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Campaign for Improving College Admission's Transparency—Nan Zhong Interview

Written by CAPA-JRC reporters Alvin Tong, Sophie Huang, Daniel Li, Justing Jiang, Kenneth Shue, Benson Chan, Andrew Dai, and Sky Zhang


On October 29th, 2023, Nan Zhong held a seminar for CAPA, broadcasting information about his campaign for further college admission transparency. Stanley, Nan Zhong’s son, received media attention after being rejected from 16 of the 18 colleges he applied to, notwithstanding his stellar transcript and achievements. Stanley is a passionate programmer from California. As a high schooler, he attended coding competitions around the world, achieving notable results. He founded his start-up (RabbitSign.com) and co-founded a non-profit that taught free coding lessons to kids in underserved communities. However, despite his 4.42 weighted GPA, 3.97 unweighted GPA, and 1590 SAT, he was still rejected from 16 of the 18 colleges he applied to, including 5 UC schools in CA state. After these rejections, Stanley was hired by Google as an L4 software engineer, a position that typically requires either a Ph.D. degree in computer science or multiple years of professional experience plus a Bachelor's/Master’s degree. Stanley’s story soon caught the attention of the media, and many others reached out with similar stories. Since then, Stanley and Nan Zhong have been advocating for college admissions transparency.


A few weeks after the seminar, on the 19th of November, CAPA-MC’s JRC had the opportunity to interview Mr. Nan Zhong. Below are the interview questions and key points of his responses. 


Question: With Stanley's involvement in coding competitions, entrepreneurship, and advocacy work, how did you, as a parent, help him balance his academic responsibilities? Can you share insights into your strategies for managing his time effectively during high school?


Response Summary: Stanley managed his time very independently, though his time-consuming passion for coding competitions and an unexpected venture into entrepreneurship occasionally interfered with his school work. Mr. Nan Zhong mentioned intervening from time to time to remind Stanley of the importance of balance between school work and physical activity. He also mentioned that Stanley always tracks how he spends his day on a spreadsheet, helping him manage his time more effectively. 


Question: In this advocacy for transparency in the admissions process, a third-party examination of applications and their decisions have been suggested. From a parent's perspective, how do you envision this process working, and what challenges do you anticipate with such a system?


Response Summary:  Mr. Zhong emphasized two points of his campaign. The first was to conduct recurring audits, like the one by California’s state auditor in 2020. He recommended conducting regular re-audits every 2-4 years instead of annually if there is a budget constraint. Secondly, colleges should open up the admission process to the public. One example Mr. Zhong mentioned was whether college practices “yield protection”. Yield is defined as the percentage of accepted offers compared to total offers. The belief is that a higher yield indicates a more attractive college in the eyes of the applicants. However, the existence of schemes like "yield protection" introduces a complex layer, where admission offices may reject highly qualified applicants if they anticipate the applicants may receive offers from more attractive colleges. This controversial practice creates a skewed incentive for colleges to admit less qualified students while rejecting more qualified candidates. 


Question: What was your experience in your journey to campaign for transparency and what advice can you give to others with the same goal?


Response Summary: Mr. Nan Zhong launched his mission for transparency in a WeChat group, which accumulated an unexpected and astounding level of response, becoming viral in 24 hours and attracting widespread attention from the media. Despite the media attention, the University of California remained indifferent and unresponsive to the cause, which was a huge obstacle. Stanley’s dad still wasn’t sure if the democratic California legislators who had plans for restoring affirmative action would support them either However, this movement is picking up speed among legislatures, with even a few lawmakers who supported restoring affirmative action  expressing their sympathy and calling Stanley’s case “alarming” and “extremely disturbing”


Question: One of your guiding principles is to remain non-political in this campaign. However, education has long been connected to political ideals, a recent example being the debate over affirmative action. How do you plan to remain non-political? 


Response Summary: A term better than non-political would be bipartisan. Stanley’s dad acknowledges that it will be extremely difficult to keep things bipartisan, but he believes that not everything must be political and that there is an advantage to keeping it bipartisan. Mr. Zhong explains that a danger of being too political is that people will tend to close out other viewpoints and ignore logic. Mr. Zhong explains that he has been reached out to by different politicians, but he firmly rejects any party affiliation with his cause. Stanley’s dad believes that there is a common ground on this subject, seeing how politicians from both the republican and democratic parties reached out to give their support, and that he will stay in this common ground and avoid getting tied into partisan fights.


Question: What are some takeaways from colleges in other countries, if any, that you believe could be applied in the US?


Response Summary: Mr. Zhong stated that he did not believe he was qualified to give any sort of opinion on colleges in other countries, due to his self-professed lack of knowledge surrounding college admissions internationally. However, he continued by emphasizing the importance of third-party audits in college admissions. Mr. Zhong cited the Varsity Blues scandal, a federal criminal case where dozens of wealthy parents of college applicants bribed or otherwise influenced the decisions of the admissions officer, as an example of how a third-party audit of the situation could have avoided it altogether or at least deterred it. Mr. Zhong then discussed an audit of the University of California’s admissions processes, which discovered that UC did not even have a set methodology for evaluating applicants. Thousands of applicants were admitted or denied based on their examiner’s preferences or biases, and not because of what was on their application. 


Question: Considering Stanley's job in a field that typically demands a bachelor's degree, what do you perceive as the advantages and disadvantages of foregoing higher education? 


Response Summary: First and foremost, Mr. Zhong made it clear that there is no single perfect path for a student, and that there are both pros and cons for Stanley’s unique situation. According to Mr. Zhong, Stanley is not missing out on much in terms of education due to his extensive knowledge of the computer science field. However, he is missing out on the opportunity for a double major in business. Mr. Zhong is also concerned that skipping college also means missing out on the campus life experience, including clubs, friendships, and networking opportunities. Though Stanley's coworkers are professional and welcoming, the dynamics might differ due to their seniority. Despite this, Stanley engages in various clubs and organizations within the company. In terms of positives for social life, Mr. Zhong expressed uncertainty about potential negative influences from college peers, and revealed that Stanley maintains connections with high school friends and explores ways to interact with college life.


Question: What obstacles have you or Stanley encountered in your goal for transparency in the college admissions process?


Response Summary: Currently, the main roadblock in their efforts, according to Mr. Zhong, is the lack of a response from the UC campuses to initial emails regarding Stanley’s case. Mr. Zhong states that the schools’ have so far ignored the requests to have a conversation. As a result, their focus has turned to the UC Board of Regents and state lawmakers to force a reply from the UC campuses. To be clear, the goal of the conversation is not to give the rejected parents or students a repeal process. Instead, it is about establishing an independent 3rd-party system that has the public’s trust to audit the admission process.


Question: So far, your campaign has gathered a lot of attention and support. Approximately how many other organizations are you working with?


Response Summary: Mr. Zhong said that on September 28 the AACE (Asian American Coalition for Education) presented Stanley’s case at a congressional hearing. He said he is working with approximately four to five organizations. The movement is increasing in support and popularity, and with more supporters and collaborators, college admission transparency is becoming increasingly likely.


Question: You’ve mentioned that you were building a team for the campaign. What kind of team is it? Is it just one? How many people are in your team(s)?


Response Summary: Mr. Zhong has a discord server split into nine committees that coordinate different goals. As of 11/19/23, their primary goal is government outreach. They reached out to the federal level and state level. The volunteers can leverage their presence in the state and contact state lawmakers to force a conversation. Mr. Zhong also mentioned that over four and a half thousand people endorsed a letter to the UC Board of Regents.



This article was provided by the Chinese American Parents Association Junior Reporter Club (CAPA JRC) with members who interviewed, audio recorded, wrote, translated, and video recorded. CAPA JRC has 25 Montgomery County middle to high school students. They have created a bilingual platform delivering news and serving the community.

Instagram: @capa_jrc


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