Greater gaokao acceptance opens new doors in U.S.

2018-08-14 09:37:19China Daily Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download
Students from Baokang county, Hubei Province, throw books into the air to celebrate the end of the gaokao exam in June. (Photo provided to China Daily)

Students from Baokang county, Hubei Province, throw books into the air to celebrate the end of the gaokao exam in June. (Photo provided to China Daily)

An ever-growing number of colleges in the country are accepting good scores in the grueling exam as part of their entry criteria

Immediately after taking the gaokao, China's grueling national college entrance exam, Li Ang embarked on another arduous study task-applying for a place at a university in the United States.

In June, the 18-year-old began attending English training courses as preparation to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language and the Scholastic Assessment Test, which he needed to pass gain entry to a U.S. school.

There were eight classes every day from 8:30 am to 6:30 pm, including at weekends.

"I was going crazy remembering so many new words and phrases. It was as though I was back in high school," he said.

"However, when I heard that the University of New Hampshire had announced that it would start accepting gaokao scores as part of its application process this fall, my hopes rose because my range of options had increased," said Li, whose application is ongoing.

Every summer, millions of high school seniors in China take the gaokao knowing that failure to perform will affect their chances of getting into a top school, or sometimes any school at all.

The gaokao is considered the most important exam for Chinese secondary students as their scores will in large part determine their future.

If their results are disappointing, finding another route to university can take a year or more because they have to attend special high schools which only admit senior students who are dissatisfied with their score and want to take the exam again.

Now, a door has opened that could provide access to U.S. universities, the top choice for Chinese students studying overseas, as more schools in the country are accepting gaokao scores as part of their application procedures.

Grueling schedule

After 12 years of grueling study in Henan province-where the large number of candidates means competition in the gaokao is among the fiercest in the country-Li scored 550 points out of a possible 750 in the exam.

"It was an OK score for me. It will guarantee entry to an average university in China, but I still think a degree from a U.S. university may give me a better chance of landing a good job," he said.

Unlike the high-pressure, test-oriented school system with which he is familiar, U.S. universities present an alternative: a carefree atmosphere where students are independent, free to question received wisdom and can enjoy a wide range of social activities.

However, Chinese students who have applied for U.S. colleges through the traditional channels have experienced a tough, complicated process.

When Gao Ang, from Hefei, capital of Anhui province, started preparing applications to U.S. universities in the second year of high school, his parents transferred him to an expensive international high school in the city to improve his chances of being admitted to a college in the U.S..

Because there is no SAT test center in the Chinese mainland, the 19-year-old flew to Singapore three times to retake the SAT and improve his score. He also took the TOEFL exam four times to better his score.

"The international school organized different competitions for us. I also worked as a volunteer at a number of international events, took internships at several companies and even started playing cello to burnish my resume," Gao said.

"I did lots of background research on different U.S. universities and wrote personal statements tailored for different schools."

His persistence paid off, and after spending 14 months and more than 200,000 yuan ($29,000) on tuition and English language agencies, Gao was admitted to the University of California, Berkeley, to major in political science and media studies.

For Wang Chaorong, 22, the opportunity to enroll at a U.S. university came at an even higher price.

Realizing that he would stand a better chance of being admitted to a good university if he studied at a high school in the U.S., Wang attended St. Mary's School in Oregon, a private high school that prepares students for college, after graduating from middle school in China.

His parents spent more than $150,000 on tuition and living expenses during his three years at St. Mary's.

Eventually, he enrolled at New York University to study art history and further his childhood dream of becoming a movie director.


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