Secret to Asian academic success—hard work!

May 7, 2014 by


The superior academic achievement of Asian Americans is a well-documented phenomenon that lacks a widely accepted explanation. Asian Americans’ advantage in this respect has been attributed to three groups of factors: (i) socio-demographic characteristics, (ii) cognitive ability, and (iii) academic effort as measured by characteristics such as attentiveness and work ethic. We combine data from two nationally representative cohort longitudinal surveys to compare Asian-American and white students in their educational trajectories from kindergarten through high school. We find that the Asian-American educational advantage is attributable mainly to Asian students exerting greater academic effort and not to advantages in tested cognitive abilities or socio-demographics. We test explanations for the Asian–white gap in academic effort and find that the gap can be further attributed to (i) cultural differences in beliefs regarding the connection between effort and achievement and (ii) immigration status. Finally, we highlight the potential psychological and social costs associated with Asian-American achievement success.


Dear Mr. Fitzhugh,

Thank you for taking the time to consider my essay on the unauthorized disclosures of the Pentagon Papers. If you have the time to read this email, I would like to provide you with some background information on the process that I underwent while researching this paper. I am currently a Junior attending (public) high school in Boulder, Colorado. I initially wrote a much shorter version of this essay for my U.S. history teacher, Mrs. Leigh Campbell-Hale.

The process of researching and completing this [9,963-word] paper took two years. In 2010, I decided to study the Pentagon Papers because at the time when I was selecting topics, the Wikileaks incident was all over the news. I became fascinated by the leak of information, the current presidential administration’s handling of it, and the public controversy that the leak ignited. One trend that I noticed throughout many of the news articles that I followed was comparison between the current Wikileaks disclosures and the historical leak of the Pentagon Papers. Fascinated, I thought that a closer study of the historical Pentagon documents might provide me with answers to some of the current questions that I had about contemporary leaks.

I came upon President Nixon’s telephone transcripts by accident; initially, I had not intended to focus upon that aspect of the leak. However, reading the transcripts made me realize that there were a lot of discrepancies between what my secondary sources were telling me (that is, what historians previously believed about the leak) and what the transcripts actually show. I began to realize that because there was new evidence that historians previously did not have the opportunity to consider, this topic demanded a reassessment.

I’d like to thank The Concord Review for pushing me beyond my academic boundaries. After my teacher read the much shorter version of my paper, she suggested that I submit a longer one to The Concord ReviewWriting a paper for the Review was a completely new experience for me. Suddenly, there were no word limits and no guidelines to dictate what my paper had to look like; these guidelines had previously determined every paper that I had written in past history classes. I was free to pursue whatever aspect of my topic that I wanted to whatever extent that I wanted. It was liberating, but also incredibly intimidating. At first, I admittedly felt lost and even scared about where I was supposed to take my paper.

In the shorter version of this essay, I relied heavily upon my secondary sources and I did not pursue the primary source telephone transcripts to the extent that I should have. I used various excuses to justify this to myself—the word limit wouldn’t have allowed me to fully analyze the transcripts; moreover, the transcripts didn’t seem to fit the guidelines that my teacher had asked for. However, the truth was, I didn’t think that I had the intellectual capability to take on such a challenging academic task. Directly analyzing primary materials and drawing original conclusions (instead of relying upon secondary material) was something that my teacher called “real history”; I was convinced that only “real historians” and graduate level students were capable of doing that kind of research. However, after reading the essay in the Review about Andrew Jackson and his Indian removal policy, I realized that I had been mistaken. Suddenly, none of my previous excuses seemed legitimate. That weekend, I made calls to the National Archives and the National Security Archives to obtain all of President Nixon’s transcripts from that time period. I also emailed and called the historians whose works I had previously referenced in my research. I interviewed these scholars to find out more about the processes that they underwent in their research; I also discussed what they thought about the new evidence that had come out and how that new evidence could be used to revise the conclusions that they had come to years ago.

In retrospect, this has undoubtedly been the most demanding academic endeavor that I have ever undertaken during my high school years. More importantly, however, it has also been the most fascinating academic work that I have ever had the opportunity to engage in. I have learned so much not only about history and the Pentagon Papers, but also about my own critical thinking process and capabilities. Thank you again for taking the time to consider my essay, and thank you (and The Concord Review) for giving me the opportunity to go beyond my previous academic boundaries.

[She is in the Class of 2017 at Columbia University]


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Related Posts


Share This

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.