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Chinese students have more options than ever before

If you are in your final year of high school in China, chances are very good that you will soon be taking the gaokao exams. Last year nearly 10 million students took the gaokao. With placement at top Chinese universities at a premium (less than 1% qualify with their first scores), dreams can be destroyed in an instant by disappointing gaokao results. Families who have invested significant time, money, and effort preparing for the exam over the years are often left with an important decision after the release of test results: If attending an elite Chinese university is no longer possible, where will the student attend? The tough reality is that almost 25% of students taking the gaokao cannot find placement at a local university.

Over the last few years, two traditional paths have been common for those who didn’t get their desired placements. Some commit another year of their lives to additional tutoring and/or schooling to retest the following June. Others will accept places at second or third choice Chinese universities. More recently, a third option has been taking root for gaokao testers: Overseas universities are now a practical, increasingly common choice. At this time, about 3% of Chinese high school students decide not to take the gaokao at all, instead focusing their secondary school years on preparation for studying abroad.

Where do gaokao takers go for studies outside of China?

As early as 2012, overseas universities began to accept gaokao scores for admission, the first in Australia. Now, thirty Canadian institutions, seven of the famous Group of Eight in Australia, several British institutions including the University of Cambridge, and several other European universities accept gaokaoresults for admissions purposes. Clearly, the academic caliber of high achieving Chinese students who do not secure their top choices is very attractive to universities outside of China.

Since 2015, several U.S. universities, including early adopters University of San Francisco, Illinois Institute of Technology, Brown University, New York University (NYU), George Mason University, Saint Louis University, University of Delaware, Colorado State University, and University of New Hampshire, started to recognize the value of students who have taken this grueling secondary school leaving exam. Typically, these U.S. institutions will use the gaokao results in place of the standard requirement for international applicants to take an SAT or ACT exam, but still require either a minimum English proficiency test score or an interview test (in the case of University of San Francisco). Our colleagues at U.S. News Education wrote a useful article on the different ways colleges and universities can use gaokao results in the admissions process.

In the past year, several other U.S. universities have joined the growing list of institutions recognizing the value and rigor of the gaokaoAdelphi University, a private institution in New York for admission to their Adelphi University International, and Louisiana State University (LSU), the public flagship institution for its state, for enrollment in LSU Global. What is different about these two universities is that they will use the gaokao alone to admit Chinese students into their international student academic programs. Having a pathway to a U.S. university that will not require many extra steps to complete can be attractive to prospective Chinese students. Making the transition easier for gaokao students was also the focus of Adelphi University’s decision. Dr. Shawn O’Riley, Dean of the College of Professional and Continuing Studies and Academic Chair at Adelphi University International remarked “removing even small barriers from the admissions process will help us recruit top students from China and give these students access to a program designed specifically with them in mind.”

This past February, the Gao Kao Admissions Coalition (GKAC) formed in China to represent a way for gaokao takers to identity some of the available education options in the United States. The five original members of this coalition will not require any standardized test (e.g., SAT, ACT, TOEFL, IELTS) other than a student’s gaokao results to make an admissions decision. According to the GKAC, an additional 28 colleges and universities will accept the gaokao as part of the application criteria they use, along with a separate English language proficiency test (like IELTS or TOEFL).

Recently another U.S. institution, the University of Dayton (Ohio), has agreed to accept gaokao results for both academic and English language admissions credentials using thresholds established each year by the Chinese Ministry of Education for enrollment in their UDayton Global academic program.

Why the United States is changing.

So, why are U.S. institutions moving in this direction? For many years now, the United States has been home to more Chinese students (over 363,000 Chinese students currently studying here) than anywhere else in the world. Yet because of growing competition from other countries, U.S. institutions eager to attract the best and brightest overseas students are beginning to adapt their admission policies for prospective students. For many universities, in addition to the admissions process, they also are making their campuses more international student-friendly to maintain their competitiveness.

Important note: The timing of the gaokao exam and the release of results occurs after many U.S. admissions deadlines for the upcoming academic year beginning this August/September. Chinese students who are looking for other options have a challenge: Should they wait a year to start their overseas study or seek a place for this coming academic year? The decision-making process for students and parents may not be easy, but the growing list of U.S. institutions seeking Chinese gaokao students will open up more opportunities.

What do U.S. universities do to help?

Last year, U.S. News and World Report released the first Top Universities for International Students list. Though this list is not a ranking of U.S. institutions, it does grade the top 300 or so highest ranked national universities on criteria related to international students (admissions process, orientation, English language programs, and campus services like housing, safety, career services, and student organizations). Much of the reasoning for this new list is “to highlight schools that best support their international student body through graduation.” This list will be updated annually each fall.

These services that characterize strong, supportive communities for international students are ones prospective Chinese students should look for when reviewing U.S. college options. Dr. Andrea Stiefvater, Managing Director at UDayton Global, indicates that there are many “services to support all aspects of a student’s time here: social, cultural, academic, and beyond.” Beyond streamlined admissions decisions, students should ask if there are dedicated international office staff to help with visa preparation and counseling, student services, academic support, career advice, as well as airport pickups, specialized orientation activities, and year-round activities to help students adjust to the campus culture.

With many students and families focused on career preparation and potential job prospects, whether in the United States or back home, international student-friendly universities often have programming for overseas students that provides practical experience and develops skills needed to excel in their future job search. Additionally, U.S. colleges have many ways to help their international students succeed after graduation, such as interview or résumé preparation sessions, job fairs, internships during a student’s studies, and practical training counseling,

The good news is that Chinese parents and students have an incredible range of choices in the United States for university education. Though the choices in China are limited after receiving less than top-notch gaokao results, new opportunities are available as a growing number of U.S. colleges and universities, by accepting the gaokao exam as part of their admissions criteria, show the significant value they place on the students the Chinese education system produces.

As assistant vice president for international admissions at the University of San Francisco, Jason Opdike, recently stated in an interview, “collectively, the students who have entered USF through the gaokao admission program have achieved considerably higher results than the Chinese students admitted through the traditional admission process.” These students would be excellent fits at international student-friendly campuses throughout the United States.