China is already known for one rigorous exam that students spend years preparing for – the gaokao. The determining factor in a high school student's college placement, the gaokao is the cause of pressure, stress, and occasionally cheating among test takers.
But as graduates emerge from Chinese universities without jobs, more high school students are directing their efforts overseas. Chinese students now make up 31 percent of all international college students at U.S. universities, according to data from the Institute of International Education.
In contrast, gaokao test takers reached a low in 2012 of about nine million since its peak of 10.5 million in 2008. The Financial Times reported that an additional million students backed out of the test last minute in 2013.
The pressure that once came with the gaokao now falls for some students to the SAT, ACT, and TOEFL.
.Scott Wang, a high school teacher who works with students applying to U.S. universities, said the amount of studying that goes into these efforts has intensified.
"Five years ago, I couldn't convince a single person to even consider taking the ACT," Wang said. "I begged, I was like ‘I will even pay for your testing fee if you take the test and get a good score, because I know you can,' – nothing. This year, half the students are ACT take.
Parents have also hired multiple college application specialists at once. Wang said one of his students from last year went to three different tutoring companies for SAT training alone.
"Why are you bothering?" Wang had asked him. "He said, 'Well, my parents just want to be thorough."
Trying to stand out
The intense measures Chinese students go to during college applications is only representative of a fraction of the population. However, stories traded around the education industry highlight the competition that comes with wanting an education abroad.
Traditionally, Chinese students have always been rigorous when it comes to academics and test-taking. For those that are doing everything to get into a U.S. university, the sheer number of high test scores has made standing out even harder.
Another challenge facing students and schools is the difficulty in accurately evaluating all applicants. A student's aptitude for test taking may mask deficiencies in actual English or other capabilities, Guy Sivan said. Sivan is the COO of Vericant, a company that offers video interviewing services and identification verification for U.S. college and boarding school applicants.
In their time at Vericant, Sivan and China director Kelly Yang have heard many reasons why such a service is necessary.
One admissions officer, while speaking with a Chinese student over Skype, thought it was strange that the student had a black cat in her lap during the interview. Several minutes into the interview, the admissions officer realized that it wasn't a cat, but the hair from her mother's head as she whispered answers to the applicant.
Another admissions office received ten applications from students of the same school, all claiming to be the top student at the school. Sivan said this kind of occurrence is very common.
"It's very, very high stakes, it's basically your path of life," Sivan said. "And people have different senses of what's possible or not possible to do."
Giving admissions officers personalized books cataloging students' achievements has also become a common practice. Sivan remembered seeing one hardcover book that charted a student's arctic expedition. Unfortunately, because these additional materials are hard to verify, they often only carry entertainment value, piled into a corner of the admissions office.
"From the student's point of view, this is a way to get the attention of the admissions officer, to show something very, very impressive," Sivan said. "It's sad, but I think in most cases it's not really honest, and that's why the admissions officers ... they already kind of figure out, 'We can't really take it seriously, we can't really consider it.'"
Money for the middleman
Wealthier families have an inherent advantage in the landscape, since they are able to afford the test fees and services that will make a student more competitive. Because of this, there's a lot of money to be made by those in the industry.
In the frenzy to get the best scores, some students ends up taking tests like the TOEFL multiple times in a few months. This makes it very difficult to get a testing seat, so students have to travel to remote areas of the country in order to take the exam.
Kelly Yang said the demand has turned into a market for scalping test seat tickets.
Referred to as huangniu, literally translated to 'yellow cow,' ticket scalpers buy up seats for tests, then sell them at a higher price, Yang said. Although she said it was most common with sporting event tickets, the operations had recently moved over to student exams.
Yang discovered the trend while helping someone look for a September TOEFL test seat, and couldn't find any earlier than December.
"We searched online and said, 'What if I can't get the test date I want?' she said. "It said 'Go to huangniu.'"
While some parents and students have become very well-versed in U.S. college admissions, others are willing to pay high premiums for agents and consultants to do all the work. This has created an environment in which it is very easy to take advantage of hopeful students and parents.
As a result, some companies may end up over-promising.
With expectations rising, teacher Scott Wang said he's seen parents demand their child get into a top school with an average GPA and SAT score, even though the likelihood is very low.
"The problem is that in this city there's always going to be somebody out there who's like, 'Yeah, we can make that happen,'" Wang said. "And they'll go there, hoping against hope that something's going to be possible when it's not."
Reality Check 13 hours ago 27 98 After hosting a Chinese student and having a horrible time for all involved, I am tainted to the whole Chinese experience. Lying on applications, fabricating spectacular lives and cheating. Awesome traits that need to be in American universities? Hmmm, no.
My question - how many of these students will actually stay in the US and become financially productive for the US system - virtually zero.
As an American university, I would be much more interested in local grown students who have a desire to stay in their communities and make a difference than often troubled, devious foreign students who will basically do anything to get to the school regardless of their actual skills and desires.
Our student was socially #$%$ and I mean that in the clinical meaning of the phrase as he could not function in social settings, he had psychological issues and he had no clue on earth what was going on in the world much less our city - no social awareness, no global knowledge. His biggest concern was what type of shoes were "cool and expensive" and what American celebrities were doing. He couldn't find anything on a map and couldn't recognize any type of world issues. Didn't even know what a #$%$ was.
So, the USA is struggling with failing schools and failing students and a worldwide deficit in science, math and technology. Wouldn't it be more appropriate to focus on American kids in American universities to become leaders and thinkers and action makers for the future of our own country?
Mr 13 hours ago 5 52
Most of them hire people who are proficient in English to fill out the forms and essays. I was in a graduate program in the U.S. where the majority of the students were Chinese. Very few of them could speak or write English to save their lives. I don't know how many of them passed the classes. If I were a university, I would make their acceptance contingent on them being able to converse and write in English at a level appropriate for college level courses. If they can't, then I'd reject them on the spot.
Sam 12 hours ago 6 35
ASIANS...are coming by the thousands..!!!?
Nearly 50% students in Masters program in US Universities are from ASIA notably from India and China. The wealthy Chinese are sending even their young children to US Schools from age 6 who are enrolled KG programs staying in Chinese run hostels (dorms) by those School management to learn English and study in USA paying an $1000 or more even for pre school education. They are taught in Chinese language and the hard working Chinese kids learn English faster than most Hispanic students. This ASIAN flow will sure displace many US born English speaking white and black Americans from jobs in due course. Most Asian students have grad Degrees in engineering and IT and are good in math and Science a subject not preferred by most US born students.
Just look at the US spelling bee contest, toppers in US Schools, Colleges and Universities and you will understand the motivation by Asian parents to their children bearing a cultural mark. Over 60% skilled workers, technicians, engineers, Doctors, Nurses, Accountants working in ARAB Kingdoms are from INDIA which produces over 550,000 engineers every year. Over 25% professionals (Professors, Doctors, Nurses, Scientists, IT, CPA and health care) working in USA are from ASIAN Countries. If US born kids do not go to College like Asians kids, there is a major social problem waiting to happen in 20 years from now when over 50% of US population will be Asians and Hispanics. By 2040, non-white and non- black population in USA will be over 70% as per current growth statistics of Hispanics and Asians.
Obama Govt. has now approved H4 category (spouses of H1B VISA skilled workers) to legal employment that were banned earlier. Most of these H1B Visa workers arriving about 175000 per year to US bring their educated spouses (many holding engg. and IT degrees) who could not work earlier due to US Labor Dept restriction which were lifted recently by the US Govt. paving way for about 180000 spouses of H1B category workers to seek employment from May 2015.
It will displace many less educated Americans from their current jobs. the CHANGE is here..!!
karnac 5 hours ago 4 37
The Chinese have bought a number of large apt. buildings, mostly in California, for pregnant Chinese women to come to the U.S. and deliver the baby which make them automatic citizens. These apt. buildings are kept very well below the radar as the owners and occupants do not want to give away what the intent concerning these locations. It is for a variety of reasons including future education for these kids. After the delivery most are raised in mainland China but have free access to everything the U.S. has to offer...they are U.S. citizens.
Commenter 13 hours ago 9 43
In California I have paid for bond measures all my life to improve our schools. Now my child can't get into a UC college. Gov. Brown is giving millions to illegal immigrants and the UC college system is letting in more Chinese because they can charge a higher tuition. I will vote against any bond measure for more monies to California colleges. University of California, Irvine (UCI) is now called University of Chinese Immigrants.
Petunia 11 hours ago 5 73
I have attended college through the post-grad level and have found many foreign students, from all counties, to not have a good enough grasp of English to keep up in class discussions. As a bilinguinal person, and language teacher, I know that skill in listening and speaking come last- you may know enough of a language to pass a written test, but cannot keep up with people talking fast and several at a time, using idiomatic speech, as occurs in college classes, and by the time you've formulated an answer,usually translating from your own language, the topic has changed. When these students go on to grad school, they are trying to teach American students who cannot understand their accents and do not share their cultural values. Some foreign students, especially Indians and Middle Easterners, are openly contemptuous of Americans and American culture, even as they benefit from it. (I always wanted to ask, why, if American schools are so bad, did you come here? And if American capitalism is so decadent, why doyou stay?) Foreign counties need to start concentrating on improving their own educational systems.
thatwasn'tme 10 hours ago 4 60
I have had classmates and coworkers who are Chinese. While they are very dedicated to their studies, very few of them exhibited any marketable skills. Lack of English skills, interpersonal skills, problem solving skills, and a low confidence level were the norm. One kid from Hong-Kong had amassed over $100K in private student loans to become an engineer. He worked at a temp job. What would happen to the student loans if he decided to go back home? What good is it to study 40-50 hours for an exam, if all you are doing is memorization? I grew up in the Eastern Europe, and memorization in classroom was the norm. It brakes your will and turns your brain to mush.
yin w 10 hours ago 5 3
Different kind of defeatist attitude in education
I teach in college. I have a US college students who missed a written assignment and told me he was sick, without prior notice. I gave him an extension, a date of his choice. He failed in submitting the paper on time and asked for another extension. He was given another extension. But he failed to complete the assignment as required in length (33% short) and style (with citations). His submission letter read: "I apologize for a short essay." The students failed, i.e., 40%. He wrote back: "I need a good grade."
The student is a study body representative in a fairly prestigious, competitibe mid-west private school.
sparky 12 hours ago 6 32
He makes a good point about the good test scores versus the ability to speak English. When I was at Cal, I was astonished at how poor English Chinese students spoke. I was also shocked when those same students wrote excellent essays--that is until I discovered they were cheating! Sometimes others wrote papers for them and sometimes papers were stolen out of a professor's returned paper box. I even found an uncollected paper at the end of semester (those are bundled and put in a room prior to being trashed) that had the same title and opening paragraph as a paper I'd had stolen--and, yes, the name on the paper was an Asian name.
Inspector 13 hours ago 9 35
We are constantly being told that the Asia people are more intelligent than any other. However, look at the number of people over there - billions. We are only exposed to a very small percentage of them. And, they are somewhat intelligent. But, what about the other 99.999 percent? Most of the population of China is illiterate. We only see the ones that have the money and backing to get over here. Percentage wise, they are no smarter than any other race.