Southeast Asia has a population of 620 million people. Just to put that in perspective, the United States cracked 300 million just a few years ago. With a population twice the size of the United States. As 9% of the world population, our representation at top institutions is not representative of our place in the world.
During my time at Stanford and from conversations with some highly accomplished people I always wondered, “Where are all the Southeast Asians?” Then, I thought back to my experience as a student in Malaysia.
I grew up in Kuala Lumpur in a typical middle class family. My academic performance in secondary school was average. The reason for my unremarkable secondary experience wasn’t the inability to do well. It was the lack of incentives. I thought my options were either to do a pre-university course to go overseas, join a Malaysian private institution. For either choice, my secondary school grades didn’t have to be amazing.
The stories of the 15 straight A students going Cambridge or Harvard on a government scholarship seemed unattainable for myself.
I didn’t know I could, so I didn’t try.
All that changed when I met a group of American foreign exchange students in Australia. They went to Cornell, Duke, UCLA, and a host of other impressive schools. Talking to them convinced me that the United States would open doors to amazing opportunities. They told me what going to school in the U.S. was like, and what you had to do to get in.
My mind was made up to go to the U.S. But how to get there?
Honestly, the path was difficult. After a lot of research, a lot of conversations, and a lot of mistakes, I finally made it to the United States and got my undergraduate degree in civil engineering. I had a job waiting for me upon graduation even after the market crash in 2008. I made tons of American friends, and loved every bit of my experience.
After this success, I learnt the lesson to try to shoot for the best option for me.
I used this lesson when I applied to business school. Stanford’s business school has a 7% admissions rate. My year had one of the lowest historical admissions rates. I knew my odds were bad but I still wanted to try.
I will never forget how it felt to receive the phone call from the dean of admissions saying that I was accepted.
Ever since attending Stanford University, my life has been put on a completely different trajectory. I’ve managed to get jobs I would never have gotten before. I’ve met people I would never even be in the same room with. My network is filled with people who will be the future leaders of the corporate and political world.
Getting to America and then going to Stanford University improved my prospects dramatically. However, I almost didn’t get here. It was luck that enabled me to learn about the opportunity. Then, I had to try to seize it.
I think a lot of Southeast Asians were like me. They don’t know the height of their full potential so they don’t try. I want that to change.
America is still the land of opportunity. The academic institutions here give you an amazing education. The people you meet here will be instrumental to your development. Being here puts you in touch with thought leaders in every industry. The strong brand name of the top schools get you in the door of any company.
So by all means, try for the United States top institutions! You deserve to give yourself a shot to be great. With every Southeast Asian that joins the ranks of top institutions, we set an example and make it easier for all those that follow. When they see that we did it, they realize they too should try.
Admissions consulting for Asians applying to American universities is something I truly care about for this reason.
It is my hope that we will live up to our full potential and break in to the top ranks where we should be.
College, Graduate School, and Career Coaching.