You’ve likely heard rumors about the Chinese Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), where students, agents and parents discuss your institution (factual or not) and every step of your admissions process. I’ll go ahead and confirm this now; these rumors are true. But, with a little ingenuity, you can bend BBS to your favor.
What you will find on BBS
People who post on BBS share their experiences navigating the application process and information about schools they are considering. Some even tip off applicants to the soft spots of particular admission officers. You might find your name (typically either first name or your first and last initials) along with a play by play of your Skype interview questions and answers your interviewees think you are looking for. Finding this information on a BBS might encourage you to update your interview questions and technique.
Browsing BBS, you’ll also find lists of “Wild Chicken Schools” (schools known to accept any Chinese student, as long as they can pay the tuition) as well as stories about specific schools that may raise a few eyebrows. Wouldn’t it be great for you to know how your school was being perceived by your Chinese applicants?
For the Mandarin literate, you’ll happen upon some nice Chinese slang such as “Roast Duck” (someone who didn’t get into any schools they applied to) or “Leek” (Congratulations).
Earlier this year, I spotted a thread begun on March 10th, that encouraged applicants to post their acceptances and specify the offers they would “throw” (reject). Within 24 hours there were hundreds of responses. If you were to browse the BBS, you might have a much earlier indication of what your acceptance rate would be!
Barriers to Entry
Information contained in these BBS are public. The difficulty, of course, is the language barrier. Aside from the fact most information is in Mandarin, many of the posts are riddled with Chinese slang that changes year to year. Even my Chinese colleagues (in their late 20s) have a hard time figuring out some of the new slang.
But don’t worry! I’m going to teach you a trick to get around this barrier. Once circumvented, admissions officers will have a glimpse into the heart and minds of applicants, parents and agents.
Getting around the language issue
Unless you’re a Mandarin scholar, you’re going to need some help. I tried using Google Translate, but the high usage of slang made it hard to understand the translation.
The best and easiest way to comb BBS is through outsourcing. If you can hire a current Chinese student or a native Mandarin speaker to monitor these message boards on your behalf, you’re most of the way there.
You likely have access to many current Chinese students, but if you’d like to truly outsource the work, try Odesk (https://www.odesk.com/o/profiles/browse/?q=translation) or Elance.com and search for a “China market researcher” or “mandarin research” and browse the listings. You’ll quickly find qualified candidates for less than $20/hr.
Next, have your outsourced help periodically search for your school’s name in Mandarin, English and Mandarin slang. For example, if you want Hotchkiss, you’d search for Hotchkiss School, HKiss, HOTCH or 热吻 (translates as “Hot Kiss” in case you were interested); Middlesex is usually written as Middlesex School, MX, or 中性 (literally middle and sex). Your helper can quickly find all the monikers your school has on the web. Once you know how your school is referred to on the BBS, it will be easy to search for references to it.
Where to look?
There are many BBS out there, but here’s a short list of popular boards where you can start.
•Baidu SSAT Bar http://tieba.baidu.com/f?kw=ssat
(For boarding school bound students)
Topics: SSAT, AP classes, General electives, Online Classes, On campus activities, pictures of campus life, students sharing experiences on campus
(College and graduate applicants)
Topics: TOFEL, GRE, IBT, GMAT, SAT, how to choose a school, self evaluation, recommendation letter samples etc.
•Baidu Study Abroad BBS http://tieba.baidu.com/f?kw=%C1%F4%D1%A7&fr=ala0
(General Study abroad)
Topics: Study Abroad Q&A, Exam materials downloading, scholarship searches
(Boarding school bound students)
Topics: How to select boarding school courses, host family questions, how to apply to boarding school.
This may be a daunting task at first, but once you become familiar with the BBS, you’ll have access to a lot of information that could affect your admissions process for very little effort.
Best of luck on your BBS odyssey.