“Energetic, safe and the ideal destination for overseas studies”: this is music to the ears of nearly 10 million Chinese high students waiting anxiously for the results of their college entrance exam.
China will chip its cars to track them (even better)
Chinese exams can now get you into a major US college, no SAT needed
On China’s most popular social media platform WeChat, the University of New Hampshire (UNH) has set up an account showcasing the school’s beautiful campus, long history and strong academic record.
The college is calling for Chinese applicants, who will be spared from having to sit the traditionally required SAT and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), and can instead be evaluated by the gaokao – the grueling two-day test that China administers every June as the sole criterion for college admissions in the country.
UNH will be the first flagship state university in the US to accept gaokao grades -- a decision made in an attempt to attract outstanding Chinese high school students.
“The University of New Hampshire recognizes the level of rigor required for the intensive gaokao,” Victoria Dutcher, vice president of enrollment management at the college, said in a public letter. “We also have a long tradition at our university of placing more weight on academic performance and subject knowledge than on standardized tests like the SAT.”
Dutcher was in Beijing for an information session last weekend, where she promised attending parents and students that the school would waive the $60 entrance application fee to make the process easier for Chinese students whose exam scores were in the top 25%.
With a liaison office in the southern province of Guangzhou, UNH invites applicants to in-person interviews in four major Chinese cities as part of the admission process.
UNH currently enrolls 12,200 undergraduate and 2,300 graduate students, including 781 overseas students – 357 of whom are from China, according to the Union Leader, a daily newspaper based in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Addressing concerns that an expanding overseas student body would affect admissions chances for local students, UNH spokesman Erika Mantz told the Union Leader that the new program will “in no way limit access for New Hampshire students.”
The university's decision comes at a time when the Trump administration is moving to restrict visas for Chinese students in fields like tech and engineering in an effort to “reduce economic theft by non-traditional intelligence collectors.”
The exam bandwagon
“A lot of universities are getting on the bandwagon,” said Victor Lum, vice president of Well Trend, a Beijing-based immigration consultancy firm. “Chinese students have always been an attractive market to many institutions.”
Assessing exam scores in the admission process will help universities tap into the group of students who did not score highly enough to get into Chinese colleges of their first choices, Lum told Inkstone. It also generates sizable revenue, because international students pay much higher tuition fees.
At UNH, the cost of attendance for overseas students is estimated at more than $56,000 a year, compared to $30,000 for New Hampshire residents.
Numerous universities in Hong Kong, Europe, Australia and Canada, including the prestigious University of Toronto, have recognized Chinese exam scores as an admission criterion.
While UNH is the first state university in the US to accept the scores, it’s not the first college to do so, In 2015, the University of San Francisco (USF), a private university, announced a gaokao-based admission program for “superlative Chinese students.“
Gaokao or SAT?
Currently, most US universities still use the SAT to measure the capabilities of applicants, but Chinese students have to travel to Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan to take the test following reports of cheating at exam centers in mainland China.
Unlike the SAT, which scores students on their math, analytics and writing, gaokao is a comprehensive test that covers all disciplines ranging from biology to political sciences.
While the SAT often comes under fire for not accurately reflecting students’ academic strengths, the Chinese exam has been repeatedly criticized for its rigid format and the fact that Chinese universities use it as the sole criterion for admissions. That’s why it’s the only route to success for many.
Out of the 10 million annual exam-sitters, fewer than 40% will score high enough to enroll for an undergraduate degree. Many who have failed the exam once choose to cram for a further year in hopes of a higher score.
For those who are better off financially, studying overseas is an alternative to avoid the highly selective process. With more than 350,000 Chinese studying in the US, China is biggest source of the country’s more than 1.2 million international students, according to US government figures.
US universities are still warming up to the idea of fully accepting the gaokao. Dutcher, the vice president of enrollment at UNH, said in Beijing that students are still encouraged to take the SAT to bolster their applications as the school finalizes how to assess gaokao scores.
China’s college exam takers aren’t done with tests yet.