The following article is written by Christine Chapman. Christine is the author of “The International Student’s Guide to Applying to Private Schools,” an e-book published by AdmissionsQuest.com. After 18 years of experience with international student placement as an educational consultant, Christine is working as Director of International Students at the Brimmer and May School in Chestnut Hill, MA. Christine feels that this is the perfect environment in which to support and nurture international students (a lifelong passion) while growing professionally both as a teacher and admissions & college counseling professional. She is also author of What Schools Should Know About Their Chinese Applicants.
A decade ago, South Koreans dominated the market in sending foreign students to North America for study. Today, as we are all aware, it is China.
For independent education consultants (IECs) new to working with this growing population, it’s helpful to compare and contrast this new wave of Chinese international students with the influx of South Korean students to boarding schools a decade ago.
What does the boom in South Korean students have to do with the flood of Chinese applicants to the U.S. right now? As Korean students began to populate American boarding schools—attending and filling schools all over the nation – they became better prepared both in the admissions process and beyond. Boarding schools became saturated over the course of a decade, and soon day schools started to see an influx of applications from Korea as well. Often, these families would choose to have a parent (usually the mother) relocate to the United States to make an American education possible for her child.
Alongside this demand for an American education, an industry surrounding education also grew. Over the course of a decade, it grew in the forms of agents, educational consultants, academic advisors, guardians, tutors, and mentors, both in South Korea and in the U.S. Students were well prepared. Test scores were high. Many families began to send their students abroad at a much earlier age for an added competitive advantage. I’ve worked with families who sent their students away at age 9: third grade. Although this wave has subsided, students from South Korea are still very sought after candidates, because they are well-prepared and sophisticated applicants, who have come to understand independent school culture very well.
In marked contrast to South Korea, the current pool of Chinese applicants has saturated American independent schools in a matter of only 3 years. Even at day schools in urban centers like New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago (the list goes on and on), students from China have already reached a critical mass. Market saturation makes it very difficult to place a Chinese student at an independent school, and it’s not going to get any easier.
To those who are new to consulting Chinese families and are considering moving in the direction of guiding these students through the process, it’s important to keep in mind that what these students and their families need is real information—and NOT sugar-coated either. There are too many agencies and companies out there in China making promises they cannot fulfill and not necessarily disseminating accurate information. Many students and families have already had enough.
Here are 4 things IECs should keep in mind when working with Chinese families and students:
- Families from China need to be educated about independent school culture. Families will need to understand what it means to have their child attend an independent school, be it day or boarding. This is a multi-layered need to understand independent school culture—from educational methods and approaches, to what it means to give back and become an involved member of the community. Certainly the college counseling piece and planning for their students’ educational futures are top priorities as well.
- Families need a better understanding of the admissions process and the level of competition. Many families do not understand what to look for in finding the right consultant and what the best possible routes and paths are to achieving their goals. Test scores, for example, are certainly NOT going to be everything. Families will need to understand what makes a Chinese student different and interesting compared to the thousands of other applicants many schools and colleges will be considering from China.
- Families need to consider “Fit”. I would love to see more families focused on finding schools for their children that are a good fit. By ‘fit’ I mean, of course, an environment where their children will thrive, find success and build confidence. I often hear families tell me that their children need to be pushed and put into an environment where they will rise to any challenge. My response: acclimation to a new country, a new educational approach, and a new school community (alongside issues of language proficiency) are challenging enough. Let’s work towards finding a school for students that is a good match—a place where the student will make strong and deep connections and friendships with teachers and fellow students alike; a place where they will be able to find and pursue passions and really feel they are a part of the community.
- Following through is extremely important. In working with Chinese students, this is the most important piece of advice I can give. When working with Chinese families, the focus should be on continued student support and advising even after the student has been admitted and enrolled. This might include academic planning sessions throughout the year, regular check-ins, staying in close touch about grades, school related activities and interactions. It also includes helping families better understand – early on – the intricacies and realities of the college counseling process, so they can begin to make realistic and appropriate choices about their students’ future plans.
I could go on for hours about how IECs considering work with students from China might offer a great deal of value for this population of students and their families.
While the market for consultants has already saturated, the reality is that these students have only begun their influx into North American schools and colleges. The wave will be big and it will be a part of our educational consulting landscape for years to come. My best advice is to look to the students and their families with patience, compassion and support. As these students and families ready themselves for college and beyond, they need consultants who have the intent to honestly and thoughtfully walk them through the process. Close attention, genuine support, encouragement and honest communication are a great foundation to working with any family. Listening for these families’ needs as they enter into the hard work of adjustment and acculturation will be paramount if you want to successfully work with Chinese applicants. Good luck!