by making them … less Asian.
There's already a cottage industry
of tutoring centers, SAT prep courses and pricey essay editors. But these
newest businesses are different, because they prey upon the fears of some Asian immigrant parents that their children are being discriminated against by elite
The solution they offer? According
to these counselors: avoid typically Asian activities, such as martial arts and
science clubs. The owner of one of these coaching services, Mimi Doe of Top
Tier Admissions, told Buzzfeed that she aims to "help our Indian and Asian candidates
who do seem to fall into these typical robotic, soulless stereotypes." And for
the privilege of pointing out that your kids seem robotic and soulless, you may
fork over as much as $40,000 beginning in the middle school years.
While I do agree with some of their
advice, I think the way they're going about it is all wrong. It's true that
many Asian American students feel pressured into certain fields that seem
"reliable" such as medicine or engineering. During my own high school years, my
extracurricular activities veered toward school newspaper or speech and debate
team. But my Taiwanese immigrant parents
made it clear that my career options were doctor, engineer or scientist. After
all, that's what they knew.
Instead of encouraging kids to find their innate talents and true passions, these coaches are selling a way to game the college admissions system and reinforcing their racial insecurities along the way.
At the time when my parents came to the United
States, STEM professions were more welcoming to Asian immigrants than other
industries, and they believed their children would face less discrimination in these careers. In my early college years, I tried to force my word-loving self
into that scientific mold ("I can be the doctor who writes books in my spare
time!") but after a few semesters, I had a heart to heart with my father, who
finally gave me his blessing to change my major.
Ultimately, I got to where I was
supposed to go—or at least in the ballpark. At times, I wished I could have found my way sooner. But here's the problem I see with these coaching services: Instead of encouraging
kids to find their innate talents and true passions, these coaches are selling
a way to game the college admissions system and reinforcing their racial
insecurities along the way.
So here's my free advice: If you
really want to be "less Asian" and lose that "robotic, soulless stereotype," start by not paying someone $40,000 to tell you what to do. If you love drama, try
out for the school play. If you love chess, by all means be the best chess
master you can be. My kids take tae kwon do and
play the drums. I'd rather help young people navigate the messy process of figuring
out who they are than to follow someone else's advice to get my kids to where I think they should go.
My kids are approaching their high school years, and I want to help them discover their
innate talents and follow their passions, while also being proud of their
ethnicity. That path may lead my kids to an elite college or it may not. But
it will be a path that is uniquely theirs.