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Three Things for AAPI Students to Consider in their College Search

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

May is Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage month – a dedicated space and time for America to celebrate, reflect, and engage with AAPI identities and communities. In honor of AAPI heritage month, I’ve decided to compile some useful information on what those who identify as AAPI students might look for in their college search.

First, you might look for various student organizations that are centered around AAPI-specific ideas, work, projects, and/or issues. Joining these kinds of clubs is a great way to actively explore and celebrate your racial/ethnic identity, and it is also a natural way to find your community at school. Google and the web will be your greatest resource in this search process. Student organization and/or club lists for each school can provide you a brief overview of all the different cultural groups each school has to offer. Thinking about if or which cultural groups you are interested in potentially joining can help you to better narrow down your school choices based on student life and activities. As written in an earlier blog post, being able to actually imagine yourself in certain school-specific organizations and clubs is a great topic to write about in your college application essays, namely because it proves you are genuinely interested in the school and have done your research on what it has to offer outside of purely academics.

AAPI related student organizations and/or clubs can take on various different forms. Some might be race/ethnic specific – such as the Association of Chinese Americans at UCLA. Others might be more politically-oriented, such as the group Dear Asian Youth @ UCLA, which focuses on educating and empowering nearby youth through increased political activism. Doing a broad online search for a school’s student clubs and organizations by typing “[insert school name] student clubs and organizations”, then navigating to the portion of the website that lists clubs under overarching themes like culture, race, ethnicity, and identity should help you to discover what AAPI-specific clubs and organizations exist at the school you’re looking at. Doing a broad search of what cultural groups exist on campus can give you a snapshot into not only what student life might look like should you attend, but also how diverse student populations, backgrounds, and interests are at the school.

Second, looking at how diverse the school is is an important feature for you to note when searching for colleges to apply to or attend, especially if you are looking for a school with a strong AAPI presence, whether in the student body and/or faculty. You can gauge this by looking at each school’s demographics for its student population and faculty. Each school should have released reports of what its racial/ethnic demographics are. By searching “[insert school name] student body demographics,” you should be able to find a multitude of demographics data on enrolled and admitted students over time. Students can also check to see how inclusive the school community is by checking social media accounts for AAPI students, searching for relevant terms in the school newspaper, and asking questions of real students.

While doing these kinds of searches on student demographics is important, it’s worthwhile to note that the data does not fully and accurately embody the spirit of a school and its student communities. Even if a school has a smaller AAPI presence, that does not necessarily mean there is not a culture of strong appreciation and celebration for AAPI individuals. Rather, understanding the school’s overall culture towards the AAPI community (i.e. whether or not there is an embrace of and tangible push for greater diversity and inclusion) is most important – evaluating student demographics is just one small piece to understanding each school’s culture of diversity.

One important way to assess a school’s culture of diversity is by looking at schools’ diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Looking through reported DEI initiatives and understanding what kinds of opportunities, projects, and programs schools have undertaken to advance DEI initiatives on campus will give you insight into how committed a school is to embracing and protecting cultural diversity. Going to a school’s DEI resource page allows you to glimpse what policies schools have placed to honor DEI, what campus resources schools have provided for students on matters pertaining to DEI, and briefings that make schools’ DEI initiatives more transparent for students. Doing your research ahead of time on how each school approaches DEI initiatives will give you a general sense of how seriously schools take DEI, the general growth trajectory of DEI initiatives for the future, and how robustly diverse communities thrive at each school.

Lastly, if you’re interested in exploring AAPI topics academically, you might consider how strong of an Asian American Studies program the school you’re looking at has. Doing a simple web search of “Asian American Studies [insert school name here]” should direct you to each school’s department website that hosts Asian American Studies and/or ethnic studies. For example, UCLA’s Asian American Studies department has an extensive website that allows you to explore many different AAPI-related academic programs and opportunities offered at the school. Making sure you thoroughly explore each school’s Asian American Studies department, which can be done through online searches and navigating through department websites, will help you determine how established the program is at each school.

If you do your college research thoroughly, you'll end up on a campus where you're happy, successful, and thriving. Download my completely free College Research Guide to see a list of the best resources for your college search so you know exactly where to start.

Robert Powers (M.A. Johns Hopkins) is the college consultant at College Torch. He is an expert in colleges and the college admissions process. Parents, join his private Facebook group for Parents of College-Bound Students.

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