For any girls wishing to study abroad: don’t come to [school name omitted] no matter what!  Agents are all over this school, I don’t know why, but maybe because the tuition is high so they’ll get a bigger cut.  There are too many Chinese students, you hear Chinese spoken all the time.  It feels like 80 or 90% of the student body here is Chinese…. In any case, DON’T come to [school name omitted]

This condemnation, posted by a current Chinese student on a Baidu* discussion forum for overseas study, can literally sound the death knell for an American school among Chinese applicants.  While this might sound like a melodramatic interpretation of the impact of a single discussion board comment, the total numbers of Chinese enrollment at an American school is a major consideration for most Chinese families when applying to study abroad.

Before you ask, yes, this is a real school.  And no, we won’t reveal the name of the school.  It could be a school you’ve never heard of; it could be a school you’re familiar with; it could be even be your school.

An American school is attractive to a Chinese student because it offers so much that isn’t available in China**.  But what scares applicants away from a school? Here are a few issues:

  • High numbers of Chinese students on campus
  • Lack of minimum SSAT or TOEFL score requirements
  • Rural Location
  • College Placement into Universities with the above descriptions
Total Numbers:

Chinese families expect that there will be other Chinese students enrolled at the school, but not too many.  A school that enrolls many Chinese applicants each year is perceived to admit these students not on the basis of merit.

A school can appear daunting if there are no familiar faces or familiar language, but its attractiveness is completely flushed down the drain when there are too many Chinese faces on campus.  “I feel like I’m in China” is a common complaint when students see too many compatriots.  Most Chinese believe that they have paid for a North American education and fear they will never get the opportunity to interact with non-Chinese peers and, most important of all, improve their English abilities.

Minimum SSAT or TOEFL scores:

Students and families assume a school will not offer a quality education if it has no established minimum test scores.  The more selective a school appears to be, the more parents value that school.  You can draw a parallel between that coveted admission to a prestigious school to ownership of a Louis Vuitton bag.  If everyone could afford a Louis Vuitton bag, then it’s no longer a desirable commodity.

Urban vs. Rural

Location is not something a school can easily change, but a school’s environment, distance to nearest urban center, and convenience of access can make or break a school’s desirability. Chinese discussion forums are awash with comments and questions from anxious parents concerning a school’s campus and location.  It’s sometimes hard for an American teacher or administrator to imagine the type of urban density that most of their incoming Chinese students are familiar with. However, the majority of Chinese applicants come from the largest, densest, and most metropolitan cities of China.  Unexpected ruralness can be a major factor in student dissatisfaction upon arrival, especially if the student has not visited the campus and is not properly familiarized with school life.

College Placement for Alumni

For many Chinese families, an education in a private American institute increases the likelihood of admission into a prestigious university, usually one of the Ivy Leagues.  Colleges and universities that seem like excellent educational institutes to you or I may be completely off the radar for many Chinese families since most families turn to college rankings.


Managing Your School’s Reputation

For any school faced with the high volume of applications each year, an ebb in the flow of applications from China may be a temporary relief for its admissions office, but a bad reputation among its largest international applicant pool could definitely hurt enrollment in the long run.  Unlike the domestic admissions landscape, where a school can build recognition and engagement with students using shared language, values, and channels of communication, bridging the gap with international students is quite a different undertaking. Comments like the above, damning or praising a school, provide what feels like first-hand information about a school’s community and quality to Chinese families – with the result that schools can sometimes have little control over their reputation and credibility.

At the end of the day, an American education, alongside that provided by Canadian and British schools, is a desirable thing.  Off the top of our heads, there are a few quick ways to address the 4 fears above:

  1. Have your school website’s International Students page reflect the exact breakdown of your international student population each year, such as total numbers from each country and the names of countries represented.  Specific numbers rather than percentages will help lay to rest rumors and fears of an overly large Chinese student population.  Make sure these figures stay updated.  If you do not have an International Students page, it’s time to think about creating one.
  2. Establish minimum test scores.  Make them available in FAQ form on your International Students page.
  3. If your school has placed graduates into prestigious universities, make those placements prominent, even if you do not believe in rankings.

We’d love to hear your creative ideas about what schools can do to more actively combat messaging in the international admissions landscape.  Drop us  your thoughts in the comments below!


*We’ve looked into Chinese parents’ perspectives and expectations for a foreign education on our blog before.  Major reasons include a lack of faith in the Chinese education system, fear of the gaokao, and the competitive advantage that a foreign degree can bestow.  Most families can afford to, and do, pool their resources on the international education of their only child – and of course, like you, they wouldn’t take chances with the education of their only child.

**See what American schools have to offer that Chinese schools don’t: 10 Advantages of American Schools (Compared to China)

Related: Using Pinterest to Connect with Chinese Applicants

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