Students' Corner

Student contribution about how fears of self-identifying as Asian can negatively affect racial/ethnic identity development, mental health and college admissions experiences.

Admission Considerations in Higher Education Among Asian Americans

Yi-Chen (Jenny) Wu 
University of Georgia

While Asian is considered the fastest growing racial group between 2000 and 2010, Asians constitute approximately 5 percent of the U.S. population and is the third underrepresented minority group (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011). Ironically, elite college administrators expressed concerns that they may have Student on campus"too many" Asians enrolled in higher education system (Jaschik, 2006). Especially after the Supreme Court's Bakke decision in 1978, a fear reaction began to spread in the Asian community as they believed that their chance of being accepted at elite universities might be limited due to their disfavored race. To top the fear, a National Study of College Experience led by Espenshade and Radford (2009) showed that a student who self-identifies as Asian will need 140 SAT points higher than whites, 320 SAT points higher than Hispanics, and 450 SAT points higher than African Americans.

Although the author cautioned about jumping to the conclusion, fear of being discriminated against is still evident among Asians. For example, the Taiwanese community in Atlanta encouraged its members to sign a petition to overthrow the racial preference policies in college admissions (ATAA, 2012). An annual meeting of the National Association for College Admission Counseling documented that Asian students are convinced not to identify their race/ethnicity box on applications to avoid potential biases in admission to the nation's top colleges (Washington, 2011). But this does not reduce fear among Asian applicants because the majority of Asian students' last names gave away their Asian identity easily.

Student taking notesPerhaps setting a higher admissions bar for Asians is a form of discrimination rooted in the "model minority" stereotype. The term implies that all Asians are hard working, financially well off, high-achievers. This image not only neglects the diverse ethnocultural backgrounds of Asian groups, but also attempts to silence Asians regarding their difficulties and discrimination experiences. The truth is most Asians are immigrants who face language struggles while some Asians, such as Vietnamese, Cambodians, Hmongs and Laotians, have high dropout rates from high school and possess a low socioeconomic status (Ngo & Lee, 2007; Lee, 2009). By glorifying Asian success, society denies that discrimination exists and ignores the sacrifices (e.g. family relationships, health issues, etc) that Asians have had to make in order to succeed (Tran & Birman, 2010). Additionally, with the focus on academic success, Asians experience difficulties in expressing their talents in other areas, such as in the sports and entertainment industries (Sue & Okazaki, 1990).

The fear of self-identifying as Asian can affect one's racial/ethnic identity development and have an impact on one's mental health. Asians who did not possess a strong racial/ethnic identity rated lower scores on self-actualization and acceptance (Iwamoto & Liu, 2010), reported lower self-esteem (Tummala-Narra, Inman, & Ettigi, 2011), tended to have negative attitudes toward schooling, lower academic achievement (Lee, 2009), and could not manage race-related stress well (Yoo & Lee, 2005; Yip et al., 2008; Tummala-Narra et al., 2011). The denial of Asian heritage may also lead to the denial of Asian values, which may create cultural gaps and intergeneration conflict between the students and their parents (Ahn, Kim, & Park, 2009; Park, Kim, Chiang, & Ju, 2010). The psychological effects of this type of conflict include emotional distance between parents and children, interpersonal problems, lack of self-confidence and assertiveness, high suicidal risk, and anxiety and depression (Lee, Choe, Kim, & Ngo, 2000; Lowinger & Kwok, 2001; Kuroki & Tilley, 2012).


  • Ahn, A. J., Kim, B. S. K., & Park, Y. S. (2009). Asian cultural values gap, cognitive flexibility, coping strategies, and parent-child conflicts among Korean Americans. Asian American Journal of Psychology, S(1), 29-44. doi: 10.1037/1948-1985.s.1.29

  • Atlanta Taiwanese Association of America. (2012, Mar 13).

  • Espenshade, T. J., & Radford, A. W. (2009). No longer separate, not yet equal: Race and class in elite college admission and campus life. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  • Iwamoto, D. K. & Liu, W. M. (2010). The impact of racial identity, ethnic identity, Asian values, and race-related stress on Asian Americans and Asian international college students' psychological well-being. Journal of Counseling Psychology®, 57(1), 79-91.

  • Jaschik, S. (2006, Oct 10) Too Asian? In Inside Higher Ed.

  • Kuroki, Y., & Tilley, J. L. (2012). Recursive partitioning analysis of lifetime suicidal behaviors in Asian Americans. Asian American Journal of Pyschology, 3(1). Special issue: Secondary analysis of the national Latino Asian American study (NILAAS) Dataset-PartI. 17-28.

  • Lee, S. J. (2009). Unraveling the "Model Minority" Stereotype: Listening to Asian American Youth (2nd ed.) New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.

  • Lee, R. M., Choe, J., Kim, G., & Ngo, V. (2000). Construction of the Asian American Family Conflicts Scale. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 47, 211-222.

  • Lowinger, R. J., & Kwok, H. (2001). Parental over-protection in Asian American children: A psychodynamic clinical perspective. Psychotherapy, 38, 319-330. doi: 10.1037/a0017393

  • Ngo, B. & Stacey J. (2007). Complicating the image of model minority success: A review of southeast Asian American education. Eview of Educational Research, 77(4), 415-453.

  • Park, Y. S., Kim, B. S. K., Chiang, J., & Ju, C. M. (2010). Acculturation, enculturaion, parental adherence to Asian cultural values, parenting styles, and family conflict among Asian American college students. Asian American Journal of Psychology,1(1), 67-79.

  • Sue, S., & Okazaki, S. (1990). Asian-American educational achievement: A phenomenon in search of an explanation. American Psychologist®, 45, 913-920. doi: 10.1037/003-066X.45.8.913

  • Tran, N., & Birman, D. (2010). Questioning the model minority: Studies of Asian American academic performance. Asian American Journal of Psychology, 1(2), 106-118.

  • Tummala-Narra, P., Inman, A. G., Ettigi, S. P. (2011). Asian Indians' responses to discrimination: A mixed-method examination of identity, coping, and self-esteem. Asian American Journal of Psychology, 2(3), 205-218. doi: 10.1037/10025555

  • U.S. Census Bureau (2011, March). An Overview: Race and Hispanic Origin and the 2010 Census (PDF, 1.7MB).

  • Washington, J. (2011, Dec 04). Some Asians' college strategy: Don't check 'Asian'. In USA Today.

  • Yip, T., Gee, G. C., & Takeuchi, D. T. (2008). Racial discrimination and psychological distress: The impact of ethnic identity and age among immigrant and United States-born Asian adults. Developmental Psychology®, 44, 787-800.

  • Yong, P.S., Kim, B.S.K., Chiang, J., & Ju, C.M. (2010). Acculturation, enculturation, parental adherence to Asian cultural values, parenting styles, and family conflict among Asian American college students. Asian American Journal of Psychology, 1(1), 67-79. doi: 10.1037/a0013378

  • Yoo, H. C., & Lee, R. M. (2005). Ethnic identity and approach-type coping as moderators of the racial discrimination/well-being relation in Asian Americans. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52, 497-506.