CHINESE UNIVERSITY STUDENTS ABROAD: THEIR IMPACT, SURGING NUMBERS AND EFFORTS TO GET IN

OVERSEAS CHINESE UNIVERSITY STUDENTS

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students att the Peking University Institue
for Chinese Classics
The China Daily reported: “China has the largest number of overseas students in the world, with a record 1.27 million studying abroad at the end of 2010, according to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Education. About 285,000 of them were new students who began their overseas studies last year, up 24 percent over 2009, said the ministry. Self-financed students now make up the largest group of those going overseas, and among more than 100 countries they selected, more than 90 percent of the students chose to study in the top 10 destinations - the United States, Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Canada, Singapore, France, Germany and Russia. [Source: Chen Jia, China Daily, April 18, 2011]

"Due to more higher-education opportunities available abroad, an increasing number of young Chinese students go overseas to evade the highly competitive national college entrance exam," Li Jing, an application writer who works for an overseas study agency in Beijing, told China Daily. For the universities, assessing these applicants' command of English is a challenge since their parents have usually hired agents to write their application essays, experts said.

After completed four years at a Chinese university many students study abroad. In the early days most of the students who studied abroad were on government scholarships. These days most are from families wealthy enough to send their children overseas to study. "Since China's economy is booming, more middle-class families can afford to send their children abroad for education," Wang Qiang, a Beijing resident who plans to send his son to study in Australia, told China Daily. "Even short-term overseas study experience could win my son better job opportunities here in the future," he said.

The best and brightest Chinese students tend to go to American and European universities.In 2003, there were 18,000 Chinese studying at British universities, making them the largest group of foreign students there. About 35 percent of them took mostly business and accounting courses, 14 percent focused on computers and 11 percent on engineering. The universities like the Chinese students because they work harder than their British counterparts and they bring in much needed money.

Chinese Students at Japanese Universities

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Tsinghua University in 1949
About 70,000 Chinese students are studying at Japanese universities, making them largest group among Japan’s 120,000 international students. Even so the number is relatively low because anti-Japanese feelings still remain in China and Japanese universities are not respected as much as the Western counterparts by ordinary Chinese.

More and more Chinese students are studying in Japan as it becomes easier for them to get visas, These days the majority of qualified students that apply for student visas get them. In the past many of them were rejected because of immigration restrictions put in place in the early 2000s after reports of Chinese students committing crimes to cover tuition and living expenses.

Chinese students entering Japan must have at least an elementary understanding of Japanese and a residence qualification authorization certificate---a document that used to be hard to get but is much easier to get now as Chinese have become wealthier and are able to prove they have enough money to cover their expenses. In China, there is high demand for Japanese language classes to meet to minimum requirements for entry to Japan.

Chinese Students at American Universities

There are more foreign students from China in the United States than from any other country. One in five international students nationwide, or 57,000 undergraduates, came from China in 2010-11, a 43 percent increase over the previous year, according to the Institute of International Education in Washington. Of the 690,923 international students studying in the United States in the 2009-2010, 128,000 were form China, 30 percent more than the previous year.

Tom Bartlett and Karin Fischer wrote in the New York Times: The number of Chinese undergraduates in the United States has tripled in just three years, to 40,000, making them the largest group of foreign students at American colleges. While other countries, like South Korea and India, have for many years sent high numbers of undergraduates to the United States, it’s the sudden and startling uptick in applicants from China that has caused a stir at universities---many of them big, public institutions with special English-language programs---that are particularly welcoming toward international students. Universities like Delaware, where the number of Chinese students has leapt to 517 this year, from 8 in 2007. The number of Chinese students studying in the United States rose 2.3 times between 2000 and 2010. [Source: Tom Bartlett and Karin Fischer, New York Times, November 3, 2011]

While China’s students have long filled American graduate schools, its undergraduates now represent the fastest-growing group of international students. During the 2009-10 academic year, 39,947 Chinese undergraduates were studying at U.S. universities, a 52 percent increase from the year before and about five times as many as five years earlier, according to the Institute of International Education, a U.S. organization. In 2008-9, more than 26,000 were studying in the United States, up from about 8,000 eight years earlier.

Of non-American students who receive doctorates at U.S. universities, 30 percent are Chinese, 10 percent are South Koreans and 2 percent are Japanese. According to to the U.S. National Science Foundation 4,395 Chinese obtained Ph.Ds in the United States in 2007 in science and technology, compared to 235 Japanese, 1,956 Indians and 1,137 South Koreans.Tsinghua and Peking Universities now top the world in Ph.Ds obtained from U.S. universities.

Dan Levin wrote in the New York Times, “Students are ending up not just at nationally known universities, but also at regional colleges, state schools and even community colleges that recruit overseas. Most of these students pay full freight (international students are not eligible for government financial aid)---a benefit for campuses where the economic downturn has gutted endowments or state financing.

Some Chinese that hold diplomas from American universities have never set foot in the United States. Instead they have earned their degree by taking correspondence and Internet classes or attending classes at branches of foreign universities in China. Among the latter is the University of Denver. It offers classes in Beijing with English-language textbooks and American and Chinese professors, with students paying the same in tuition as they would of the attended classed in Denver.

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Shanghai students in Town Hall meeting

History of Chinese Students and American Universities

Mei Fong, Los Angeles Times, “In this clash of cultures, it is helpful to remember America's historical openness to China scholars, and the dividends it has paid. More than a century ago, the Boxer Rebellion led to the U.S. government sponsoring the first group of Chinese scholars to attend U.S. colleges. This first wave returned home to build China's railroads and steamships, won at least one Nobel Prize and helped to build Tsinghua University, China's equivalent of MIT. The first wave of sea turtles following China's economic opening in the 1980s---people such as Charles Zhang, founder of Sohu, and Robin Li, founder of Baidu, who built China's Internet and helped open up the nation's information pathways. [Source: Mei Fong, Los Angeles Times, April 26, 2012]

For a long time the United States was the top choice of Chinese students. Demand for graduates of American universities, particularly elite Ivy league institutions and schools like M.I.T. and Stanford. The number of post graduate students increased from 24,000 in 1980 to 80,000 in 1985, leveled off around Tiananmen Square, then shot up to 160,000 in 1996.

Sentiments changed following the bombing in 1999 of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade and the tightening of visa restrictions after the September 11th attacks in 2001 but rose again in the mid 2000s. The number of Chinese that took exams to get into American universities dropped from 37,000 in 2001-2002 to 14,000 in 2003-2004 then increased 90 percent in 2004.

There were 67,000 Chinese students in the United States in 2008, compared to 62,000 students in 2005, more than any other country except India. Chinese represent 11 percent of all foreign university students in the United States. Many were getting postgraduate degrees.

More and more Chinese are coming to the United States as undergraduates, The number of Chinese students that applied to the University of Virginia rose from 17 in 1999 to 117 in 2006 to more than 800 in 2009. At Stanford the number rose from 166 in 2006 to 400 in 2009. At the University of Washington it rose from 250 to 1,600 in the same period.

Reasons Behind the Surge of Chinese Students in the United States

Dan Levin wrote in the New York Times, “The boom parallels China’s emergence as the world’s largest economy after the United States. China is home to a growing number of middle-class parents who have saved for years to get their only child into a top school, hoping for an advantage in a competitive job market made more so by a surge in college graduates. Since the 1990s, China has doubled its number of higher education institutions. More than 60 percent of high school graduates now attend a university, up from 20 percent in the 1980s. But this surge has left millions of diploma-wielding young people unable to find white-collar work in a country still heavily reliant on low-paying manufacturing. [Source: Dan Levin, New York Times, November 5 2010]

“The Chinese are going to invest in anything that gives them an edge, and having a U.S. degree certainly gives them that edge back home,” Peggy Blumenthal, a vice president at the Institute of International Education, told the New York Times. American colleges offer the chance to gain fluency in English, develop real-world skills, and land a coveted position with a multinational corporation or government agency. Dai Erbiao, a Japanese educator told the Yomiuri Shimbun, Chinese “feel strongly that in the United States , where academic and educational levels are the world’s highest, can benefit their careers.”

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Impact of Chinese Students on U.S. Universities

Tom Bartlett and Karin Fischer wrote in the New York Times: The students are mostly from China’s rapidly expanding middle class and can afford to pay full tuition, a godsend for universities that have faced sharp budget cuts in recent years. But what seems at first glance a boon for colleges and students alike is, on closer inspection, a tricky fit for both. [Source: Tom Bartlett and Karin Fischer, New York Times, November 3, 2011]

Colleges, eager to bolster their diversity and expand their international appeal, have rushed to recruit in China, where fierce competition for seats at Chinese universities and an aggressive admissions-agent industry feed a frenzy to land spots on American campuses. College officials and consultants say they are seeing widespread fabrication on applications, whether that means a personal essay written by an agent or an English proficiency score that doesn’t jibe with a student’s speaking ability. American colleges, new to the Chinese market, struggle to distinguish between good applicants and those who are too good to be true.

Once in the classroom, students with limited English labor to keep up with discussions. And though they’re excelling, struggling and failing at the same rate as their American counterparts, some professors say they have had to alter how they teach. Colleges have been slow to adjust to the challenges they’ve encountered, but are beginning to try new strategies, both to better acclimate students and to deal with the application problems. The onus is on them, says Jiang Xueqin, deputy principal of Peking University High School, one of Beijing’s top schools, and director of its international division. “Are American universities unhappy? Because Chinese students and parents aren’t.” “Nothing will change,” Mr. Jiang says, “unless American colleges make it clear to students and parents that it has to.”

U.S. Universities Cut Slots for Americans to Make Room for Higher-Tuition-Paying Chinese Students

American colleges are more frequently tapping the pool of Chinese students as the surge in middle-class incomes in China coincides with steep budget cuts at U.S. state universities. According to the Chinese Embassy in Washington there were about 89,000 Chinese students in the United States in 2009 and they paid about $2 billion in tuition nationwide. An educator at the University of Wisconsin told the Washington Post, “That money is keeping some American colleges alive.”

Oliver Staley of Bloomberg wrote: , At the University of Washington in Seattle, the number of in-state students in the freshman class declined by almost 500 between 2007 and 2011, even as the school enrolled more total students. The percentage of out-of-state students surged to 34 percent of the freshman class from 19 percent over that same period, with more than half from overseas. Almost two-thirds of the international students are from China. Washington residents pay $10,346 in tuition and fees while nonresidents pay $27,830. [Source:Oliver Staley, Bloomberg, December 28, 2011]

At Michigan State University, in East Lansing, Chinese undergraduate enrollment soared 23-fold in five years, to 2,217 in 2011 from 94 in 2006. Total international enrollment almost tripled to 3,402 in the period and now makes up close to 10 percent of undergraduates.Michigan State opened an office in Beijing in 2008 to improve recruiting efforts, said James Cotter, director of admissions. Student applications are vetted by the staff in Beijing, he said. The increase in nonresident students comes as Michigan’s high-school population is expected to decrease 20 percent over two decades, so local students aren’t being squeezed out, Cotter said.

To boost revenue, the University of California system plans to increase nonresident enrollment to 10 percent from 6.6 percent of all undergraduates, said Nathan Brostrom, the University of California’s executive vice president of business operations. Much of that increase will be at Berkeley, UCLA and San Diego, the campuses with the greatest appeal to out-of-state students, he said. Berkeley enrolled 96 Chinese students in 2010, up from 55 in 2009. In the same period, the number of Asian-American freshmen who enrolled at Berkeley dropped 22 percent to 1,116, the lowest since 1995. Enrollment of white students at Berkeley also fell 29 percent as total admissions of state residents dropped.

While California and other state universities admit foreign students for legitimate educational reasons, some may be abdicating their responsibility to educate their own citizens, said Patrick Callan, president of the Higher Education Policy Institute. “At what point is this not diversifying the student population and just becomes another form of revenue chasing?” said Callan, who is based in San Jose, California. “We’re in some danger of simply taking whoever can pay the most.”

At UC San Diego, Chinese students say they are viewed skeptically by other students who think they’re only there because they pay more, said Zijin Xiao, 20, a freshman from Shenzhen, China. “They think “The foreign students, they admit some who are not fit, maybe they’re not good at academics,” Xiao said. “It makes me upset.” She and fellow Chinese students say they are comforted by the large number of their compatriots at the university, which makes the transition to a new country easier. Xiaojing Pang, 22, a communications major from Guangdong province who goes by Celia, said the cost of San Diego’s tuition is a burden, though she understands the tradeoff. “I need the education and they need my money,” she said.

Lure of Chinese Tuition Squeezes Out Asian-Americans at California Schools

Oliver Staley of Bloomberg wrote: “Kwanhyun Park, the 18-year-old son of Korean immigrants, spent four years at Beverly Hills High School earning the straight As and high test scores he thought would get him into the University of California, San Diego. They weren’t enough. The sought-after school, half a mile from the Pacific Ocean, admitted 1,460 fewer California residents this year to accept higher-paying students from out-of-state, many from China. “I was shocked,” said Park, who also was rejected from four other UC schools, including the top-ranked campuses in Berkeley and Los Angeles, even with a 4.0 grade-point average and an SAT score above the UC San Diego average. “I took it terribly. I felt like I was doing well and I failed.”[Source: Oliver Staley, Bloomberg, December 28, 2011]

The University of California system, rocked by budget cuts, is enrolling record numbers of out-of-state and international students, who pay almost twice that of in-state residents. Among those being squeezed out: high-achieving Asian-Americans, many of them children of immigrants, who for decades flocked to the state’s elite public colleges to move up the economic ladder. In 2009, University of California administrators told the San Diego campus to reduce its number of in-state freshmen by 500 to about 3,400 and fill the spots with out-of-state and international students, said Mae Brown, the school’s admissions director. California residents pay $13,234 in annual tuition while nonresidents pay $22,878.

As a result, almost 200 freshmen from China enrolled in 2011, up from 16 in 2009, a 12-fold increase. At the same time, the number of Asian-American Californians enrolled fell 29 percent to 1,230, from 1,723 in 2009. The 2009 figure is from the UC system’s office because San Diego didn’t have it available.

While the San Diego campus is accepting more Chinese students, the decline in Asian-American enrollment may be a result of the total drop in California resident admissions, and two years’ data doesn’t reflect a trend, said Christine Clark, a university spokeswoman. “UC San Diego is committed to admitting and enrolling talented students from all ethnic and cultural backgrounds,” Clark said in an e-mailed statement.

Asian-American students fighting to distinguish themselves to college admissions officers now have to go up against Asians from overseas, said Casey Chang, a Chinese-American senior at Claremont High School in Claremont, California, east of Los Angeles. He said he has a 4.7 grade-point average and is applying to the San Diego campus for a joint undergraduate/medical-school program.

Park, who graduated from Beverly Hills High School in June, thinks he would have been admitted to UC San Diego if it hadn’t reduced the number of slots for California residents. His combined math and verbal SAT score of 1340 exceeded the university’s average of 1233. His older brother was admitted to the school in 2009 with lower test scores, Park said. “It’s kind of unfair,” said Park, who played volleyball and basketball in high school and took eight advanced placement classes, all with the aim of getting into an elite university. While he dreamed of attending Berkeley, his guidance counselor told him that San Diego was a realistic goal. “I feel I met the university’s standards to get in,” he said. “I expected to get in.” Instead, Park is taking classes at Santa Monica College, a two-year community college he once mocked as “13th grade.” He’s reapplying to the UCs this fall as a transfer student.

Recruiting in China Pays off for U.S. Colleges

Dozens of US colleges and universities are seeing a surge in applications from students in China. At Grinnell College in rural Iowa, nearly one of every 10 applicants being considered for admissions for 2011-2012 academic years is from China. [Source: Jacques Steinberg, New York Times, February 11, 2011]

Jacques Steinberg wrote in the New York Times, “The glossy color brochures, each crammed with photos depicting a Chinese student’s high-achieving life from birth to young adulthood, pile up in the admissions office at Grinnell College here. “Hi Professors!” one young woman announced in her bound booklet, sometimes known in China as a “brag sheet,” which included a photo of herself as a baby. She characterized her childhood as “naïve and curious,” and described herself now as “sincere, kind and tough.” The brochures, though they are almost never read by admissions officers, are a sign of Grinnell’s success marketing itself in China---a plan that has paid off in important ways, like diversifying the student body and attracting students who can sometimes pay full tuition.” [Ibid]

“Grinnell started seeing a steady stream of Chinese applications in the early 2000s, and says it can point to strong academic accomplishments among those applicants it has accepted. Their graduation rate has been comparable to the 1,600-member Grinnell student body over all---about 84 percent of those who enroll graduate in four years---and most Chinese students at Grinnell do “very well” in economics, math or science, the subjects in which they are most likely to major (and usually double-major), Mr. Allen said. Help with writing English papers is also available in a writers’ workshop.” [Ibid]

“Chinese applicants have also been learning about Grinnell and other American colleges and universities through a popular Chinese Web site, cuus.cn---which stands for Chinese Undergraduates in the United States, but the letters are also meant to be shorthand for “See You in the U.S.” “Grinnell in My Eyes,” an article written in Chinese and posted on the site by a recent graduate, is a big bouquet to the school; the writer pays tribute to Grinnell’s flexibility (“if you don’t like the current major, you may also choose independent major?) and the dining hall (“glorious French windows.”) [Ibid]

The universities often have relationships with high schools that have emerged as “feeders” to Grinnell and other American colleges. Such relationships are cemented during tours by admissions officers to these high schools in cities such as Beijing, Zhengzhou, Changsha and Shanghai. Representatives from Grinnell went on a recruiting tour with representatives from a handful of other liberal arts colleges, including Franklin & Marshall and Williams. For the colleges, such tours are motivated at least partly by money. “Grinnell, for example, is “need-blind” when considering American students---who are evaluated regardless of their ability to pay---but its process for admitting international students is “need-aware.” So an applicant from China or another country could have an edge if he or she can pay full tuition. And yet, in the name of socioeconomic diversity, Grinnell also has a dozen full scholarships set aside for international applicants, including those from China, who need help paying tuition.” [Ibid]

Plowing Through College Applications of Chinese Students

Chinese applicants to American universities pose problems for admissions officers. Jacques Steinberg wrote in the New York Times, “At Grinnell, for example, how do they choose perhaps 15 students from the more than 200 applicants from China? After all, the 11-member admissions committee cannot necessarily rely on the rubrics it applies to American applications (which are challenging enough to sort through). Consider, for example, that half of Grinnell’s applicants from China this year have perfect scores of 800 on the math portion of the SAT, making the performance of one largely indistinguishable from another.” [Source: Jacques Steinberg, New York Times, February 11, 2011]

“But the most accomplished applicants will have grades in the 70s or 80s, because Chinese schools tend to grade on a far less generous curve than American high schools. Few will have had the opportunity to take honors or Advanced Placement courses to demonstrate their ability to do college work, since such courses are rare in China. Then there is the challenge of assessing an applicant’s command of English, since some Chinese families have been known to hire “agents” to write the application essay. These are the same advisers who counsel families to spend money on the fancy brochures. “They should save their money,” Seth Allen, the dean of admission and financial aid at Grinnell, said as he glanced at the full-color brag sheets stacked on a nearby desk.” [Ibid]

“Mr. Allen said that few would actually be read by the overworked admissions officers as they plowed through nearly 3,000 applications over all. In fact, the next stop for the brochures, said Jonathan C. Edwards, Grinnell’s coordinator of international admission, would be the recycling bin. Mr. Allen, Mr. Edwards and their colleagues said they spend most of their time on Chinese applications trying to parse the essays---paying particular attention, as they might with an American candidate, to whether they detect the authentic voice and sensibility. [Ibid]

“A young woman from Shanghai, for example, who had scored 800 on the math portion of the SAT, and nearly 600 on the main verbal section, impressed Mr. Edwards with an essay that described her volunteering at a rehabilitation center, where a young autistic boy captured her heart. “Such a hopeless boy evoked my strong feeling to help him and love him,” she wrote. “As time passed by, I found he was interested in hearing the special sound of the piano and was gifted in playing piano.” The applicant was admitted to Grinnell in its early decision round last fall.” Another Chinese applicant who wrote about her community service made a less favorable impression, at least with her essay, by writing about her own hardship while helping others after the earthquake in 2008 in Sichuan Province. “Every day, I showered and brushed my teeth using cold water,” she wrote. “It was unbearable.”

“If there is an attribute that American and Chinese applicants share, it may be the ardor they often demonstrate toward Grinnell and the other highly selective colleges they hope will find a place for them. “A girl from China called the other day after lunch, which was 2 or 3 in the morning for her,” Mr. Edwards said. “She said she was calling to make sure everything in her application was complete.” “I had to tell her to go to bed,” he said. [Ibid]

Coaching Chinese Students to Get Into Elite U.S. Universities

The Shanghai-based Leadership Academy specializes in getting kids into Ivy League school. Parents dish out as much $300,000 for a five year program that includes intensive English classes, SAT preparations and advise on picking the right after-school activities.

Dan Levin wrote in the New York Times, “In December 2009, a rejection letter from Columbia University found its way to the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. It was addressed to Lu Jingyu, a top student and member of her school’s student government. As she read the disheartening words, Ms. Lu immediately began to panic. Where had she gone wrong? How could she fix this? “I wanted American professionals to look at my application and shed some new light on how I could make it better,” she said. [Source: Dan Levin, New York Times, May 20, 2011]

“For answers, she turned to ThinkTank Learning, a college admission consulting company from California that had recently opened an office in Shenzhen, next door to Hong Kong. The price was steep: 100,000 renminbi, or $15,000. But it came with a 100 percent money-back guarantee---if Ms. Lu was rejected from the nine selective U.S. universities to which she applied, her family would get a full refund.” [Ibid]

“Ms. Lu brainstormed with a ThinkTank consultant on ways to redo her admissions essay, which had originally been about playing badminton. The new version she came up with focused on a cross-strait dialogue conference that Ms. Lu had organized with high schoolers in Taiwan. Happily for Ms. Lu and for ThinkTank, the approach worked. She has just completed her first year at the University of Pennsylvania.” [Ibid]

“As a record number of students from outside the United States compete for a limited number of spots at the most selective American colleges, companies like ThinkTank are seeking to profit from their ambitions. In the United States, students have long turned to independent college counselors, but in recent years, larger outfits have entered the market, offering full-service designer courses, extracurricular activities and focused application assistance. These services have spread to the fast-growing and lucrative market in China.” [Ibid]

“Students from China can find themselves ill-prepared for the admissions process at American colleges. The education system in mainland China focuses on assiduous preparation for the national university entrance exam, the gaokao, often at the expense of extracurricular activities. About 400 overseas education agencies---including joint Chinese-foreign schools, language training centers and college application consulting agencies---are certified by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The ministry is affiliated with the two largest application consulting agencies in China, the China Center for International Education Exchange and Chivast Education International. Some of these agencies offer to write their clients’ college essays from scratch, train them for alumni interviews and even modify student transcripts, consultants have said.” [Ibid]

Many Chinese that take the SATs find the math part easy and score 800, the top score. They have more trouble with the verbal section.

ThinkTank College Coaching Service in China

The founder of ThinkTank, Dan Levin wrote in the New York Times, is ‘Steven Ma, 32, a former Wall Street analyst who started the company as a business for preparing students for college entrance tests in 2002 before expanding into application consulting in 2006, starting with seven students. In 2010, that number had risen to 300, including 75 from China. The company said it made about $7 million last year, with 50 percent from admission consulting. ThinkTank said it was able to distill the college admissions process into an exact science, which Mr. Ma compared with genetic engineering. “We make unnatural stuff happen,” he said. [Source: Dan Levin, New York Times, May 20, 2011]

“Students, whose parents often pay tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, are molded by ThinkTank into well-rounded, socially conscious overachievers through a regimen often beginning as early as the year before entering high school. The company designs extracurricular activities for the students; guides them in essay writing; tutors them for the SAT, the U.S. college admission exam; and helps them with meet-and-greet sessions with alumni. “There’s a system built by colleges designed to pick out future stars and we are here to crack that system,” Mr. Ma said. [Ibid]

“LuShuang Xu provides an example of that approach. Ms. Xu, who was born and raised in China before emigrating to suburban California at age 9, had high hopes that she would be the first in her family to go to college. But poor results on a practice SAT and a dearth of extracurricular activities convinced Ms. Xu, 17, that she needed a scholastic makeover if she were to make it into a school her parents could brag about to relatives.” [Ibid]

ThinkTank sent her to a public speaking camp, helped her improve her college essay and gave her the e-mail addresses of all the members of the Stanford University history department. At the company’s prompting, she found two internships with department professors. She also enrolled in ThinkTank’s college prep courses, which helped improve her SAT score 410 points to 2160 out of 2400. Next autumn, she will start at Harvard University. [Ibid]

“ThinkTank’s success with students in California’s Asian-American community, which accounts for 90 percent of the company’s American clients, has drawn interest from wealthy parents in China. Mr. Ma opened an office in Shenzhen in 2009 and another in Beijing in 2010. Mr. Ma said that out of 110 mainland students, only one has needed a refund, though two clients have been granted admission only if they pay full tuition.” [Ibid]

“Helping students from China clear the college entry hurdles has presented ThinkTank with a fresh set of challenges. Often they have poor English language skills and have done little with their free time beyond homework. Yet their parents often demand the Ivy League. “We really have to hold their hand and do everything along with them,” Mr. Ma said, including deliberately leaving spelling mistakes on college essays so they look authentic, training them for the Test of English as a Foreign Language and building extracurricular activities from the ground up. ThinkTank has founded Model United Nations groups, built a Web site for a Shanghai student’s photography project to get news media coverage and helped another obtain funding to build a hydroelectric generator. For ambitious Chinese parents, ThinkTank’s sales pitch is difficult to resist. Li Manhong, a homemaker from Beijing, has planned for years to send her 17-year-old son to an American college, going so far as to enroll him in a private high school in Portland, Oregon, for the past two years to improve his English and his résumé.” [Ibid]

“After learning about ThinkTank from a neighbor, Ms. Li persuaded her husband to sign a contract for 90,000 renminbi, which focuses on nine selective U.S. schools. ThinkTank will train her son for the SAT and help him pick internships and even college courses once he becomes a freshman. Ms. Li sees the cost as an investment in her son’s future. “Whatever it takes to reach his maximum potential,” she said. “It’s worth it.” [Ibid]

Chinese College Coaching Service in China

The college consulting industry in China, Dan Levin wrote in the New York Times, “with numerous agencies promising to make Chinese student’s academic dreams come true, often through questionable practices. One company, Best Education, has offices across China and charges clients an average of 500,000 renminbi for writing clients’ essays, training them for the visa interview at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and providing career guidance. “The students just supply their information and we do all the work,” said one representative, who requested anonymity to protect his job. Best Education offers a 50 percent refund if an applicant is rejected by the student’s chosen schools.” [Source: Dan Levin, New York Times, May 20, 2011]

“Chinese agencies may not want to alert colleges to their involvement, because applications that clearly appear to come from agencies are rejected by U.S. colleges, but the agencies promote their success in Mandarin. The Future Boshi Overseas Education Agency in Beijing gives a tally on its Web site of clients admitted by each university, including two to Harvard in 2010 and one in 2011.Reached by telephone, an agency representative said the company did a lot more than just polish résumés. “If a client’s English is poor, our trained professionals can write the essay to make sure it looks perfect,” she said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid repercussions from her employer.” [Ibid]

“The industry’s aggressive practices have been condemned by many American colleges, which say they disapprove of students’ families hiring consultants. “Students have a responsibility to identify their own path toward future goals, rather than keying in how to get into a certain school,” said Barbara Knuth, the vice provost at Cornell University in New York State, who oversees undergraduate admissions.” [Ibid]

“Harvard said in an e-mail that it “reviews every application individually and has no interaction” with college admission consulting firms, “though we are certainly aware of their existence.” The University of Pennsylvania, which accepted Ms. Lu from Shenzhen, did not respond to requests for comment. Despite the universities’ unease with these practices, application consulting has proved too profitable to ignore.” [Ibid]

Image Sources: 1) Louis Perrochon ; 2, 3) Ohio State University; 4) Nolls China website http://www.paulnoll.com/China/index.html ; 5) Bucklin archives ; 6) Poco Pico blog

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated August 2012


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