Law school studies historically have lumped Asian students together, regardless of whether they have roots in India, China or the Philippines.

But a new comprehensive report shows that students from different Asian subgroups studying in the United States have varied experiences when it comes to taking the Law School Admission Test, landing scholarships, and interacting with classmates.

For example, Filipino survey respondents were about seven times more likely to leave law school with $200,000 or more in debt than were Chinese students, of which half expected to graduate with no debt at all—thanks in part to an influx of wealthy Chinese students from overseas.

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That’s according to The Law School Survey of Student Engagement’s (LSSSE) report titled, Diversity Within Diversity: The Varied Experiences of Asian Law Students. It’s the first of three planned reports to look at the nuances between subgroups that are typically thrown together in research. Upcoming reports will examine distinct subgroups within the Hispanic/Latino label, as well as international law students, said Aaron Taylor, LSSSE’s executive director.

“A lot of the time, the experiences of smaller subgroups are overshadowed by those of the larger subgroups,” Taylor said. “Look at the debt trends among Vietnamese and Filipino respondents to the survey. They are expecting debt at some of the highest levels that have ever been observed on the LSSSE survey. But you wouldn’t know that, because those trends are being overshadowed by the relatively favorable debt trends among the Chinese and Korean respondents, which are the largest subgroups.”

The new report is based on survey responses from 1,147 law students who identified themselves as Asian in 2016, and break down their responses among six distinct groups: Chinese, Korean, Indian, Filipino, Japanese and Vietnamese. Chinese was the single largest group, as 23 percent of the total. Vietnamese was the smallest at 5 percent.

Students were asked about the level of education their parents have—a proxy for socioeconomic status—their law school scholarships, their debt, and their student experience, among other things.

Chinese law students reported the highest median LSAT score, at 157, followed by Koreans at 156, Indians and Japanese and 155, Vietnamese at 154, and Filipinos at 153.

Taylor expected merit-based scholarships to be distributed along that LSAT spectrum, but that wasn’t the case. Vietnamese students reported the highest percentage of merit-based scholarships, at 65 percent, while Chinese and Filipino students tied for the lowest at 57 percent.

“It didn’t hold the way we expected, but we don’t see that as a problem because we don’t think the LSAT should dictate who gets merit scholarships,” he said.

Somewhat unexpectedly, Chinese students who are not U.S. citizens reported receiving merit scholarships at a similar level to domestic students, which runs counter to the conventional wisdom that law schools charge international students full tuition to help subsidize domestic students.

“It’s a riddle,” Taylor said. “The numbers don’t tell the whole story in that case.”

Vietnamese respondents reported the highest percentage of negative perceptions about their overall law school experience, at 24 percent. Japanese students had the lowest percentage reporting a negative experience, at 13 percent.

Just three percent of Filipino respondents reported negative perceptions of their relationships with other students, compared with 10 percent of Vietnamese students. The vast majority of all Asian students said they would attend the same law school again, given a choice, with Japanese respondent leading at 91 percent. In contrast, just 75 percent of Korean law students said they would attend their same school again.

“Asians are forgotten in conversations about diversity and inclusion,” Taylor said. “It’s almost as if, ‘Hey, they’ll be fine because they’re always fine,’ when that’s not necessarily the case at all. Schools should be cognizant that there are differences within groups, and if you want to serve your students well, you have to be sensitive to those things.”


Contact Karen Sloan at On Twitter: @KarenSloanNLJ