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Navigating the College Research Process as an AAPI Student

Picture of Ashley Nieblas and Becky Motta
By Ashley Nieblas and Becky Motta on April, 15 2021 | 8 minute read

Here at Collegewise, we really love the college research process. There are so many fantastic colleges to choose from, and thoughtful college research also involves a great deal of self-reflection. One piece to finding a good college fit includes feeling a sense of belonging and safety, and the rest of this post is aimed at speaking about those two factors specifically for our Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students and families. In particular, due to recent events aimed at AAPI communities, we wanted to share some resources that would help in the overall college search process. After all, this isn’t just the place where you’ll be attending school — it’s the place you’ll call home for four years.

Each student’s college search is personal: priorities, goals, likes, and dislikes all differ. As college counselors, we want to be intentional about serving and supporting the needs of our students and families. It’s also important to remember that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is a term that refers to people of over 50 different ethnic backgrounds with varying cultures, religions, histories, and socioeconomic backgrounds. In other words, a great fit for one AAPI student might not be for another, and that’s okay!

There is no one perfect college, and instead, as you embark on this process, you want to ensure you’re building a balanced list filled with schools where you will feel safe, comfortable, and confident that you are set up to succeed. Here are a few questions for AAPI students to consider and resources to utilize as they build their college lists.

How important is the racial breakdown of the school?

 When you look around the student body, do you see yourself reflected back? There’s no clear consensus on what defines an institution as diverse, but as you consider what life on the campus might feel and look like, utilize numbers and data to get a sense of who comprises the student community. The Common Data Set can provide a snapshot of the first year class composition at an institution, and the Ethnic Diversity Index can provide a fuller view of the total undergraduate population. Consider it on a slightly smaller scale: if 20% of the student population identifies as AAPI, then in a classroom of 100, are you comfortable being 1of 20 AAPI students?

Does the institution demonstrate a commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion?

The values and mission statement of an institution demonstrates what the institution’s high-level objectives and priorities are. In other words, what are they telling you is important to them? Consider what the institution tells you it values, and the language it uses to describe who, what, and how they serve those values. For example, University of Maryland-College Park dedicates an entire section of its mission statement objectives to highlight the supportive community they aim to cultivate while also aiming to prepare students who will excel in multicultural environments and thrive in the global community.”

You see an institution has clearly delineated their values, but do they walk the talk? Are there metrics in place to measure progress? Who has defined those metrics, and who holds the institution accountable to these metrics? One example can be found at University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, which has a five-year Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Plan and progress is reported annually in a progress report.

What support services and organizations are offered on campus?

Many universities have an Asian American university resource center, including Yale, Indiana, and Tufts. Explore the services, resources, and events they offer.

This can include housing specifically for Asian American students, the celebration of AAPI heritage month, and a student mentorship program. How and when would you utilize the resources offered? As you explore the university’s website, consider how easy is it to find and join AAPI and intersectional groups, including fraternities and sororities in the National APIDA Panhellenic Organization.

What has the school done to address issues of safety and discrimination on campus?

In light of the recent increase of violence against AAPI individuals in our country, you may want to research what statements and actions universities have taken to condemn these actions and how they are supporting students moving forward. You can also explore what methods of incident reporting are offered on campuses, such as University of Illinois’s Incident Reports page. Aside from understanding reporting procedures and subsequent disciplinary review, explore what assistive resources are offered, such as mental health counseling, health services, and advocacy groups.  

If you’re taking a tour or attending a virtual information session, be sure to ask what protocols and systems are in place to ensure the safety and well-being of all students on campus.

Is diversity equally represented in the faculty, staff, and administration of the institution?

For some students, representation at all levels is important in shaping their education. You can explore colleges that score high on the Faculty Diversity index. Already have schools you’re interested in? Explore a few of the school’s departmental pages to see who comprises the array of faculty teaching across subjects in both STEM and the humanities. It might also be worthwhile to explore information around the composition of school’s administration in order to understand who is responsible for shaping and enforcing the university’s policies.

What do current students say about the campus climate?

Unigo, Niche, and Princeton Review offer an array of student reviews. Read a number of positive and negative reviews utilizing key search words in order to get a sense of what life as an AAPI student is like. Are non-AAPI and AAPI students generally accepting and inclusive? Are microaggressions pervasive and frequent? Do students of different backgrounds frequently and positively interact, or is there friction and segmentation amongst the student body? Try to read through a number of reviews to get a sense of the larger picture, and keep in mind that one student’s experience does not speak to every student’s experience.

What success stories have been shared by AAPI alumni?

Connect with student alumni groups and see what AAPI alumni have to share about their experiences. Better yet, check if there are any affinity alumni networks that might provide support during your undergraduate years and beyond.

Final thoughts:

If you’re looking for further information on a specific college, we recommend picking up the phone and calling the admissions office directly to see if you can speak to someone about your specific questions or concerns. Remember this process is human. You’re going to be a member of a residential community soon, and the more you have a sense of what the humans who comprise that community are like, the better you can walk into that next chapter. This can also be a great time to reach out to your school counselor, so they can give you perspective on what you can expect at that institution.

This is an exciting adventure that you’re embarking on, as you undertake college research and build your college list. Make sure you take the time to complete thoughtful, comprehensive research, so you can determine what is important to you and find a warm, welcoming, and supportive campus community that will provide both a sense of safety and belonging.


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About Us: With more than twenty years of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the student. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for you to be your best self - whether it’s in the classroom, in your applications or in the right-fit college environment. Our range of tools include counselingtest prepacademic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, leading to a 4x higher than average admissions rates. 


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