Another piece of great insights from a VA.

Suggested prior reading: VietAbroader and the Age of Optimism

Disclaimer: The author does not hold responsibility for any inference from the information represented; neither does he hold the blame for any coincidence if such instances do actually happen in real life. All that is written below is supposedly to be interpreted as purely hypothetical, for an entertaining purposes, and thus should not be taken seriously.

1. The story begins (Adapted from real cases)

1:59pm, Pi day, skipping school, he stayed at home and stared at the blank screen of his laptop. A rejection letter had arrived from his dream college since 7th grade. Devastated, he told himself that he had always known this was going to happen. The application pool was too strong and his credentials were nothing to be compared with his fellow applicants. 4 IChO medallists, a few IMO medallists from the past years, coupling with a number of others whom he laughed to himself that they would never ever make it, all competed for the supposedly national quota of maximum 2 slots. Now he laughed at the fact that those two who got in must have had laughed at him in their deepest desire. He knew that he stood no chance of getting in, yet the bitterness from a sip from the 42-degree Chivas he bought after a leadership program in Sydney struck him hard. Just like those destitute people in the poorest region in Cambodia he had been to, the only two feelings that his heart had room for was hope and despair. The rest of the ivies were coming out in two weeks. He prayed before getting wasted for the night.

31st March, 5pm, all the ivies he applied to rejected him. So did the top LACs. He scrutinized all rejection letters, looking for a word of comfort called “waitlist.” Please at least waitlist him beloved and mighty colleges, he thought to himself. Yet, reality slapped into his face. Blank.

What has he done wrong? Surely not his passionate love for America, his dream of going to MIT, his immoderate reading about the school, his inspiration from constant reading MIT blogs, and his daily surfing on VA? Though all now seem speechless and meaningless, he was trapped in depression, regret, and self-criticism.

Why has he failed so miserably? Well, a rather more suitable question: Why should he not have failed miserably?

2. Something to pause on

Every year Vietnam sends contestants to various international Olympiads such as IMO, IChO, IPhO, IOI. Most of them would bring back flame, honor and glory. Vietabroaders in America also score well in local national Olympiad namely AMC, AIME, USAMO, etc. Vietabroaders everywhere are striving towards academic excellence, standing proudly along side other fellow participants from developed nations in the intellectual sphere.

Vietabroaders excel the TOEFL and SAT. The once dream score of 2200 is now a common phenomenon.

Vietabroaders are involved heavily in many extra curricular activities, leadership programs, national/international conferences, etc, yet, still able to maintain respectable GPA.

Ivies and the ilk certainly love applicants with all of the aforementioned qualities: a gold for IMO, 2300 for the SAT and an impressive resume. If you have such credentials, there is no way that you can miss it. 

Nevertheless, Vietabroaders oftentimes are not as flawless. The majority of us are on a distinguished road of proving ourselves to be the best option among our fellow alternatives, the eye-candy of admission officer and the ultimately, the one to be chosen.

So what would distinguish ourselves from a sea of people around us? What is the key to success in the crucial application process that would significantly determine our future and our life?

A current Stanford sophomore scored 7x on the TOEFL ibt, failed to construct a simple proper English paragraph even after his two years embracing in the prestige. A shiny IMO medal was his answer.

A current freshman at Princeton’s bought his ticket to New Jersey by an extraordinary resume he built up during his 4 years in Singapore coupling with his decent academic results.

A recent Penn admit probably had the highest SAT score of 2340 in the history of generations of Vietnamese applicants.

And so it seems that as long as you secure one of those factors, your chance would be pretty high. Unfortunately, it is not always the case. April 1st 2009 will forever be the most horrible day in your life, a nightmare to the extreme that it turned out to be reality. Poor souls, you condemn yourself for not being successful like your peers. You determine to try again, but most likely you will end up the same. You have no secret to success, just yet.

3. Vietabroaders and the age of exaggerations/false information

So have you found out why all you’ve got was “we are sorry but we can’t accept you”? Yes, it is because you were too humble, too honest, too dumb. 

You constantly consulted a Vietnamese students in your dream college, asking about their SAT scores, their activities, the prizes they achieved during high school. You were exultant that you seemed to be on the right track and your dream would come true in a several months after you turned in the application. You were just fooling yourself, not knowing that there were two secrets to success that they did not tell you “1.Never tell everything you know; Anyone can say number 1, your task is to find number 2.” Your seniors, being politically correct, would advice you to do all the things that you were not supposed to. In the end, you found yourself miserable. WHY?

You indicated in your commonapp School Report that your school does not rank, which in fact, it does not, but you did not know that most of the prominent figures whom you thought to be so good to get into their top choice colleges were ranked 1st among the 700 outstanding students of Hanoi Amsterdam High School for the Gifted. Ooops!

Your self-written recommendation letters only told the truth about yourself as a person, not particularly outstanding but in the top 10% as you knew that your teachers must have felt the same way about you. Sad case, your dream college wanted to hear from “your teacher” that you were one of the best in his career, that you had changed his life so much that he was grateful that he chose teaching as a career. A simple loving letter was a trash compared to an eloquently SELF-praise. You have just lost your second battle in the application warfare.

Your resume listed down all the activities you have participated in during your high school career/gap year, some of which you were really proud of as you felt the profound meanings when you touched the lives of others. You expected adcom to feel the same way about your passion, care and concern about the lives of the underprivileges. Sad case number 2: your heartfelt passion was nothing compared to that of those who were “president” or “founded” the club that you were just a member of. Some of those clubs were only the imaginary product of your friends’ creativity, which was on paper and never worked out, or worse, in the back of their darkest minds. You never knew, the adcom never knew. They received a ticket to heavenly America and you were stuck there disdaining yourself. You must have seen all the advertisements for those clubs on VA/HAO/offline Yahoo messages, yet you never realized that the ones in power took the most credit. Too bad, you have just been defeated in your third battle.

Three knock-outs, your game was over.

Behind every great success, there lies a great crime. If you did not fail to commit the first crime of exaggerations/false information, congratulations; You were one step closer to your American dream. It was almost certain that you could get into somewhere.

4. Vietabroaders and the Ivy League game.

(For the sake of a catchy title, I was forced to curtail the Ivy Plus, namely Stanford, MIT, Duke, Caltech, and numerous institutions of Ivies’ standards and LACs, you name it. Nevertheless, it would be quite unfair to mention the Ivy League alone and forget those equally competitive colleges. With this in mind, Ivy League addressed below should not be understood as the only 8 big names in New England. You get what I mean.)

Applying to Ivy League is already a gamble in itself. Provided that you are nothing *special* except for being an excellent student in all of your life, the Ivies would feel like a Bingo in Texas Hol’em, when you go all in without a single card opened on the table. You may stand the chance of winning everything on one hand, or losing everything on the other hand. Nothing could be foreseen and your only weapon to survive the Ivies’ massacre was the strong feeling you had for the two cards in your hand. It would be truly rewarding if you had a straight flush and won the table. You have made it with your own merits and luck and you deserved it. Vietabroader has seen people like you all the time. Congratulations.

On the contrary, a number of Vietabroaders made it to the Ivies by “luck”. It is not the usual lottery luck when the adcom loved your personal statements to dead or so. Such thing only happens in one college or another and to be honest, I never think the essays would play much of an important role in Ivy League’s admission, for a mere fact that all of those who have enough courage to apply to Ivies are capable of writing well. So what exactly is this luck? What made the miracle to happen? Let’s call it the X factor – X stands for (X) Hook, H-factor for Havard Hook for instance.

Rumor has it that miracle happens when it is cast by a magical wand of X factor in the form of a recommendation letter. A recommendation by a Nobel laureate that you and your family had a chance to know was in fact a C-Hook. A recommendation from the director of Fulbright was certainly a D-Hook. It would be good for yourself when you were fortunate enough to have such X factor and employ it well to secure your future. There was nothing wrong with that because after all, the world was never fair. You were going to college and children in Cambodia were dying because of hunger. It was never fair.

Yet, it would be an entirely different story when you abuse such privilege of your X factor and push it to an extreme by using it indiscriminately. A recent success story of a G-hook applicant has turned itself into a massive Y-hook, P-hook, D-hook, B-hook, S-hook and a couple of top LACs-hooks. It was just plainly ridiculous when one’s single G-hook at the beginning deprived others from standing a chance for admission in 5 institutions of Ivies Plus and numerous other institutions, which no Vietnamese students would have a chance to enroll this Falls.

5. Conclusion 

This story is not meant to encourage future applicants to do everything they can to gain admission to US colleges even when they know that it is wrong. In fact, the author’s intention is to criticize such acts of dishonesty as mentioned in (3), and the nonchalant, indifferent attitudes among those who was fortunate enough to be blessed with the X-factor towards their fellow applicants. 

The Dalai Lamas of Tibet has said: “My religion is kindness.” This is a desperate call for personal integrity and kindness among Vietnamese applicants. Be kind to yourself and others.

Zhuge Liang (Gia Cat Luong) died young because he caused the death of too many people. The equilibrium theory in chemistry stated that a system in balance would react so as to encounter/reverse any external force exerts on it. I believe that you will eventually have to pay for every wrongdoing you commit sooner or later.