One Easy Way to Win Praise and Adulation for Getting into Harvard and Stanford

Stanford_University_Main_Quad_May_2011_001With the revelation from an Ivy admissions insider about biases against Asian Americans and ever increasing application pools, it seems more and more difficult for an Asian American to get into “dream” schools like Princeton and UC Berkeley. Some Asian and Asian American parents are turning to consultants and even offering up to $400,000 to get their kid into top tier schools.   One student attending Thomas Jefferson High School found a much easier and convenient way to win praise, admiration, and adulation for getting into the likes of Harvard and Stanford. She simply made up a story saying that she got into both, and even better than that, she would attend both! This story is a case study about the downsides of prestigious degree madness.

While I wonder how long she and her family thought that they could maintain this charade, I have to admire the sheer audaciousness of her lies. Not only did she lie about getting into Stanford and Harvard, but she made up a story about how they both wanted her so much that they worked out a program where she would attend BOTH schools.  To top it off, she said that Mark Zuckerberg supposedly called her, by some reports to get her to go to Harvard and by others to work at Facebook. Azia Kim appeared to attend Stanford by sneaking into dorms to live, showing up to classes, and even doing ROTC.  This girl’s scheme didn’t even involve working that hard, needing only to forge letters from Stanford and Harvard. Media, particularly Korean media, proclaimed her a math prodigy and “Genius Girl,” especially after her father publicized her successes.

What prompted her to construct such an elaborate lie?   In South Korea, there is apparently a huge amount of future success that rides on where you get your degree. According to this article, social status and getting into the right networks depends on that degree, and in the past few years, fake degree scandals have taken down a number of Koreans. This girl, who I, like the Washington Post, haven’t mentioned by name because she is just a kid, was a parachute kid from South Korea dropped into one of the most challenging and competitive high schools in the US. I would assume that she was under enormous pressure to do well and report back exceptional results, particularly with college admissions.  Mira Hu is a recent case of another parachute kid who buckled under enormous stress.

To me, it’s sad how many Asians and Asian Americans buy into the prestigious degree or nothing philosophy. I have pointed out before how Ivy League Colleges and other prestigious schools do not necessarily provide the best return on investment for the educational dollar. Moreover, the focus on the Ivy League schools and a few well known private and state schools admissions policies overlooks the fact that most Asian American college students don’t go to those schools, and instead going to state schools whose funding is continually eroding. People like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg (how ironic) have become famous and influential without having college degrees.

After the hoax was uncovered, the girl’s father sent out an apology to media. I don’t know where or if she got into any schools or where she is going to attend. I feel very sorry for her and other Asian and Asian American children who are under enormous amounts of pressure to get into a small number of prestigious colleges and universities. It wasn’t right to lie, but if any of you have had teenagers (I’ve had three), you know that they sometimes show very poor judgment.  Being so far away from home couldn’t have helped. I just hope that her next year is a lot better than her last.  As this Thomas Jefferson High School alum writes, life gets better after college mania is left behind.  Thomas Jefferson’s principal recently posted this note about the hoax.

(Photo Credit:  King of Hearts released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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