Asian-American groups recently filed a federal complaint against Harvard, claiming the university holds Asian applicants to higher standards. But while that complaint is pending, the Boston Globe reports that breaking the "bamboo ceiling" is a thriving business, with coaches often advising applicants to appear, well … "less Asian," according to the director of NYC's Ivy Coach. Asians only make up about 5% of the US population, but, for example, 21% of Princeton's Class of 2018 is Asian-American, while Harvard's is 20%. But complaints focus on the many more qualified Asian-Americans who are being rejected because of what James Chen, founder of Asian Advantage College Consulting, calls "the Asian penalty."
Coaches, therefore, focus on "deemphasiz[ing] the Asianness," as Chen says, to set them apart within their own demographic. Tips include trying different musical instruments (musical theater gets a thumbs-up over piano) and more physical sports like football. Chen also warns about immigrant tales in the application essay—"Don't talk about your family coming from Vietnam with $2 in a rickety boat," he tells the Globe—and says don't be a "grade grubber": "Schools don't want students who care too much about their grades. They want kids who love learning." Harvard's general counsel replies: "A class that is diverse on multiple dimensions, including on race, transforms the educational experience of students from every background." And an Asian-American professor adds, "I'm not sure that people really get that so many students of all races get rejected." (So why does that "Asian-American students are smarter" stereotype exist?)