Where Can Part-Asian Student Be a Minority in STEM Programs?


I have a multiple-part question. I am half Asian and half Caucasian. Are there schools where an Asian STEM student would be considered an underrepresented minority? How would I find those? And then secondly, am I better off applying as Asian, as white, or as "two or more races?" Thank you.

You should apply as “Two or more races" ... and for two or more reasons. First of all, it's the honest answer. Do you really want to end up at a college that doesn't want you for who you truly are? Moreover, many admission officials seem to have a little soft spot for applicants who've navigated the sometimes murky waters of a biracial upbringing. These admission folks feel that students from mixed backgrounds may bring an atypical perspective to campus, which is a plus for the college community ... and for you at decision time.

There's no way to discern which colleges have the fewest Asian students in their STEM programs (without visiting campuses and nosing around or contacting department heads to ask questions that probably won't work in your favor). But what you can do is to figure out which colleges have a low Asian population overall and thus may be courting Asian applicants.

The way to do this is to start with the College Board's Big Future Search engine. Use the left-hand menu to select your preferences for size, location, majors, selectivity, etc.

Then when you have your “Results" list, click on a college's name to go to its main profile page and, from there, click on “Campus Life." This will take you to the “Student Body" tab where you can see the percentage of Asians at that school. (Note that this figure only includes domestic students; Asians from outside the US fall under the “Non-Resident Alien" heading, so you won't get a completely accurate sense of the Asian population at those places that draw a lot of applicants from abroad.)

So let's say that you're interested in Johns Hopkins University. Well, the Asian figure there is a whopping 27 percent. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't apply, but it does suggest that you're not going to get any sort of “diversity hook."

At the University of Notre Dame, however (which, like Johns Hopkins, is listed as a “Most Selective" school), only five percent of the domestic student body is Asian. Big difference, eh? So your ethnicity may carry some clout with the Fighting Irish!

Similarly, you can check these stats at other colleges that have strong STEM offerings and you'll find a wide range. Tulane University, for instance, also claims to enroll five percent Asian students while competitor colleges Rice (26 percent), Emory (21 percent) and USC (21 percent) have far more.

Note also that these tallies lump all Asian students together but, at many colleges, some Asian nationalities (e.g., Chinese, Indians, Koreans) might be highly represented while other nationalities are not, and therefore some Asians may still get the advantage of minority status even where the Asian population is large.

Thus, you can use this “research" to get a rough idea of where enrollment managers are likely trying to boost Asian numbers. But the key word here is “rough." The Dean does not advocate going too heavy-handed on this sort of strategizing because it's impossible to know what each institution's priorities really are. So make your own preferences your priority, but sneak a peek at those Asian figures if you're eager to see where you might be viewed as a minority student.


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