Challenges Families Face When Applying to College from China

To send their children to American universities, Chinese families need to understand how the college admissions process in the US differs from that in China.

Janet Rosier, a Certified Educational Planner and College and Graduate Admissions Consultant who has first-hand experience in assisting Chinese International Students with attending school in the U.S., offers us some valuable insight into the challenges international students may face when applying for schools.

“In general, I would say that there is a greater need for these families to first understand the overall process of how colleges evaluate students in the US. They are coming from a system that is very focused on the scores of one exam, the Gaokao, which determines the colleges to which the student is eligible to apply,” says Rosier.

The parents of Chinese international students belong to a society where a student’s Gaokao (standardized test) scores almost fatalistically determine one’s academic and vocational futures. The U.S. system, meanwhile, utilizes a more holistic approach; American universities consider a wider variety of factors in an applicant, including community service, extracurriculars, and academic honors.

U.S. schools also come in more shapes and sizes than Chinese schools; American universities vary substantially by size, religious affiliation, majors offered, emphasis on athletics, and academic honors options. There is more individuality between different universities, which requires more decision-making and research for applicants seeking to attend American colleges. These differences may confuse applicants.

American families are already so familiar with the stresses of the college application process. Chinese international students, who come from such a different cultural background, might find this system especially confusing, nerve-wrecking, or frustrating. For example, college admission concepts like “Early Decision” and “Restricted Early Action” might seem foreign to Chinese internationals, or the parents of first-generation Chinese Americans. According to Janet, “There are many details to be aware of and first generation families may feel overwhelmed by so many decisions.”

The Chinese tend to place a great deal of importance on attending quality universities, but from across the world, the average Chinese only recognizes the most famous universities. One Chinese international student at Fairfield University currently plans on transferring to New York University, uprooting her social life and local career advances to attend a more famous university. Fairfield University has very strong academic programs and a great reputation in the northeast, but a potential employer in China likely has never heard of Fairfield. Meanwhile, if that employer hears that Yale University in New Haven and Fairfield are thirty minutes apart from one another, they may interpret that proximity to mean that Fairfield University is a quality organization. This logic, faulty as it may be, plays a major role in where international students may ultimately study.

US colleges tend to limit how many international students they will admit, and within that percentage, admit students from a plethora of countries. “Since many may have limited knowledge of the more than 2000 four-year colleges in the US, there is usually a disproportionate number applying to the “name” colleges, making it more competitive still.”, according to Rosier.

Chinese international students may improve their chances of attending American universities by applying to less famous colleges, learning about the U.S. higher education system, and setting reasonable expectations for their applicants.

If you are interested in Janet Rosier’s educational consulting services, you may find her website at:

If you would like to read the greater content of this interview which was not condensed into this article, click here.

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For Chinese Nationals, Receiving a U.S. Visa Takes Time and Patience

Lenny, a native of Hunan Province, China, aims to attend school in Chicago, USA.

Chinese university students who desire to come to the U.S. to study must jump through many hoops to obtain a visa.

Meet Lenny Chen (the English name of Chen Jia’xi), who will begin studying at an American university this year.  In an interview with WHOC, Chen agreed to share some of the steps and intricacies of receiving an F-1 (student) Visa to attend school in America.

The Process

Applying for a visa begins online with college applications, an entire process in and of itself.  A prospective Chinese international student needs to obtain a letter of acceptance from a U.S. university.

Once (and if) they receive that acceptance letter, that university must complete an I-20 form for them.  This form will prove that they can pay their tuition in America and have financial support, and universities will only provide an I-20 if they believe the student can support themselves.  On a student Visa (F-1 or F-2), expatriates in the United States cannot legally find a job, which underscores the importance of the I-20 form’s data.  Because America’s cost of living significantly outweighs the cost of living in China and the average income of Chinese families, primarily students from wealthy or upper-middle class families can receive student visas.

Then, they must bring the I-20 form along with other documents to an interview at the Consular.  This interview tends to nerve-wrack and even tongue-tie applicants for a few reasons.  First, the interview fees are non-refundable, so even if an applicant does not receive a visa, they will not receive back their ¥2000 yuan deposit.1  Second, the consular officer holds the keys to the U.S., wielding the power to decide whether an applicant meets the visa requirements.  Third, if the interview goes awry, the Consular might question the student’s integrity, dramatically reducing the likelihood that the student will ever receive their visa.

Chen said, “A lot of people, myself included, get very nervous about what documents to prepare and what things to say during the interview.”  He suggests that applicants present as much supporting documentation as possible to help persuade the Consular officer of their eligibility.  These files include English proficiency test scores (TOFEL, CET-4, or CET-6), flight information, and even letters of recommendation from parents’ employers which vouch for the applicants financially standing.  The most important job of an, according to Chen, is to convince the Consular that they will use the visa as intended: to attend school, return to China once they have completed studies, and pay their tuition without working a job.

Silver Lining 

For all of the difficulties and obstacles en route to the U.S., Chen does not forget the reasons why he wants to study abroad: “[I want] to experience what studying and life in general are like in the US, to immerse myself in a culturally and politically different environment… [and] also because I have many good friends in the US I’d like to see again.”

Thankfully, although circumnavigating the application process involves work and stress, anyone who diligently follows through with the process and meets the Consular’s criteria has a chance of success.  According to Chen,  “I’d say it wasn’t easy, but it was better than I had expected after I gained more knowledge of how the system worked.”

In conclusion, Chen imparts the following advice for any Chinese student readying for their interview:

I think the importance of honesty during your visa interview really cannot be overemphasized.  Because even when it seems like the truth doesn’t help your case, when you are honest, the officer still might issue your visa.

To read the full interview with Lenny Chen, click here.


(1) For reference, ¥2000 yuan equals approximately $300 at the time of publishing. Although a $300 Consular fee might not raise American eyebrows, Matador Network offers some comparison for perspective: “A nice two bedroom, one bath apartment with wooden floors and marble counters in the kitchen will run around 4,500 RMB a month (about $587.50 USD)… In the aforementioned apartment, one could expect to pay an additional 300 RMB in utilities per month.”

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