The Princeton Review’s controversial college admissions advice for Asian students sparks debate


A controversial tip from the second edition of The Princeton Review’s “Cracking College Admissions” that advises applicants with “Asian-sounding names” to include a photo of themselves to prove their race has sparked discussions on social media.

Key points:

  • Tyler Austin Harper, a contributing writer for The Atlantic, took to X to share the controversial advice from the educational services company The Princeton Review in their 2004 “Cracking College Admissions” book guide.

  • The 2004 edition offers candid advice on how students should handle their racial and ethnic backgrounds in college applications. It advises Asian students to downplay being Asian to avoid being stereotyped and increase their chances of admittance.

The details:

  • The book's guidance for Asian students discourages them from using their Asian last names to sidestep the perceived disadvantage of being categorized as part of the “Asian invasion” and to avoid being perceived as an “Asian Joe Bloggs,” a stereotype of students excelling in math and science but lacking in verbal skills and humanities.

  • It warns that such applicants might either be rejected due to oversaturation or be forced to compete within a subgroup of similar applicants rather than the broader pool.

  • To counteract this, the book suggests downplaying being Asian, including avoiding common cultural topics in application essays, not attaching their photo to the application and participating in activities other than math, computer or chess club.

  • As for non-Asian applicants with Asian-sounding last names, these applicants were advised to attach a photo of themselves to prove their race.

  • The eight-page section also advises Black applicants to include a photograph to “make sure the admissions committee knows you’re black” as “selective colleges generally have less stringent requirements for Black applicants.” Hispanic students are given minimal advice generally aligning with the suggestions for Black students, with an additional caution against affluent Hispanic students emphasizing their ethnicity.


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  • In response to the post, some X users expressed concern, while others noted that the guide provided good tips that accurately described the admission process.

  • “Imagine how pervasive this is if they don’t hesitate to print this clearly unlawful stuff in a book. Racist discrimination as if this was completely normal,” one user wrote.

  • “Something to be said for frankness - one really does need to know where one stands - in reality,” one user suggested. Another similarly said, “All excellent advice for the world as it really is.”

  • “Based on the evidence in the Harvard case, sadly, very solid advice,” one argued. Another asked, “Were they wrong tho given what we now officially know about Ivy admissions?”

  • The Princeton Review’s more recent publications have dropped the controversial advice, instead focusing on general recommendations for achieving high grades and finding the best college fit. The dated yet provocative advice highlights ongoing concerns about the role of race in college admissions amid the broader affirmative action debate.

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