How To Develop A Better Personality To Get Into An Elite University

Want to get into an elite university? Develop a better personality so you can receive a higher personality score during the admissions process.

In the Supreme Court case regarding using race-conscious admissions (affirmative action) at Harvard University and UNC, we learn Harvard assigns a personality score to every applicant.

By assigning a lower personality score to Asian applicants, Harvard attempts to justify its rejection of some Asian applicants, despite their higher overall grades and test scores on average. This is one way universities use to better shape what they believe the racial mix of each incoming class should be.

Below is a chart that shows the percentage of undergraduate enrollment of Asians has been relatively steady at Ivy League schools since 1990 but increased at Caltech. 1997 was the last year before the affirmative action ban in California took effect.

Asian acceptance in academics

Asians Are Less Personable?

As someone who has always had friends in low and high places, I never realized I had a worse personality than people of other races according to Harvard. It also seems hard to measure someone's personality, self-confidence, likability, and courage without at least spending an hour with them in person.

Although I attended a state school (William & Mary), I ended up getting a front-office job at Goldman Sachs in NYC. Goldman is a highly coveted employer by many graduates from elite universities.

As a Goldman employee interviewing perspective applicants, it was kind of surreal rejecting ~95% of the Ivy League applicants who got past “Super Day,” the first round of all-day interviews. And the candidates came from all racial backgrounds.

Heck, I've even had a girlfriend or wife since the 7th grade! Even if I was the best-looking fella, which I'm clearly not, there's no way I could have always had a love interest since 12 years old if I had had a terrible personality.

But let's say Harvard is right and I'm not as personable as others due to my race. I don't have the self-confidence to speak up for myself nor do I have the courage to live life on my terms. I take the beatings and like it!

I'm good with that because I'm financially free, baby! There's nobody I need to constantly suck up to to try and get ahead.

However, as a parent of multi-racial kids, they might inherit my bad personality. Legacy admissions also doesn’t seem to be as big of an advantage for public schools. And after we got rejected by six-out-of-seven preschools, I realized that having a minimum amount of status matters.

Hence, it's a good idea to think of ways to help our kids develop better personalities to give them more opportunities. Maybe this post can help you develop a better personality as well.

Asians have worse personalities than other races.

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Long Shot To Get Into An Elite University

I know the odds are stacked against my kids for getting into any elite university. The average acceptance rates are in the single digits. Based on my mediocre SAT score, if my kids inherit my academic prowess, they've got no shot.

But as any good Financial Samurai believes, the longer the odds the greater the upside! It's still worth trying to develop better personalities to improve our lives.

After writing this article, I realize the end goal is not to get into an elite university and pay over $300,000 in today's dollars for the privilege. Goodness knows there are plenty of graduates of elite universities that end up doing nothing special.

Instead of obtaining a fancy diploma, which is fine if you can afford it, the end goal is to live a life of purpose, ultimately, with someone who will love you no matter what. Do you wake up excited most days? If so, you're on the right track.

SAT performance by race and sex

The Worry I Have As A Parent

I have this one nagging worry my children will still be living with us when they are 30+ years old. If this happens, it will mean they weren't able to utilize their education to find a job that pays enough for them to live independently. It probably also means they had a tougher time finding someone, which is the greater heartbreaker.

The worry may seem strange, but I have been constantly reminded of this concern since I first bought a single-family house in San Francisco in 2005. From 2005 – 2014, my next door neighbor’s son returned home after college and never left. When I moved to a new neighborhood in 2014, my new next door neighbor's son moved in after graduating college at 25 and has also never left.

Then after I purchased a forever house in 2020, I met three neighbors who had adult children living at home. Maybe this phenomenon is due to the high cost of living in San Francisco. Surely, part of the reason more adult children moved back is due to the pandemic.

However, the trend of adult children living at home seems to have only increased since 2005. I make this observation based on chats with my neighbors who seemingly want to tell me their life stories.

I wrote about this experience in the post, A Massive Generational Wealth Transfer Is Why Everything Will Be OK. Living at home in your mid-20s to save money is smart. But living at home after 30 seems like there is more downside than upside.

Percentage of adult children living at home with their parents

One Common Denominator: Not Very Personable

Except for one adult child living at home, the common denominator I've noticed is that these adult children still living at home seem to be more socially awkward than average.

For example, most don't look at me in the eye when we talk. Nor do they seem to know how to carry on a conversation. So eventually, we stopped talking and now I just wave every time I see them.

Thankfully, I realized how to stop worrying so much about my children's futures. By keeping my online business and rental property portfolio going, our children have career insurance.

From a person with a poor personality, here are my tips on how to develop a better personality and be a better communicator. For more background, I spent 13 years building relationships with financial clients and 13 years so far building Financial Samurai into a top personal finance site by mostly telling stories.

Labor force participation of men ages 35-44. More men not working

How To Develop A Better Personality To Get Into A Top College

Is there a standard criteria by Harvard and other elite universities for what a great personality should be? If there is one, let's see it so students can work on improving their personalities. But here are eleven things we can all do to improve our personalities.

1) Remember and say people's names

When you say someone's name, you command their attention. Everybody likes to hear their name mentioned because it makes them feel recognized and important.

2) Look at people in their eyes when speaking

When speaking to someone, don't be shy. Look at them in the eyes for a couple seconds, glance at something else, and look back at them. It's an art to look at someone without making them feel uncomfortable.

3) Smile and smile some more

A person can't help but smile back at you if you first smile at them. Smiling is a superpower that automatically makes people warm up to you.

4) Listen with empathy

Listening with empathy means tilting your head a little, nodding in agreement, making appropriate sounds, and mirroring body language and words. If you're looking at your watch or phone while someone is speaking to you, you obviously don't care.

Personal Scores that measure personality by race

5) Learn how to have a 50/50 dialogue

People can't stand others who dominate a conversation. Instead, let people speak and then share your point of view. Always ask back what is asked of you. A 50/50 dialogue is like a dance of give and take.

6) Learn how to tell good stories

Everybody loves a good story with mystery, intrigue, and humor. Stories with emotion create a stronger connection between the storyteller and the listener. Practice telling stories to your friends or writing articles with stories. Here's an article on tips on how to tell good stories.

7) Give genuine compliments and don't be shy to say “thank you”

If somebody says something nice about you, simply say “thank you!” I had trouble with this simple response because I used to feel embarrassed or undeserved. You can also respond with humility with any compliment, such as, “I just got lucky.”

It is also important to learn how to give genuine compliments. A genuine compliment happens when you recognize a person's effort to achieve a result.

For example, if you know your friend spent the past six months dieting and working out, compliment her by saying, “You look great! Please tell me your secret to staying so disciplined hitting the gym three times a week and cutting out the cookies. I'm having a hard time getting motivated going just once a week.”

Recognize a person's genuine struggle before complimenting them on their triumph. It shows you empathize with what they've gone through to achieve their results. By putting yourself in an inferior light, it makes the person more empathetic to your situation.

8) Speak with clarity, volume, and confidence

If you mumble with your shoulders slumped people might get annoyed they can't hear you clearly. Eventually, they might start ignoring you altogether. Learn to speak clearly and with confidence. You'll come across as more charismatic and inspiring.

A person who has great communication skills will trump a person with more knowledge and expertise any day. Ideally, you have both.

I’ve been working on my verbal communication a lot on the FS podcast.

9) Be great or at least passionate about something

Try to be really good at something. It can be anything from a sport, to music, to art, to dance, to writing. By being a top one percent performer in something, you will feel more confident because you became a master at your craft. People admire others who are passionate about something.

10) Be inclusive and kind

People who are more welcoming of others are more welcomed themselves. Conversely, people who are more exclusive tend to have been hurt or excluded themselves.

People will better remember how you make them feel, not as much as what you say. It's natural to feel insecure about something. But if you show kindness and welcome others no matter who they are, they will like you more.

11) Learn how to make fun of yourself and not take things too seriously

You can disarm someone's envy or distrust in you by making fun of yourself first. Poke fun at your flaws, highlight your struggles, and try to look on the bright side of things.

Just be careful not to joke around too much amongst serious people or in a serious setting. Learn how to read the room and match the atmosphere.

When A Better Personality Is Needed

One of the problems with being unemployed and financially independent is that you stop interacting with people you don’t like. As a result, your social skills may atrophy because you have less practice.

Just like getting good at anything, you must practice, practice, practice at improving your personality! You don't read a post about how to develop a better personality and then suddenly you're the most charismatic and charming person in the world.

Leaving work for good in 2012 has decreased my desire to be liked. I'm no longer trying to get paid and promoted to the promised land. As a result, I haven't worked on improving my personality much at all since.

It was only when I went on my book marketing tour in 3Q 2022 did I need to try to be more likable. If I didn't, fewer people would invite me on their podcasts, YouTube channels, or TV shows. Which also meant that fewer people would purchase Buy This, Not That.

So I decided to jump back in the fire and worked on being more personable. After every interview, I got a little better.

The marketing process was both scary and exhilarating, hopeful and dreadful. I felt like I was back at work, selling an amazing product most people would still reject. But in the end, my book became a national bestseller, so something went right despite my poor personality.

In a big way, the need to make money and the desire to become more popular will naturally force you to improve your personality. If you don't care about these things, then you won't bother. After all, everything is long-term rational.

Some of the worst personalities reside with people with amazingly good looks who were also born into great wealth. It's not their fault. They just didn't need to try as hard to get ahead. 

Personalities For College Admission

Harvard admittance rates by academic decile and race
Harvard admit rates by academic decile and race

Having a great personality will make your life better. You'll have more friends, increase your chances of finding a significant other, get more job offers, be invited to more events, raise more money, make more money, and be more loved by more people in general. You'll probably be happier too.

I can see why some universities have a personality score variable for each applicant. It's just unfortunate schools like Harvard are penalizing Asians for our personalities. An intense focus on education is part of many Asian cultures. Shouldn't that be celebrated instead of condemned?

Using a subjective score to deny someone admission despite having objective higher scores is a tough pill to swallow. But that's just the way things are for any private institution. Private institutions can do what they want, just like private citizens can apply to wherever they want.

The one caveat is a private university taking federal funding. If it does, it must follow Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin. Let's see what the Supreme Court rules this time.

Reader Questions And Action Items

Readers, what do you think about Harvard rating Asians lower on its personality score? What are your suggestions for how we can improve our personalities? How much does having a good personality matter for getting ahead?

What are your thoughts on affirmative action? If you are Asian, besides strong academics and productivity, what are you doing to improve your chances of getting accepted to anything?

Should affirmative action be abolished?

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About The Author

51 thoughts on “How To Develop A Better Personality To Get Into An Elite University”

  1. I’m a western european. After spending years as research assistant in Asia, and stayed for months in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan, China, Japan and researching on social psychology, anthropology and sociology and reading numerous accounts of behavioral studies here’s what I can sum up from this gathered knowledge :

    In East Asia, opposite to SEA, China+Taiwan+Korea+Vietnam (basically the same ancestors) and Japan to an extent, are indeed having social skills issues.

    Personalities are a problem because they are pretty closed (xenophobic), anti-social, not even simply introverted, culturally.
    It is found that they are less empathic and sympathetic and less able to accomodate difference in behaviours. The condition of being more self-centered is actually a big point to be made. The attitude of being ignorant of others feelings and ability to create

    But the culprit is really in the (social unhealthy) hyper-competitive attitude and the mindset that you have to put other down to achieve better coming from the Tiger Parents culture, as a mean of surviving.
    Africans make plenty of kids to sustain a family, Han ethnicities make one and put a lot of pressure on them. In Asia the condition of a man and woman are very different when it comes to expectations. The general culture makes it so that thinking earning money is the only way forward to success. the financial and material status is the metric of one’s achievement. Look at the personalities and dating abilities of these groups. Very contradictory and unhealthy.

    In Asia people want to be “happier” with more money, and to show they have more money to others. And for that they try to earn more money that their neighbors. So everybody does it, and throwing more money at money problem is not the solution to solve it.
    A very old way in the West from the 30s to 60s that we called consumerism and materialism.
    The total opposite of Switzerland where wealth is discrete.

    I’m joining what some said in the comments. in Asia there’s really a push to be in good schools to be rich.
    But achievements in life and achieving changes in society is not about high income, especially passive, social progress doesn’t arrive because you have succeeded at some point an assessment with the best grades and you played piano for 30 years when you were 18 (I’m trying to light up the mood a little here, humor is an important facet of personality that may often be lacking).
    Having a great personality of itself is a personal achievement that is overlooked there and leads to social progress, instead of achievements trying getting in prestigious universities as it seems from the article, which ironically is a reason why it doesn’t work. The test are looking for who wants to be a good fellow human and not just rich.

    Too money driven and focused on symbol status, this is why I think asians do not fit in the more social European culture and mindset, even less the south and north European.

  2. Ironic that the Universities claim diversity is the reason they want to discriminate racially, but when it comes to diversity of thought and political orientation, diversity is NOT wanted.

  3. Dennis Amato

    “Life is Messy”; “history will/or can repeat itself”; grow-up, use common sense, and progress; “progressives’ have proven they are mostly self-interest motivated, short-thinkers.
    All of the above questions are not deserving of Y or N answers – that’s just plain stupidity to think so. Harvard’s study is opinion biased by and in its basic nature … un-“natural” diversity (created by human decisions) naturally needs to resort to humans, opposed to nature, to attempt to weed-out and correct human errors in an ongoing selection process for as long as we inhabit the natural world in which we live.

    We all need to grow-up and deal with it!

  4. Richard Hauer

    Hi Sam. Do you think personality assessments are unbiased? If so, what is the point if candidates are being turned away due to their ethnicity? btw – I like your list of personality best practices all all races can benefit from.

    1. I think being unbiased is impossible. Harvard and other private schools make their own decisions about what their ideal class make up is.

      They can do what they want, but not so much if they take federal funding. And, the suit.

  5. Thank you Sam for this article. Your points are very valid for improving social skills, but the rating is Personality and is assessed by admissions officers who haven’t even met the student. Your article reflects an “Asian” way of thinking to figure out the system and trying to overcome. Whereas I think we are afraid to see it and say it for what it actually is – Personality rating is a blatant way for elite schools’ admissions officers to control and limit % of Asian enrollment, which is fundamentally racist. (They had done something similar with Jews in the past). At one point the lawsuit found that Asian kids who are rated highly in alumni interviewers and teacher recommendations still were given low Personality scores by admissions officers who had never even met them! And the first ruling said the admissions officers only had unconscious bias – can you imagine if we replaced “Asian” with “Hispanic” or “Black” and it was found that Black students who were rated highly based on alumni interviewers and teacher recommendations were rated low in Personality by admissions officers who hadn’t met them, how much outrage this would cause? Would we be okay with simply calling that unconscious bias?

    Another factor to consider is the relative lack of diversity in elite college admission officers – these gatekeepers do not reflect the diversity of the schools they are trying to admit at all – even at Harvard where 25% of admits are Asian, I’m pretty sure there are not 25% Asian admissions officers. In fact, I’ve never met an Asian male admissions officer, so it’s not surprising to me that non-affiliated Asian males are discriminated against the most and have the highest bar to jump over in elite college admissions. Not only must they have very high test scores and grades, but also have some sort of insane world class capability in one area and also come across as a certain personality. The system works very much against them. I’m not saying admissions officers will only prefer people of their own race and gender (plus some virtual signaling by admitting underrepresented minorities), but if we are going to change the system, another area to consider is getting more Asians, especially Asian men, to take on these gatekeeper roles in higher education and educational administration in general. These are not highly lucrative careers like Finance but they are just as important. Perhaps that could be a good place for you to start for your second career -instead of saying “well my Asian kids would be ok even if they don’t get into an elite school” – actually care about this and use your resources, platform, and connections to fight for the Asian kids whose parents are waitressing and cleaning hotel rooms overtime so that they can fund their kids’ extracurriculars and tutoring to build up whatever insane profile elite colleges are expecting, so that their kids have a chance at an improved life. (Btw lack of Asian male representation trickles down to even K12 education where I believe having more Asian teachers and administrators would be hugely beneficial to overcoming stereotypes people have about Asian students).

    Legacy is also wrong and should go, but the people who are saying, “Asians are being used to take the shift off of legacy being the bigger problem” are missing the point that Asian discrimination and racism at elite colleges is very real. Let’s address both.

    1. Hi Emily, the question is, what is the solution? What can you do to make things better? And how are you helping your kids so they can have more opportunities?

      The probability is high that affirmative action will be abolished. But I don’t see much change over the next 10 years in terms of who gets admitted. Maybe in 20 years, there will be a noticeable change.

      My mantra has always been to recognize reality so I can take steps to better my situation or my family situation. I don’t want to rely on gate keepers for anything, so I try to minimize the dependence as much as possible.

      Hence investing and running a small business is vital.

      1. Sam, my point is your minimization on dependence of gate keepers, and saying “how can I avoid the system and not rely on it” is the mantra that is holding Asian Americans back in American society. Sure, your own family might be fine, but this is exactly why Asian Americans lack power and influence in American society. Financial self sufficiency does not equate to power and influence without social capital and connections – which is what these elite schools ultimately enable. Besides building financial capital, social capital is equally important.
        Asian Americans need to _become_ the gatekeepers and take on these roles to change the system. But there is so little interest because Asian Americans don’t believe these jobs in education are lucrative (they are not). It is ironic that Asians (esp. Asian men) who value education so deeply are for the most part not interested in MEd. and becoming admissions officers or Heads of K12 schools that Asians are fighting each other to get their kids into. You have a great platform on Financial Samurai already – why not capitalize on this and speak out about discrimination and unfair treatment of Asians, and try to rally people to get into education and work on building a better system yourself, instead of just saying, “I accept the system is unfair, but it doesn’t matter to me because my family and I can still be OK”. Think about those beyond your own family.

        1. Other suggestions: 1. Encourage your kids to go into Education (instead of encouraging them to go into Finance, Entrepreneurship, or Computer Science) – cultivate a passion for education and helping the community, instead of a thinking of a career as being a means to financial success and retirement. 2. Start a school

          1. Hi Emily. This topic is clearly something that you have very strong opinions about and hits a nerve for you. There are certainly a lot of complexities with what’s going on in admissions that’s negatively impacting Asian Americans.

            What I find prickly is that you are attacking Sam and basically blaming him for issues that he isn’t causing because this topic is so upsetting for you.

            Based on the amount of emotion you have, I strongly suggest you find ways in your own career and life to take steps to bring change.

            Sam’s main goal with this site is about personal finance and helping people become financially independent. He didn’t have to write this article in the first place but he chose to raise the topic and offer his own thoughts. You’re barking up the wrong tree asking him to solve the problems you’re raising.

            What line of work are you in now? I suggest you consider changing careers or using your feee time to take action on some of the things you think will bring positive change. You have the passion to do great things and be a part of change.

        2. Thanks. You are welcome depend on the gatekeepers. It’s not my way over the long term. Would you be willing to write a guest post and do what you are telling me to do? Taking action based on your beliefs is powerful.

          You’re saying that I’m selfish for not speaking out. Do you not view this post about raising the subject as speaking out? There’s stats on academics. There’s a poll. I write how I don’t think I or Asians have an inferior personality.

          Are you an admissions officer or head a K-12 school? What are you doing to speak out?

          In the meantime, you can read:

          Dear Minorities, Use Racism To Fight For Financial Independence Every Day

          Income By Race: Why Is Asian Income So High?

          I Could Have Been A White Man, But I Remained Asian

          Silent Threats In The Night

        3. Emily, if you are Asian, then your personality is very prickly and proving Harvard’s point.

          You accuse Sam of not doing anything. You imply he is selfish for only thinking about his family, while he has provided tremendous value to millions of readers over the years. And you share nothing about yourself and what you are doing to fight for your cause.

          Would you want to be friends with someone like you? I would not. It would help if you shared something about yourself, what you do, if you are parent, what type of trauma you went through so we can empathize with why you are so prickly.

          This was an insightful post that points out the unfairness of how Asian applicants are being unfairly evaluated compared to other races. Sam wrote the post in an insightful, self-deprecating, funny, and non-insulting way. Not easy to talk about affirmative action in this country.

          I’d like to read your guest post as well.

          1. Andy, I appreciate the feedback and appreciate Sam’s invitation for a guest post. What race are you? Should it matter?

            The point was not to say “Sam you are selfish”, so I apologize if it read that way. Sam definitely has awesome content and I appreciate his blog posts about personal finance, which he is well qualified to write about. The problem is perhaps affirmative action is a complex and nuanced and sensitive discussion and I did not get the sense through this blog post that he researched the issue thoroughly in much detail before writing it. I’d be all for a post that says, “these are the ways to build interpersonal skills and teach your kids these skills”. But to tie it to Harvard’s assessment that Asian applicants have inferior personalities vs Blacks and Hispanics, and imply this is actually true, is to me very offensive. And your suggestion of my personality is one that Harvard would not admit – what if I told you that I’m actually a Harvard grad? Maybe don’t jump too fast.

            1. I’m Asian. You? Do you have kids. I have one and won’t be depending on people determine my future.

              There is no tying together of Asian personalities being inferior. That is literally what Harvard is doing.

              Based on your elusiveness and answering anything about yourself, all we have to judge are your comments. And they are erratic, unpleasant, and show you are not reading between the lines of what this article is saying about a highly sensitive subject.

              I know it’s easier to criticize people instead of doing some thing yourself. But you’ve got to look at yourself in the mirror and change if you want change.

              1. Andy, sure, happy to share a bit about myself – I was fortunate enough to attend 2 elite Ivy schools for undergraduate and graduate studies, and I am fortunate to be in an executive leadership role in a Fortune 500 company now, close to two decades since I graduated. I attribute my professional success primarily to attending elite institutions and the relationships I developed there and the alumni resources and network that continue to support me to this day. If you think developing a better personality is what gets people into the Ivy League, then I’m living proof that it is not. Fitting an institute priority (in my case, being a woman majoring in STEM and business) is what matters. Other institute priorities may be recruiting students who come from an underrepresented region or who are an underrepresented minority. Other higher probability ways to get in are being a recruited athlete, development case (mega donor parents), legacy, world class (i.e. Olympic-level) in something, or otherwise affiliated with the school (faculty kids). Beyond that, it’s all a crapshoot. Personality, in this case, is smoke and mirrors, and a guise for Asian quotas. Do you honestly believe Asians have inferior personalities vs. Blacks and Hispanics? Do you believe Jews have inferior personalities vs. Protestant Christians? That’s exactly what Harvard said in the 1920s when they abolished merit based admissions in favor of holistic admissions to control % of Jews enrolling in the school. How can anyone assert that one race’s personality is inferior to another race’s? That’s so unbelievably offensive and the fact that they have gotten away with it for so long, and it is only recently being exposed due to the lawsuits, angers me so much.

                I have a childhood friend, an Asian male, who was by all accounts a way better personality than I was. He also studied a lot more and won state and national math competitions. His SATs were 150 points higher than mine. He was also a well rounded student who played basketball and football and did community service. I find it so unfair and wrong that he had to go to a state school, while I ended up getting into an elite college.

                My husband was lucky enough to attend the same elite college as I did. Being an Asian male, in order to pull this off, his stats were off the charts – close to 10 AP tests, all “5”s, valedictorian, close to perfect SAT scores. He is a mild mannered and introverted guy who spent enormous amounts of time studying his entire childhood. Can I really blame him? If he had spent more time socializing and partying and doing more well-rounded activities like athletics or clubs, would his scores have cleared the bar for an Asian male at an elite institution? Probably not. It angers me that schools set such a high bar for Asian males, and then blame them for being “test taking robots”. Well guess what, if they didn’t study that much and they weren’t connected to the school via legacy or donations, then they don’t stand a chance of being admitted. How is that fair?

                You asked me what I’m planning to do. I have a son now, and given he is Asian, I’m going to fight tooth and nail for him. Legacy actually would give him a pretty big edge, but I find that wrong, so I’m willing to give it up. I want schools to stop judging my son based on the fact that I married an Asian man, vs. a Black or Hispanic man, and somehow seeing that as being inferior. 1) I am taking a stand and getting involved in PTO and Classroom Parent leadership at his primary school. 2) I’m learning more about the educational system and spending more time with teachers and educational administrators. 3) I’m going to encourage my son, as well as other Asians to go into education. 4) I am honored and appreciate Sam’s invitation to write a guest post here, and I will do so. If you have other ideas, I’m all ears.

                Btw, I’m still not sure what I wrote rubbed you the wrong way – that’s one of the issues with online communications. The intention was never to say, “Sam you are selfish” so I apologize if it came across that way. I was responding to Sam’s “what can we actually do about this?” comment with “these are the things you can do” – but I’ll take your feedback to phrase my language more appropriately going forward.

  6. Harvard is a private university, they can do whatever they want. But they should be transparent and just admit they don’t want a university with 50% Asian enrollment. I personally think ideological diversity is more important than racial diversity and there is diversity in thinking within all races.

    1. I think we can read between the lines and believe that is what they believe/want, unlike Cal, UCLA, CalTech etc. But they can’t come out and admit it publicly, or else think about how many more lawsuits there will be.

    2. Steve Adams

      “Harvard is a private university, they can do whatever they want” – but they can’t expect to have tax free status for their billions and get piles of fed funding if they are blatantly racist – hence the game.

      A great step would be to remove federal politicians from any involvement in funding/controlling universities. Then at the state level fund the students not the institution and open the institutions to far more competition.

      Managing research differently would be good but is trickier maybe.

      As always Sam – great blog post!!!

  7. I realize times have changed, but I got into an elite college in the late 1980s with decent but not exceptional test scores, good grades, one interesting extra-curricular activity, and no interview (an interview is required at that college). HOW did this happen? I have no idea. After graduation at an alumni event, I met the woman in charge of interviews (it’s a small school), and she said emphatically, “You went to _____?” I was ready to display my middle finger high in the air at that moment. I used to joke that my application got noticed because of my name and extra-curricular activity. I am half South Asian with a South Asian name. No one ever guesses this by looking at me. I get incredulous responses from everyone. It’s rather annoying. The college wasn’t a great fit for me. I was used to a more easygoing social atmosphere. Everyone took themselves very seriously at this college. After college, I got good jobs that had little if nothing to do with where I went to college. In fact, the first two jobs I got were via classified ads in a newspaper (not possible now, sadly). The jobs paid quite well, the organizations were good, and I consider myself lucky to have had those professional experiences, even though I later left that field of work. I learned a lot at the college and appreciated the high quality classroom experiences. But in many cases like mine, it doesn’t matter where a student goes to college/university. Learn to think, to read, to write, to crunch numbers, and yes, develop good social skills. But kids, don’t change who you are for any school, institution, or job. Improve, grow, and evolve as is needed or desired. Find your tribe and discover what you have to offer the world – and what the world has to offer you. Find interesting problems, and get to work trying to solve them. Know that you will change over time – the person you become may be very different from your high school and college self. I remember being in a coffee shop years ago, eavesdropping on parents who were trying to figure out how to get their kids into good colleges. I wanted to turn around and tell them that it doesn’t matter. I should have.

      1. I used my BA degree in Comp Sci (from a liberal arts college – not a super techie degree but a solid, well-rounded foundation w/ample practical experience) for several years and then on and off again for many more. My heart remained in sports and performing arts…I returned to those worlds as a coach and performer, invested in graduate level education that helped me synthesize my traditional education with my sports and arts education, and I learned how to run and grow a tiny business (self-employment). I was fortunate to have an entrepreneurial parent who modeled a multiple revenue stream approach to work. My early corporate job gave me skills I used in self-employment. It’s been a hybrid experience that some may write off as a journey of a jack-of-all-trades, but it’s really a journey of synthesis and honoring the whole person (in my own life as well as with clients).

        1. Cool. It sounds like you did a lot of things and don’t have much regret because you tried things out.

          I feel very similar about wanting to try something new after 13 years in finance. It’s been a fun journey and I also did some consulting for start ups and coached high school tennis for three years. It’s good to cross things off the curiosity list!

  8. If anybody is now wondering why so many Asian people become small business owners, this is why. This unfair practice of discriminating against Asians in college admissions and in the workplace leads Asians to start small businesses instead.

    1. Yes, skipping the gatekeepers feels great. It’s still worth trying. But I feel good knowing now that if you can’t get past the gate levers, you can always make money in different ways and build your own Brand and reputation and business easier things to technology.

  9. This is a massive oversimplification of a complex issue. The Asian American plaintiffs are “useful idiots” in these anti-affirmative action lawsuits. Consider a thought experiment: would Asian representation actually increase at elite universities when SCOTUS makes it illegal? The biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action are actually legacies and the donor class, women, and athletes. Using Asian-Americans to argue the system is not “fair” is a clever strategy to pits minorities against each other to benefit whites.

    If affirmative action is eliminated then so should legacy preference and recruiting for athletes. But the reason the ivies have more social cachet (and therefore social capital) than say Berkeley or CalTech is because they are NOT just full of nerds who have perfect SAT scores. And by the way I am an ivy alumnus (two schools, three degrees) and Asian American.

    1. Three degrees! Bravo. What is it that you do with these degrees?

      I think Berkeley and especially CalTech have more social cachet than the Ivies, especially versus Cornell, Columbia, Brown, and Dartmouth. You can’t buy your way into Cal or CalTech, so their reputations are not tainted.

    2. Based on precedents for Caltech and UC Berkeley and the other UC schools, Asian enrollment in these universities will most definitely increase. But it may take longer than some people hope or think.

      Personally, I’m not hoping for anything positive to change for my children. I’m happy to teach them how to be better communicators, be kinder to others, and to be better listeners. Developing a better personality is great for everyone. And I’m sure we can all work on getting better.

      It just takes more practice. I am in the thick of things regarding teaching my children right from wrong. So I might as well work on helping them become more thoughtful and charming people.

  10. I am white. I don’t care if Harvard, Yale etc. become 50% Asian or higher. It’s despicable that they’re discriminating against Asians in the name of equality, equity or whatever excuse. Americans should look at what Asians more often do (value education, work and family) and give that a try rather than pull Asians down!

    1. Thanks Bob. It’s going to be really difficult for Asian kids to get into these colleges. But the good thing is they will Continue to study hard and quickly accept the realities of society.

      The sooner you can except the realities of society, the sooner you can adapt and do things to make your life better.

      I don’t think affirmative action is despicable at all. It was required because few volunteer to give up their spots for someone else.

      What I would like to see in 2023 and beyond is more emphasis on helping people from poorer households and people with disabilities get a better chance. These are the people I think all of us would happily support.

  11. The personality ranking exists b/c the people in admissions probably don’t look like the candidates that score much higher on average. When performance is clearly obvious, sports/performance diversity exists. When it is not about meritocracy or actual performance, biases often exist. Even in fields (case in point medicine) where there are highly qualified people of diverse backgrounds and c-suites of all kinds majority of top administrators are Caucasian. I recall seeing a study from years back, certain names like mike and Tom were more frequently found in the top 500 companies than women or diverse candidates. I am sure “personality” has something to do with it here as well.

    1. Yes, the murkier the outcome, the less meritocracy matters. But you better believe that if you run a small business, you are forced to hire the very best people you can find.

      And the thing is, private citizens have the ability to choose their doctors, lawyers, physical trainers, coaches, etc. The more obvious or import in the outcome, the more important hiring the best person is.

  12. Jim Johnson

    Hi Sam
    The personality techniques are right on..I am going to share with my kids! It is a joke that it is considered an admission criteria for universities. I wish you would write an article about the benefits of smart successful kids not going to elite or for that matter any universities. I have 5 kids that I have saved 100 K ea saved for college.
    Honestly, I wish some would instead of going to college would start a business or learn a trade, or purchase real estate. Not enough people talk about the benefits of not going to college

  13. Marc Johnson

    I am confident that the Supreme Court will overrule the Harvard/North Carolina affirmative action lawsuit. But I am also confident that the ruling will matter little to Universities. They have an agenda to pursue and they will do so, with a little tweaking of admission policies. There is no doubt that if admission was based on meritocracy, Asians would thrive, based on their work ethic. Meritocracy is important in Sports. I’m not sure how much it is elsewhere.

    1. Meritocracy is hugely important when you’re running a small business. There’s nowhere to hide, or at least there are less places to hire in small organizations versus big organizations.

      I also don’t think much will change after the Supreme Court bans affirmative action. It’s too hard to prove a university discriminated an individual based on race, because there are simply too many qualified individuals and there is a holistic approach to choosing candidates.

  14. Great article! I had interviewed for Harvard back in high school. Had good scores (Valedictorian 4.0GPA, 1540 SAT, 780-800 on SAT II), and was varsity sports, and had lots of extracurriculars (Piano, Club presidents, etc.). But I felt like the interviewee (a Harvard alum) whom I met at a coffee store was not really interested in interviewing me honestly. He looked through my file and drank his coffee while I tried to engage him but never really asked many questions. I distinctly remember feeling “man, this guy really isn’t interested in meeting with me”. And I got rejected.

    Not saying that I should have gotten in since so many people with good scores get rejected from Harvard. Afterall, I didn’t get 1600 and went to a public school in California. I ended up going full ride to Berkeley and got accepted to a lot of other great schools so I’m grateful and wouldn’t change a thing. But Harvard was my dream school.

    Oh, and I’m an Asian immigrant. Interviewee was Caucasian. Not sure if that had to do with anything, and I hate presuming and say it was all because of that, but I’m sure I was marked with a low personality score. My wife might agree haha.

    1. It’s hard to beat a full ride from UC Berkeley. There’s a transition going on where there is a greater emphasis on hiring graduates from great public schools. Because after all the discovered corruption with operation varsity blues and the lawsuits going on, people now understand how the wealthy by their way into colleges. Being a legacy and playing a sport provides a huge leg up.

  15. I’m not pretending to be an expert on the pros and cons of affirmative action. However, after an initial review there seems to be a fairly simple solution to the issue of affirmative action at universities. Every applicant should be assigned an alphanumeric code when they apply and that shall be the only identifier. No questions on race, gender, religion, etc, and no names allowed. If anyone gets a helping hand in the admission process let it be based on those who come from low socioeconomic status families. This will still largely benefit minority communities and increase diversity while also taking the wind out of the sails of the politicians who engage in race based arguments. Other than this small tweek to the process, let meritocracy rule.

  16. Ms. Conviviality

    I’m an internal auditor at a top 5 university and I can say that some graduate programs do take personality into consideration when reviewing applicants. Some, not all, have in-person interviews and can be over two-days. Applicants meet with faculty and current students; both groups evaluate the applicant’s personality. Programs that offer careers where customer/client service is essential place more weight on personality than academics.

    In professions where technical skills are key, I don’t think an Asian person should have difficulty getting a job. Even though the U.S. population is made up of 6.2% Asians, there are 8.49% Asians in the workforce at my university.

    What I’ve found helpful at disarming the folks that I will be auditing is to always start off the meeting with small talk. It helps to be well rounded and up to date on current events. For instance, I had a meeting with a woman who had rescheduled a prior meeting with me because she had forgotten that she had a Halloween event with her grandson. When we met the following day, I asked her how her day off was. She shared about how she sewed a costume for her grandson and we were able to chat about sewing since I do some of that myself.

  17. BrightStory Admission Consulting

    Hi Sam, Love your article. I’m Asian American, a professional journalist, and a college admissions consultant (specializing in elite universities). The majority of my students are Asian American and I’ve written a few blog posts that relate to your question about “If you are Asian, besides strong academics and productivity, what are you doing to improve your chances of getting accepted (to college)?”

    My website is and the posts are:

    “How to Get Into an Ivy League University (as an Asian American)”

    “Why a 1550 SAT, 3.95 GPA White Female Got Rejected by Ivy League Schools — And How To Prevent That”

    “What Blind Spots Do Asians Have about the American (Ivy League) University Admissions Process?”

    Would love to hear your thoughts and let’s keep this conversation going! The issue of Asian Americans and college admissions/career development is so important.

    And thank you for writing about topics that concern our community – I appreciate your representing us. ~ Alice

  18. Aaaah, one of my favorite topics. Too late for my ethnically Indian kids but my grandkids should benefit from the new ruling. First generation Asians do not encourage their kids to have diversified interests, this does not include Kumon and music. I tried hard to give my kids a renaissance education but it was a battle involving other family members.

  19. I’m very curious to see what the Supreme Court will decide. It’s certainly a very touchy subject on both sides. That’s surprising to hear on Harvard ranking Asians lower on personality. Are live interviews a requirement for most Ivy League and colleges today? I can’t remember if I had to interview for college or not because it was so long ago.

    In any case, great tips on improving one’s personality. You certainly are already personable Sam! We sense it in your writing style all the time!

    1. Some candidates do get interviewed, by alumni across country on the world. But of course, not everybody will get interviewed because so many apply. Supposedly over 35,000 applicants each year.

      But if Harvard says Asian people have inferior personalities, at least it’s good for us to know now as parents have young children. I’ll have between 12 and 14 years to help them with their personalities.

      1. No, this is exactly the wrong way of thinking about it. Asian people DO NOT have inferior personalities. I’m all for teaching kids social skills and people skills. But please let your kids be who they are meant to be and not some phony personality for college admissions. Don’t make them into something they are not. The whole personality criteria is a guise to admit fewer Asians. Exactly the same thing happened in the 1920s when Harvard admissions officers claimed Jews had inferior personalities. They abolished the merit-based entrance exam and brought in holistic admissions and painted Jews as “test taking robots” – sound familiar?

        1. Sure, I’m happy to have my kids be themselves. But are there any of the 11 tips I’ve written in the post on how to be a better communicator and develop a better personality you disagree with?

          I think my personality is just fine. I’ve done well in my career and life. But there are certainly things I can do to improve my personality b/c it’s not just about me now. It’s about our family.

          How many kids do you have and are you doing anything to help them to develop their social skills?

          1. Nothing wrong with teaching kids interpersonal skills, as I said, I’m 100% for that. But the implication that Asians have inferior personalities (vs Blacks, Hispanics) that need to be “worked on” is a load of BS and the fact that you believe it is what I find troublesome about your post. Do you believe Jews have inferior personalities vs. Protestants? That’s what Harvard tried to imply in order to limit Jews in the 1920s. Yes, that’s how Harvard admissions officers are rating Asians because they are trying to control the numbers. But it doesn’t mean Asians actually have an inferior personality. Remember, these folks don’t even meet the students. Even when the alumni interviewers and teacher recommendations (who meet and interact with the student) rate the student highly, the admissions officer is still artificially giving them a lower Personality score to control the Asian enrollment.

            1. I think it is clear in my post I don’t think Asians have inferior personalities and the criteria is used to throttle admissions for Asian candidates with higher academic scores.

              This is the third paragraph of the post. “ By assigning a lower personality score to Asian applicants, Harvard attempts to justify its rejection of some Asian applicants, despite their higher overall grades and test scores on average.”

              Can you tell me something about your background so I know where your frustration is coming from? What are you doing for your children? And how are you taking action to fix the inequality you say?

              You can blame me for the situation and me not doing enough. But I suggest you actually be the change you want to see in the world.

          2. Also, Sam, I don’t know if you’ve revised your post much since I’ve first read it, but I find a statement like “let’s say Harvard is right and what If I am not personable due to my race” very poor logical reasoning and also somewhat offensive. Harvard assigning low personality scores to Asians does not imply that being Asian leads to a poor personality. I think you have other logical reasoning errors in some of your other posts which are along the lines of “the benefit of being born Asian is Asians have the highest income”. Correlation doesn’t equal causation. It would be good if you could be more precise in your language and not make these logical reasoning errors

            1. Sorry for being a poor writer. Please submit your guest post and the actions you are taking as well as your background. It helps so readers understand where you’re coming from. I will help edit your post for clarity.

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