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$40k to Make Your Teens Less Asian? No, Just No

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 universities.

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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.

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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.

Image via Flickr/Joshua Poh

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