Gaining admission to elite colleges and universities is increasingly challenging, with admissions percentages dropping across the board. However, according to an article published last Friday in The New York Times,there may be an additional roadblock for Asian-American applicants. Although these students out-rank their fellow applicants in terms of GPA, test scores, and extracurricular quality, Harvard consistently (perhaps systematically) rates them the lowest in “personal rating,” a score that attempts to sum up an applicant’s positive personality traits. Asian-American applicants to Harvard were 25% more likely than white applicants to be described with the dreaded “standard strong” — academically qualified but unexceptional.
Many of the parents and high school students I work with, regardless of race, mistakenly believe that a “standard strong” application is the goal. Often, after having worked with a student to come up with an essay topic that displays their personality and gives them a “hook,” I will hear from the parents. “This essay makes mty kid look like a loser,” they’ll say, or “why aren’t you talking more about his accomplishments?” or “This topic is too weird — why not write about the time she won the big game?”