Is the college admissions process fair? That’s been the question of this year’s college admission season, with articles like Suzy Lee Weiss’s Wall Street Journal Op-Ed “To (All) the Colleges That Rejected Me” and the Fisher v. University of Texas Supreme Court case challenging race-based Affirmative Action. As a recent high school graduate from a private school in New York, I have thought much about this topic.
I first read Weiss’s piece when it was published in March. Since then, it has gone viral and has received a mostly negative response, with Weiss criticized for having a sense of white entitlement (See “To (All) the White Girls Who Didn’t Get Into The College of Their Dreams”). Weiss was lucky enough to get into some of the Big 10 schools, including the University of Michigan and Penn State, but was upset she did not get into more elite schools. She felt discriminated against for being Caucasian. In her Wall Street Journal editorial, she wrote, “What could I have done differently over the past years? For starters, had I known two years ago what I know now, I would have gladly worn a headdress to school. Show me to any closet and I would’ve happily come out of it. ‘Diversity!’...If it were up to me, I would’ve been any of the diversities: Navajo, Pacific Islander, anything. Sen.”
As an Asian American, I too had my moments where I felt discriminated against during the college process. “Think of the college process as a pie,” my older Asian American peers told me. “There is only a tiny fraction of the pie that is reserved for Asians. They want you to fight for this slice: to die for it.”
I was not alone in having this experience. In a 2012 American Conservative essay, “The Myth of American Meritocracy,” Ron Unz argues that Asian applicants to elite schools are “The New Jews” in that they’re the new objects of discrimination:
...[A]lmost every year from 1995–2011 show[s] an Asian enrollment within a single point of the 16.5 percent average, despite huge fluctuations in the number of applications... By contrast, prior to 1993 Asian enrollment had often changed quite substantially from year to year. It is interesting to note that this exactly replicates the historical pattern observed by Karabel, in which Jewish enrollment rose very rapidly, leading to imposition of an informal quota system, after which the number of Jews fell substantially, and thereafter remained roughly constant for decades.
As I experienced in my own college admissions process and witnessed elsewhere, despite the fact that more highly-qualified Asian students try to grab a slice of the pie, its size remains constant.
Of course, like the generations of Jews who also worked against a quota system stacked against them, Asians today do not play the victim game. Instead, they largely accept such discrimination as another challenge to overcome. To quote Nietzsche: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
When I received my college acceptances, having been rejected by two competitive institutions and waitlisted at one, I first believed that my older peers had been right: I thought I had failed and that like Weiss, someone else had “taken my spot.” My parents eventually convinced me to move on: I was only competing with my own expectations of myself. So far, it seems they were right. All the people that I’ve spoken to who have been through their first year of college have said, even if they didn’t enroll at their first choice school, that they ended up “where they belong.”
Besides, all of this talk about college admissions, who got in where, and elite colleges misses the point. At my high school graduation, one of the student speakers spoke about the pressure to succeed and its negative consequences. We have all seen this: someone cheating on a test or relishing in the plight of others or complaining publicly about not getting into the school of his or her dreams.
Rather than obsessing about our school’s rank, we should work to prove ourselves worthy of the education that we will receive. The point of getting a college education is to prepare oneself to be an engaged citizen. We have to make sure to do our part for society. Don’t dwell on rejection: make the most of where you end up.