Be the Anti-Stereotype: College of Your Dreams Reveals Key to College Admissions


Los Angeles, CA, USA – March 25, 2011 – Can you leverage ethnic and socioeconomic stereotypes to your advantage to get into a top-tier college? “Absolutely,” says Michelle Cho, the founder of, a free web portal that provides application assistance to college-bound high school students.

“Students often think that they’re competing for admission with all of America,” says Cho. “But that’s not the case. They’re really only competing with other people who share their demographics. For example, an Asian student isn’t really competing with a Caucasian or an African-American student. However, an Asian student who has great academics and plays the piano is a dime a dozen. We’re telling people to be the anti-stereotype in order to stand out.”

The Asian jock

Cho, a Stanford graduate and an Asian American, unexpectedly hit on the concept of the “anti-stereotype” during her own college application process several years ago. “The typical Asian student is a wiz at math and science. They’re probably in the debate club and they probably play an instrument. But that wasn’t necessarily me.”

“I grew up watching my older sister win one academic award after another, and although I was in the top 10% of my class, I knew I couldn’t compete with her academically,” Cho says. “I was lucky to have a sister who encouraged me and gave me some sage advice.  She said to me, ‘You may not be as good academically, but you have all these other strengths.’”

Athletics were something that Cho was passionate about. In addition to maintaining her solid academic record, she became captain of the volleyball team and played varsity basketball. So when it came time to apply for college, Cho’s application played up her strengths as a unique candidate: An Asian jock.

The keys to the kingdom: Finding your passion will make you marketable

College of Your Dreams encourages students to throw out any ideas of what they’re “supposed” to look like on a college application. “In high school, everyone wants to be the same. There’s peer pressure. So when colleges are looking at applications, there are often many that look the same. College of Your Dreams asks, ‘What’s going to make you stand out?’”

“The idea is that if you’re passionate about something, with hard work and dedication you’re probably going to be good at it,” Cho explains. That can provide opportunities to rack up awards, honors and leadership experience in sometimes unexpected areas.

“Unless you’re going to be a nationallyranked concert pianist, playing the piano as an Asian American isn’t necessarily going to give you a leg up on an application when you’re competing with hundreds of other students who look just like you,” Cho says. “That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice piano if you love it. I’m saying if you’re not passionate about it, don’t force yourself to do it because you think it’s going to help you get into college, because it might not help you at all.”

There’s another advantage to this approach as well. “Venturing beyond your comfort zones is not only going to help you get into college, it’s going to help you in life,” Cho states. “We encourage people to look beyond college and instead look at the big picture. It’s about finding out who you are.”

The walking billboard

College of Your Dreams gives students frank advice about how to make themselves more marketable to schools.

Most colleges are looking to build a diverse population. Reason: Students and alumni are walking billboards for the college. Having unique people representing the school is a great way to boost future admissions.

That’s why it’s a smart strategy for applicants to consider what makes them unusual and then to cultivate those interests in order to stand out.

This is a strategy that College of Your Dreams refers to as “shrinking the pool.”

Example: A student may start out in the pool of African American applicants with strong backgrounds in athletics. Depending on the college, this may be a pretty big pool. Students can make themselves more competitive by shrinking the pool of other students that they’re being compared to. In this case, perhaps the student also has several science awards. He or she can then move to a smaller pool.

Another thing students need to keep in mind is that colleges today are aware that a student growing up in a poor, urban area isn’t going to have the same opportunities as a student growing up in an affluent area. Result: These two students don’t go into the same applicant pool, even if they’re the same race and gender. So what may seem like a disadvantage on the surface may actually be an advantage.

Filling the information void

Cho founded College of Your Dreams after volunteering with an organization that gave college application assistance to high school students who were the first in their families to apply to college. Cho realized that many students held misconceptions about college admissions and didn’t know how to navigate the admissions or the financial aid processes.

She partnered with Wendell Tull, also a first-generation American and a former Admissions Director at the University of California at Berkeley. Tull provides students with an insider’s view into what colleges are truly looking for when considering new candidates.

Tull, a former college basketball star, echoes the anti-stereotype concept. “I speak at a lot of predominantly Black schools. Most of the kids think that they’re going to play basketball or be musicians. Only a small percentage of them are going to make it. We’re saying you need to bring something else to the table.”