Tips From the Princeton Review: Act Less Asian, Add Pics if You're Black

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Stakeholders in the contentious debate about how, and whether, colleges should consider applicants’ races or ethnicities tend to use careful allusions to the importance of “differences in life experiences.” The latest edition of one college guide, however, dispenses with such euphemisms. The Princeton Review, a prominent test prep company, candidly advised certain types of students to emphasize or play down their racial and ethnic backgrounds.

In Cracking College Admissions, first published by Random House in 1992 and most recently updated in 2004, Princeton Review devotes an eight-page section called “Ethnic Background” to coaching prospective students who are black, Hispanic, or Asian on the types of interests they should mention and even how Asians can avoid being seen as part of “the Asian invasion.”

Despite its 2004 vintage, the book still circulates among people applying to colleges. The 2004 edition of Cracking College Admissions is available in at least 76 libraries nationwide, can be bought from third-party sellers on and at Barnes & Noble, and is listed as essential reading by multiple high schools and community colleges. It was unearthed this week by an advocacy group that has sued administrators at Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for discriminating against Asians and cited Cracking College Admissions in its lawsuit.

Black applicants were told to “make sure the admissions committee knows you’re black” by including a photograph, as colleges relax their guidelines for black students.

Princeton Review

To Asian Americans or applicants who aren’t Asian but have an Asian-sounding last name, the book advises, “you need to avoid being an Asian Joe Bloggs,” a student they describe as being strong in math and science but weak in verbal test scores and the humanities. (The book doesn’t explain the odd last name.)

Princeton Review

At worst, Asian Joe Bloggses will be rejected by colleges because too many other students are like them. At best, they may be lumped into an applicant pool of other similar-sounding Asian applicants and forced to compete with them, the book says, instead of being evaluated against the entire applicant pool. The book goes as far as outlining ways candidates such as these can play down their Asianness, including advising against application essays that discuss how their culture affects their lives. “These are Asian Joe Bloggs topics, and they are incredibly popular.”

Princeton Review

Hispanic students received just two paragraphs of advice and were told, “in general, the guidelines for African Americans apply to you.” The book cautions affluent students from playing up their race on their applications, saying, “you probably won’t be able to pass yourself off as a minority, though, if you come from a well-to-do family in Mexico.”

Princeton Review

No new editions of Cracking College Admissions have been released since the 2004 version (now out of print), and newer Princeton Review books don’t include similar advice. ”The Princeton Review’s advice to all students applying to colleges is this: Get great grades, get great test scores, and find your ‘best fit’ college,” said Rob Franek, Princeton Review’s senior vice president for publishing, in a statement.

Amid continued debate over affirmative action and lawsuits alleging discrimination against Asian and white applicants, Princeton Review’s advice, even if dated, touches on uncomfortable perceptions of how much power race may have in the college admissions process.

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