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I was told I’d never get into Yale because of Asian American prejudice, but I beat the odds and got in. Now I teach other students how to get into their dream schools.

By Christopher Rim | August 17, 2023, 3:25 PM EDT

“Chris, maybe you should set your sights on a state school.”

This was the advice I received from my high school’s college counselor (along with most of my teachers) when I shared my intention to apply to Yale University. As an Asian American student with a 3.7 unweighted GPA, he said, I had no chance of getting into such a prestigious university. Typically most Asian Americans’ grades skew higher, or they need a perfect GPA to get in.

Through this and similar interactions, I was made keenly aware of the pervasive prejudice against Asian Americans in the college-admissions process at elite universities. For many, anti-Asian bias in college admissions was an open secret or a widely spread rumor. But for myself and fellow Asian American applicants, it was an ever-present obstacle to overcome. At every turn, I was reminded that I was competing against other, more-qualified Asian American students and that I was fighting to defy rampant stereotypes.

Against the odds, I was the only student from my high school to receive a coveted acceptance letter from Yale. I now help other Asian Americans get into their dream schools.

I worked hard to get into Yale

When I opened my acceptance letter in 2013, I was shocked. Everyone around me told me that this was a nearly impossible accomplishment as an Asian American student, especially one with my grades. The acceptance rate that year at Yale was just 6.9%. I couldn’t believe that I had defied the statistics.

I would later discover through a conversation with the admissions officer who read my application that it was my passion — demonstrated through my activities outside the classroom — that had earned me a spot at one of the US’s top universities.

As a teenager, I experienced the pain of losing a family friend to suicide. The ordeal sparked a passion in me for instructing others about bystander intervention and facilitating emotionally intelligent education in the classroom. A fellow student and I poured all of our time and energy into developing a nonprofit that brought education in bystander intervention and mental-health awareness to middle schools in our area. My grades suffered as I prioritized sending cold emails and letters soliciting businesses for donations and sponsorships rather than studying for biology exams or editing essays.

Despite its effect on my GPA, I learned it was this initiative that differentiated me from thousands of other applicants.

That same passion has continued to inform me as a college-admissions consultant for students with diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds

Since 2015, I have worked with hundreds of other young students with Ivy League dreams — one-third of whom are Asian American. My approach to college-admissions consulting draws from my experience leveraging my passion to enact positive change in my community.

I help applicants discover their authentic passions and articulate them to admissions committees at top universities. As a result, I have seen students develop meaningful projects — whether it’s starting businesses, founding nonprofits, or conducting cutting-edge research.

I’ve witnessed the role of students’ passions in giving dimension and dynamism to their applications. Clearly and compellingly conveying their interests and the ways in which they have mobilized those interests in service of their communities transforms applicants from numbers on a page to whole people in the eyes of admissions officers.

Despite my best intentions, I have found myself in the unenviable position my guidance counselor found himself in 10 years ago

Well aware of the prevalence of anti-Asian bias in the college-admissions process, I have advised students to pursue certain activities over others that may pigeonhole them in stereotypes and caricatures.

I have told an award-winning pianist that she would have better odds of admission if she wrote about her interest in creative writing instead of the piano in her application essay because the topic would lend itself to stereotypes. I advised yet another applicant early in their high-school career to pursue their interest in psychology, rather than math, for the same reason. Both students earned acceptance at prestigious universities — the former at Stanford and the latter at Dartmouth.

Even as I have coached students to discover their authentic interests, I have been keenly aware that admission at elite colleges is often contingent on strategy rather than merit. Though I may not relish telling students to pursue other interests to break out of stereotypes, my job is to help students showcase their strengths and demonstrate the value they will add to a campus community — regardless of their background.

Elite-college admissions have never been fair; I coach students to become better players within a game that’s often rigged against them.

My experience proves that while grades may be the foundation of a competitive application, they aren’t the sum total of what prestigious colleges are looking for. Demonstrated passion speaks louder than numbers on a page.

Despite the unfairness of the admissions system, I fought to earn a seat at Yale. Now I seek to replicate my success story for every student I work with.

Insider

Originally published on Insider on August 17, 2023

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