There have been a number of articles of late about college admissions and Asians. For example, my alma mater Princeton is getting sued by a young man who says the school's admissions standards are discriminatory against Asians (he was forced to go to Yale instead, which in my mind represents substantial pain and suffering). David Bernstein at Volokh also had this:
Liming Luo is a high school senior who is both a math prodigy and received a perfect 2,400 score on her SATs. New York Magazine
asked Katherine Cohen, CEO and founder of IvyWise, a school-admissions
consulting company, about her [and other students'] prospects for
admission to MIT, the college of her choice. The answer:
Her perfect SAT score is truly outstanding but not a free ticket.
She is applying to many technical colleges, so she will be competing
against a lot of other high-achieving math/science kids (and a lot of other Asian students in particular). While she may be admitted to MIT early, I am not convinced she's a shoo-in"”I'd want to see more evidence that she's giving back to the community.
I don't know enough to comment on the Asian issues, but I wanted to make a couple of other points. First, Bernstein is probably correct in wondering why there is such a focus on "giving back to the community" for an 18-year old girl who appears to be a math genius. But his question is naive. I can say from experience that everything on an application for college may be negotiable (e.g. good athletics allows for lower SAT scores) except for community service. That has become inviolable. Every college prep school I know have elaborate programs nowadays to make sure their kids get lots of community service hours. My son, at the age of eleven, missed on his first shot at National Junior Honor Society because he only had about 20 hours of community service. I can tell you that for college-bound high school kids, community service is longer about volunteering and giving back but about grimly checking off one of the most important boxes for college applications.
My other thought is that you don't have to be Asian to worry nowadays that near-perfect SAT's and grades are not enough to get one into the Ivy League. As you can see here, placing in the 99th percentile on SAT's only gives one a 1 in 5 shot at getting in to Princeton. The other thing you can see is that top Ivy's are being honest when they say they want more than just good grades -- you can see at Princeton and Harvard that moving from 91st to 99th percentile on SAT's does little to improve a person's prospect of getting in. (On the Asian discrimination issue, that means that more than half of the kids in the top 1 percentile of SAT's will get turned down by Princeton, and some of these will be Asians. Whether that is discrimination or just brutally tough admissions is hard to say).
Which leads me to my main point -- the Ivy League needs to find a way to increase capacity. The number of kids that are "ivy-ready" has exploded over the last decades, but the class sizes at Ivy schools have remained flat. For years I have been campaigning at Princeton for this, and I am happy to see they are increasing the class size, but only by a small amount. Princeton has an endowment larger than the GNP of most countries. To date, it has spent that money both well and poorly. Well, because Princeton is one of just a handful of schools that guarantee that if you get in, they will make sure you can pay for it, and they do it with grants, leaving every student debt free at graduation. Poorly, because they have been overly focused on increasingly what I call the "educational intensity" or the amount of physical plant and equipment and stuff per student. In this latter case, we have got to be near the limit of spending an incremental $10 million to increase the education quality by .01%. We should instead be looking for ways to offer this very high quality of education to more people, since so many more are qualified today.
By the way, one of the reasons Ivy League schools don't take my advice is because of the faculty. The very first thing that the faculty wants is more endowed chairs, more equipment, more office space, etc. The very last thing most faculty wants is more students that would force them to actually teach more rather than publish and do research.
Postscript: OK, I will make one comment about the Asian kids thing. I don't know if what Ivy admissions offices are doing is discriminatory or not. But I do know that among the white parents of college-bound high school students that I know, there is real undercurrent of anti-Asian resentment. I can't tell you how often I hear stuff like "Oh of course he does well, he's Asian" or "I don't know if my kid can get into X, all the Asian kids get the spots." Its a strange, resentful sort of racism I see all the time from parents who would never be caught dead uttering anything untoward about blacks. There is this funny feeling I get in some of these conversations that it's OK to dislike Asians in a way that would never be perceived as OK for blacks.