How to Get into Ivy and Top Colleges as Asian Applicants

With the declining acceptance rates at top colleges, college admissions are getting competitive for everyone. However, for Asian and Asian-American Applicants, the process gets even more competitive. There have been debates and controversies around racial discrimination, diversity, inclusiveness, and affirmative action. Let’s not get into those moral and socio-political discussions. Let’s try to understand what makes it so difficult to stand out in the applicant pool for Asian students. More importantly, we will discuss how to improve admission chances at top colleges as international applicants from Asian countries like India, China, Korea, Japan, and the Middle East.

Admissions at Ivy League and Elite Colleges for International and Asian-American Students

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I hope the above table gives a decent idea about how competitive it is to get into Ivy and elite colleges.

If you look at the percentages of international students and Asian-American students at the top colleges, it’s not too bad. The problem is there are too many applications from Asian-American and Asian applicants.

If you happen to be an international student from Africa, Latin America, or Europe, your odds improve significantly. But, if you are applying from India, China, South Korea, Japan, or any other Asian country, then it becomes extremely competitive.

For example, MIT admitted only 123 international students out of 9,165 applications for the Class of 2025 (fall 2021 admissions). That gives an acceptance rate of 1.3%.

So, if you are applying from India, you have to be among the top 3 or 5 students from India to get into MIT, STanford or Harvard.

It means you have to be really unique to get into MIT. You need to do exceptionally well in academics and extracurricular activities. Read more on how to get into MIT from India.

Pain Points for Asian Applicants including Indian Applicants

We figured out the following common pain points of Asian applicants (and families):

  • An extremely large pool of qualified applicants
  • Possess fewer distinguishing qualities
  • Too much emphasis on grades and test scores
  • Not too much strategy and tactics behind extracurricular activities
  • Too much craze (and hence competition) for STEM majors; especially, Computer Science and Biology/Biomedical Sciences
  • Treat community work as box that needs to be ticked without demonstrating passion and consistency
  • Depth gets missing while chasing breadth (doing too many activities)
  • Blindly chase the Ivy and Elite colleges and ignore the “best-fit” and “demonstrated interest” factors
  • Struggle with essays
  • A significant majority of applicants (or aspirants) start very late
  • Disadvantage if you happen to be from non-IB
  • Working with professional college admission counsellors turn out to be an expensive affair for several families (can cost as high as Rs. 7 – 10 Lacs for end-to-end process)

Now, we will discuss the problems and potential solutions for Asian applicants.

Major Problems for Asian Applicants to Stand Out

Fierce Competition for STEM Majors for Asian Applicants

Most competitive majors for Asian High School Students:

  • Computer Science
  • Engineering
  • Biomedical Sciences / Biology / Biological Sciences
  • Pre Med

The first question that top colleges will ask is “how are you different from other Asians?

As soon as the admission officers see that you are applying for the stereotype majors, your admission chances get reduced.

Even US nationals of Asian origin (Asian-Americans) face this problem.

Nationalities who are at Disadvantage due to Over-Represented Applicant Pool:

  • China
  • South Korea
  • Singapore
  • Hong Kong
  • Taiwan
  • Japan
  • India
  • Vietnam
  • Thailand
  • Mongolia
  • North Korea

The Open Doors Report (Institute of International Education [IIE], 2019) indicates that in 2018–2019, the number of international students in the United States rose to 1,094,792, which is a 1.5% growth from the previous year.

From the perspective of places of origin, East Asian international students have become the largest group of all international students in the past decade. East Asia includes China, Hong Kong, Japan, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, and Taiwan.

Asian and Asian-American students already make up a disproportionate percentage of the student body at many selective schools, compared to their share of the general population.

This is what makes the college admission process extremely competitive for Asians.

Difficult to Stand Out for Asian Applicants

The school setting, teaching styles, and students’ learning styles in primary and secondary schools in China, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan are highly similar. Singapore and India have also more or less similar grading systems.

The class instructions in Southeast Asia are very structured and test-oriented. This leads students to become passive learners.

Asian students do not actively engage in knowledge construction and practice together. They usually memorize the teachers’ instructions and use memorization as the main strategy
when preparing for exams

For example, Asian students take English language lessons to improve their skills in taking English proficiency exams (e.g. TOEFL, IELTS), instead of improving their English communication skills.

Working with Agencies and Counsellors

Most Asian universities admit students mainly based on the scores of college entrance exams (e.g. IIT-JEE, NEET in India). US and Canadian universities require application forms, standardized test scores, English proficiency test scores, high school transcripts, recommendation letters, personal statements, and other documents.

Hence, agency help is commonly used by applicants from Asian countries to deal with the overwhelming college application process. Now, a majority of agencies work on a commission-based model. This leads to a conflict of interest and biases.

Independent college admission counselors prove to be very helpful in this regard; especially, if you are aiming for top colleges. However, working with independent admission counselors can turn out to be an expensive process.

Moreover, sometimes it’s hard to identify the right counselor in Asian countries.

Working with US-based Counselors is also a good option, but only for wealthy families. US-based counselors can charge anything between $5,000 and $25,000.

So, let’s head towards possible solutions.

How to Get into Ivy & Elite Colleges as International Applicants from Asia

In the last few years, we have worked with hundreds of high school applicants. We have been able to help students to get into Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Penn, and other elite colleges. There is no secret sauce as such. If you want to know specific tips, go through the following guides:

How to Get into Harvard from India (after 12th)

How to Get into Stanford from India (after 12th)

Road-Map to Getting Admitted Into a Liberal Arts College

At Stoodnt, we have created a solid network of credible and experienced college admission counselors & mentors – based out of India, US, UK, and Europe. We have good enough options to create customized bite-size college admission counseling services and end-to-end guidance services as well.

Below are the key strategies and tips for Asian students to get into top colleges in the US and Canada by Ruchi Saran, an independent college admission counselor.

How to Get into Top Colleges in US and Canada from India (or Asia) after 12th – Strategies and Tips by Ruchi Saran

Start Planning Early

I think the biggest challenge is that students don’t plan their high school years at all and only in grade 12 start thinking about colleges. Students from India are smart and driven but if they start their journey in grade 8/9, it can really help them.

Grade 8/9 is a good time to explore different options to see where one’s interest lies. If one starts thinking in Grade 12 about colleges, there is no time to build your application and it can get stressful.

It helps if you start planning early or at least thinking about what you want to do in life.

Related Articles:

How to Build Profile for Engineering/STEM while in High School

How to Prepare for Pre Med while in High School

Advice for Students in Grade 11/12

If you are in grade 11 or entering grade 12, focus on your activities outside your classroom.

By now you must have identified your interests and passion, continue to work in that direction. Summer is a great time to find an online course, job, internship, research project, or be creative with your time. Needless to say, your grades must be consistent and should not drop from a high to a low unless you have a valid reason.

Focus on Learning and Impact while Writing the College Essays

Writing an essay is easy but writing about oneself is not. Essays are all about Show and not tell. Students find it hard to express themselves on paper and reflect on themselves.

One student proudly told me that he had climbed Mt. Everest and my response was so what? It’s the learnings and reflections which must come out in an essay that kids struggle with.

Colleges really want to know what kind of a person you are and what values, strengths, and even weaknesses you have.

It’s best to get some professional help if one does not know how to go about it. The common application essay is 250-650 words. For a few candidates, we started in the summer, and it took 12 drafts before it was good to go. With other candidates, we had 10 drafts in 4 months.

Read How to Tackle the Common App Essay Prompts.

Leverage Summer Break Effectively

Summer is an extremely important time as colleges want to know what the student is doing during their spare time. Based on one’s interest the student can do just about anything. The sky is the limit. Online classes, summer camps, volunteer, internships, getting a job, write a blog. There is no one size fits all. It must be custom designed based on the students’ interests.

Read How to Utilize Your Summer While Staying at Home to Improve Your College Admission Chances.

Put Enough Time on Preparing College List

The list of colleges must be a right fit for the student where they can flourish and be happy.

Parents are not aware of all the colleges in the US. There are over 4,000 colleges in the USA. While making the college list one should consider the major, location, public vs private, size of the college, college vs university, weather, and other factors while making the list. 

A well-balanced college list should have 2-4 dream colleges, 4-6 reach colleges, 4-6 safety colleges. Learn how to build a balanced college list.

Finally, you should also be thrilled to go to your safety colleges. Don’t just apply to low-ranked colleges assuming they are safe. After all, colleges are supposed to admit those students who they feel are likely to join if admitted.

Below are the stories of a few students into top colleges with scholarships.

You might also like to read the following articles:

How Karani Siblings (Yash and Shriya) Made it to their Dream Universities in Canada & USA

US College Admissions for Undergrads: 5 Critical Components and How to Tackle Them

Is it worth working with admission counselors?

Parent’s Feedback on Working with Professional Counselors for Kids’ College Admissions in Canada & USA

Featured Image Source: The Indian Express

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