American colleges and universities mailed out their admissions decisions in the past weeks, leaving many competitive and qualified Korean students puzzling over why they were rejected.
The truth is, in the eyes of admissions officers, students from Korea look as if they came off an assembly line. They have the same grades, test scores, all were on athletics teams and took part in similar extra-curricular activities ― the only difference among them is their family name.
And many say even those are similar, setting students further adrift on a sea of sameness.
So, just how similar are these high school seniors and how can they stand out?
Here are the typical credentials of an applicant from Korea: a grade point average of 3.8 or higher (on a 4.0 scale); a standardized test score of 2250 out of a perfect 2400; around 10 short-term volunteer activities; one athletic or musical skill; and one or two leadership activities.
Students are almost identical come their senior year, as if there was some kind of formula that produced them. Of course, this is not a bad set of accomplishments, but they are not impressive enough to blow anyone out of their seat.
"Schools are looking for depth. They want to see evidence that a student has passion for life," says Yang Min, head of U.S. Edu Consulting, a California-based college advisory firm.
It’s common for a Korean applicant to have played the violin in a school or church orchestra for three or more years. Good, it displays consistency and commitment.
But wait till you compare him with an applicant from the United States, who not only played the violin, but also started up a community band that fundraises for a local hospital.
It’s essentially the same activity, but one applicant leaves an impression while the other fails to.
The same goes for volunteer work.
Many Korean students come up with a list of 10 or more volunteer activities, but a closer look shows that they put less than eight hours into each.
What does that say? It says that the students are desperate to dig up every little tiny bit of volunteer work they ever did for the sake of show.
This becomes especially obvious and unattractive when we can easily find American applicants who’ve spent two to three years on Sundays at a local senior center or created and managed a website for a community charity.
In order to stand out against the broader competition, Korean students need to start looking beyond their local competitors, admissions experts say.
"Korean applicants won’t go far if they compete against each other. Their real competition is the hundreds of thousands of applicants in the U.S.," said Melissa Park, a college consultant based in New Jersey.
Circumstances in Korea aren’t as favorable for students as they are in the United States, so experts advise them to seek support from their schools and local governments to find unique opportunities. From/koreatimes