Recently, we asked our readers to share their burning questions about China. Of the many we received, this question was the most provocative, so let’s start here:

How would you handle your Chinese admissions challenges if you became a US admissions director tomorrow? What value would you place on the interview, the application, the grades, the recs, the scores, the parent’s job, etc?

8020ruleI believe the secret to managing China admissions lies within the Pareto Principle, or the rule of 80/20, which states: 80% of results come from 20% of causes. This boils down to eliminating the 80% that doesn’t matter and focus most effort on the 20% that does. How would I do that?


1. Eliminate Teacher Recommendations

Of all application materials, these are the least reliable in China. According to a report by Zinch, 90% of teacher recommendations are falsified. They are falsified because the average Chinese teacher will not, has not, and does not know how to write a teacher recommendation. Chinese classrooms are one-directional, meaning little to no interaction between the teacher and her 60 pupils. Unless the recommendation is coming from an international school, you can safely bet it will be of little value to you.

2. Eliminate Personal Statements

The average Chinese student has never, in their life, written any sort of personal or creative essay. Culturally, it is wrong to brag about oneself (something we Westerners don’t have a problem with), making this assignment particularly difficult. When faced with the simple prompt, “Tell us a little about yourself,” Chinese families will go to outside ‘experts’ to figure out what schools want to hear. After parents search the Internet for people to help with personal statements…well we know what happens then.

3. Do not use the transcript as an indicator of academic readiness

Chinese transcripts are created for Western admissions officers’ reading pleasure. Since China’s education system is nothing but a series of standardized tests (culminating with the Gaokao), high grades alone tell you nothing about a Chinese applicant. The transcripts you will receive are not reliable indicators of applicants’ academic readiness.


Now that you’ve cut out the 80%, let’s look at the 20% that does matter.

1. Narrow your focus

Create a profile of the perfect Chinese candidate and know exactly who you are looking for. Once the profile is set, set out on your search.

I’m obviously a bit biased here, but I’d work with a company like Vericant to conduct preliminary interviews. Coordinating and conducting Skype interviews uses a ton of staff time. Someone in your office likely spends the better part of three months on this task. Eliminate and outsource the process and use staff time to engage with applicants you already know will be a good fit.

2. Start relationships early

Getting things done in China is all about relationships. After you’ve established your profile, put your efforts into establishing strong relationships with applicants and families. Hop on a plane to China and spend time with your targeted applicants and their families.

During your time together (1-2 hours minimum), confirm that the student fits your targeted profile, then ask questions designed to elicit the hopes, fears and dreams of both the applicant and family. The copious notes you take during this conversation will be crucial once you sit down later to review the strong candidates you’ve met.

3. Nurture the relationship

After your trip, you’ll have confirmed best-fit applicants and know many personal details about them and their family. Put together a communication plan with weekly calendar reminders to follow up with applicants and parents and send them interesting links, pictures or other follow-ups from the conversation.

By the time March 10th rolls around, you’ll already have a pretty good idea of who you’ll yield based on the level of engagement. By April 10th, if you did everything right, you’ll have high yield numbers and top notch Chinese students for your freshman class.


Eliminate the unnecessary. Focus your time and effort. Remember 80/20.

Have other questions you would like to ask? Submit your questions via our contact page.




  1. says

    Chris, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve used 80/20, along with the Ben Franklin list, to sort out the chaff in many of my decisions over the years and I can see where the Western admissions process doesn’t work well here in China. As an educational consulting firm, we spend what my Western counterparts would say is an inordinate amount of time with each client. But, then they’re not sitting with this family who are trying to understand how to get their child the best educational opportunity possible. My job is to see that the student is correctly qualified for and by the institutions being applied to, but it is difficult when they are asking the wrong questions. As we know, the result is cheating on the part of many agencies, especially those that are commissioned by universities. Like you, I believe it’s all about relationships; that between the agent and client, agent and university and, ultimately, client/student and university. The greatest clarity can only be had in a face-to-face relationship building meeting, but that doesn’t happen often enough in the enrollment process as now established. A third party process such as your company provides is the only real way to leap the gap…and the elimination of the 80% the enrollment process that doesn’t work.

  2. Nancy R. Schoer says

    Chris, This is extraordinary! I didn’t know you’d done all of this incredible work…so proud. Congratulations!


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