Late spring and summer always bring the admissions community a welcome break. Because applicants are no longer top priority, admissions offices are able to readjust their own teams.

Summer also brings an increase in open job opportunities for international admissions officers. Job descriptions float around the Internet and say similar things. A few even mention the one country which is inherent to current international admissions work and is costing admissions offices time and money….China!

So how do you know if you have what it takes to handle China admissions?

What should you look for if you’re planning on hiring someone to manage Chinese applicants?

Here are the 5 ideal skills that any admissions officer should have for handling China admissions:

1. Comfort with unpredictability

China has a unique way of making your plans useless. Even though the Wikipedia page for FUBAR and SNAFU may say otherwise, I’m confident that Chinese expats created these terms.

Thanks in large part to China’s Ministry of Education, China’s admissions landscape can change its course quickly. Any international admissions officer should understand and be ok with its volatility.

  • In the past several months, significant decisions regarding the GaoKao and SAT tests have been made.

  • Boarding and higher ed institutions keep forming joint partnerships with Chinese institutions. These agreements impact the partnering institutions’ admissions work as well as that of their peers’.

What’s that? You don’t think that you’ll run into Chinese unpredictability, as you sit behind your desk outside of China? Admissions officers routinely describe the following scenario:

SCENE: A calm and quiet admissions office in January.

Three knocks on the door.

“Hi, I’m a Chinese applicant. I’ve just flown 7,000 miles to be here. My family and I have unexpectedly shown up to your campus for a chat and campus tour. This is fine, right? Ready to go?!”

Cue your plans and serenity going up in flames.


2.  Travel experience in China


–Walking through the arrival doors at a major Chinese airport is an experience worth having on its own! Picking up a 1st timer and seeing his/her bugged eyes is even more enjoyable.

–Being able to say that you’ve been to an applicant’s hometown goes a long way in forming relationships with applicants and families.

–Face-to-face meetings are still very much appreciated in China. A China admissions visit usually includes events with students, parents, Chinese partner schools, consultants, and others. Webinars, conference calls (via downloaded software), and SlideShare links are not inherent to most Chinese (yet); especially Chinese parents.

            You need to visit China in person.

Traveling to China may also wallop you with debilitating jet lag. Flying to Shanghai isn’t the same as just bopping on down to Puerto Rico. Would you enjoy, or at least tolerate, getting off the plane and almost immediately going to dinners, parent meetings, school tours, and other public functions that have all been crammed into a very tight schedule? If not, then maybe China isn’t the right place for you.

Living in China is the most ideal experience of all. There are actually a few current admissions officers that have done this. One prime example is Creighton University’s Charles Wester, who “spent six years in China during which time he worked as a high school teacher, was a graduate student, and was an admissions counselor.” The Creighton Asian World Center had a nice podcast conversation with him (start at 5:46).

3. Basic Mandarin Chinese language skills

I’ll assume you’re reading this somewhere outside of China, so here’s a test. Answers are at the very bottom. Give yourself 1 point for each correct answer.

Do you know how to say

A) Hello

B) Thank you

C) Goodbye

D) Apply

E) Study abroad

It’s the same when you travel anywhere. Know the basics. Similar to the China travel experience above, knowing the basics (and perhaps some rudimentary admissions-related words) will show applicants that you care.

4.  Cultural awareness of what Chinese students typically do/say and how they may have typically been raised.

Did you know that Chinese parents are the real educational decision-makers? American “helicopter parents” can look extremely laid back when compared to Chinese parents. In Chinese parents’ eyes, youth are nowhere near ready enough to make such life-altering decisions such as which high school or college to attend. They find it unfathomable that many American parents give their children leeway when making that decision. It’s the parents you should be speaking to when you’re pitching your academic institution.

If you don’t know much about today’s Chinese youth, read about them. Google recent articles or buy well-reviewed books such as Mary Bergstrom’s All Eyes East: Lessons from the Front Lines of Marketing to China’s Youth.

Every time I do “QR”, I’m reminded why China’s youth make the country so exciting. Try to understand the psyche of Chinese youth at some basic level. You won’t regret it.

5.  Deep love for admissions work

No, this isn’t a cop out. China admissions is a serious business and it’s a whole other world. There’s a reason why admissions conferences don’t have presentations on Argentinian, Nigerian, or German admissions.

If you’re responsible for China admissions and don’t truly love admissions, your lack of love…will…show.

The China admissions industry provides so many options to “take the easy way out.” There are scrupulous agents/consultancies, deceitful applicants, applicants unfit for studying abroad, a growing pool of applicants to lazily choose from, and so on.

Anyone handling China admissions must truly care about finding the right student for their particular academic institution. It’s about building the right student community and not compromising.


What’s your advice for admissions “newbies” who have to handle China admissions?

What admissions words do you want to learn next?

Know any admissions officers who’ve lived in China? If so, forward this to them!

Do you have any lovely or horrible stories about your time in China admissions?

Share your thoughts in the comment section below!


Test answers

A) 你好  “knee-how”

B) 谢谢  “see-yay see-yay”

C) 再见  “z-eye gee-anne”

D) 申请  “sh-en ts-ing”

E) 留学  “leo sway”

0-1 points: For shame! Well, you’ve just “learned” the five ones above. Keep practicing!

1-2 points: Not bad. Set a goal for yourself to learn 1-2 more in the next month.

2-3 points: You’ve been to China before, haven’t you? Impressive.

3-4 points: Awesome! Solid performance. Stick with ones listed and add 1-2 new words soon.

4-5 points: Wow! You knew E!? What else do you know!? You’re ready to hit Beijing’s streets…well, lets start with the nearest meeting with Chinese applicants and families.


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