Last week The Atlantic published How China’s New Love Affair with U.S. Private Schools Is Changing Them Both.  The author, Helen Gao, is a Deerfield graduate who started her studies there in 2005 when she was one of 65 Chinese students studying in U.S. private schools.

In the article, Helen Gao touches on several interesting points:

  • The booming trend of Chinese studying in US schools
  • The agent problem
  • Differences between Chinese and US education systems
  • China’s elite filling U.S. private schools
  • What schools are doing to address the above issues

Booming trend

Helen’s compatriots thought she was crazy back in 2005 when deciding to study abroad.  Today there are around 6,000 Chinese students studying in U.S. private schools.  The number of Chinese students studying abroad are growing by 20-30% per year and show no signs of slowing down.

Agent Problem

Helen interviews Qide, a Chinese education agency, and discusses their methods of helping students get into US schools.  The takeaway is Chinese education consultants do not feel they are doing anything unethical as they help families navigate a confusing application process.

During Helen’s interview with me, we discussed her conversation with Qide.  After admitting to falsifying documents and other application materials, Qide asked if their company’s name would be published. After learning it would be, the Qide representative was pleased.  He felt this would be a great marketing opportunity.

Chinese vs U.S. Education System

Helen touches on how China’s 20% literacy rate in 1950 has grown to an estimated 92% today. China’s system was designed to educate the masses, whereas the U.S. system focuses on the individual. This difference has had a huge effect on the admission process.  China’s admissions is determined by standardized testing whereas the U.S. takes a more holistic approach.

Schools run into problems when they apply this holistic approach to their Chinese applicants.  For example, it is nearly impossible to obtain a teacher recommendation in China.  When schools require teacher recommendations, applicants are forced to find some way to fulfill this requirement.

U.S. Private Schools only for Chinese Elite

Because an overseas education is so expensive (and Chinese students are usually full pay), it can create a barrier for Chinese scholars from poorer backgrounds.  When admission officers are looking to diversify their student body and are working with a finite amount of financial aid, they will likely take a full-pay Chinese student and direct financial aid to a student from a country with fewer applicants such as Bhutan or Azerbaijan.

What Are Schools Doing?

We especially enjoyed seeing how Brooks School and The Webb Schools are addressing the issue:

Some American schools such as Brooks School in northern Massachusetts and the Webb Schools in California are seeking their own help. With the tag line “your China admissions partner,” Vericant was founded in 2010 to serve as a third-party organization that helps American private schools verify the identities of Chinese applicants. When requested by American schools, the Chinese applicants would walk into Vericant’s office in Beijing, film a 10-minute video interview and take a short writing test on the spot, both of which would be uploaded onto an online interface for the schools to access. Chris Boehner, the founder of the company, says the demand for his service is high now: in one year, he already has 12 partner schools. “The climate here just calls for something like this,” he says.

For other commentary and thoughts on Gao’s article, check out Stan Abram’s piece on China Hearsay and Ray Kwong’s Alia Jadow’s piece in Offbeat China.


  1. says

    Hi Chris:

    Thanks a lot for the linkback! But this is my piece not Ray Kwong’s. I’m still miles away from Ray Kwong. :) But hopefully I’m getting there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *