Getting into a top American university is not a hopeless dream - just make sure your application stands out.
At a talk to more than 350 students and parents, Cornell University's associate provost for admission and enrolment Doris Davis outlined what makes a good application.
With more than 20 years of experience in admissions at five universities, Ms Davis was speaking about the 300 or more elite universities in the United States.
She said applicants should not hesitate to apply because of financial difficulty or because they were not studying at prestigious schools.
'We will look at how you make use of the resources available,' she said.
All Ivy League and many other institutions offer financial aid.
It is all right to state in the application form that you have not figured out what career path you want to take, unless you are applying to a highly specialised field of study, according to Ms Davis.
Research is important in helping you find out which universities are best suited for you.
Start in the summer before the final year of your secondary school study.
Avoid giving a long list of extra-curricular activities. Select the ones which you have spent most of your time on. Consistency implies commitment and leadership skills. Also, give details of the activities or clubs. Some of them, maybe most, no one has heard of in the US.
Perhaps you have little time for activities because you have to take care of younger siblings. Include that as well. 'Whatever's important to you is important to us,' Ms Davis said.
Finally, the dreaded application essay. It requires applicants to reflect on personal aspects of their lives, which may be difficult for Asian students, Ms Davis noted. She suggested teachers help by giving students similar topics to write about.
Start on the essay early. Check for grammatical and spelling mistakes. If you are sending the same essay to several universities, remember to change the university name.
And be prepared for strange questions during the interview, such as 'Pick a fruit and tell us how it reflects your personality'.
A separate talk was organised for teachers. Videos of both talks will be available at Hong Kong Education City's Web site www.hkedcity.com.net