Evaluating the Chinese Applicant

Evaluating the Chinese Applicant

By Chris Boehner, Executive Director, Vericant
From Memberanda, Fall 2012

It seems you can’t go a day without hearing about the influx of Chinese students to U.S. schools. But while some people spend all their time talking about pros and cons, it’s admission officers who have to deal with the issues surrounding Chinese applicants; principally, how does one assess whether a candidate is qualified? Let’s take a step back and examine this question from a broader perspective.

The core problem lies with the differences in our admission systems. The American approach to admission is generally a qualitative one. We develop a well-rounded idea of each applicant by looking at his or her educational background, personal statements, test scores, recommendation letters, and interview results. Conversely, the Chinese admission process is much simpler, due to the sheer number of students: admission rests on the scoring of a single quantitative assessment called the gaokao.

Due to the simplicity of the Chinese admission process, applicants are often ill equipped to handle the American application process. Many standard application materials are unavailable or unusable in China, and problems arise when U.S. admission offices require these materials. A good example of this is the teacher recommendation. In a single-test system, the need for a teacher’s report on a student’s academic performance is eliminated. In China, teachers never write recommendations for their students. In fact, many do not know how to write them, let alone how to do so in English. Similarly, Chinese transcripts do not carry the same weight as U.S. transcripts. When standardized test scores matter most, students prepare for standardized tests rather than graded assignments and homework. Therefore, transcripts do not reflect a student’s abilities like an American transcript might.

If we cannot rely on traditional means of assessment, what can we do?

The best solution is to find a way to meet each candidate. There is no better way of determining a candidate’s qualifications than by spending time with him or her. Between admission trips to China and reciprocal campus visits, you should try to meet as many of your applicants as possible. The increasing volume of Chinese applicants makes meeting everyone much more difficult. To effectively leverage your travel time, give yourself two to three days of interviewing in each city. On the first day, conduct very short 10-minute prescreening interviews, and on the second and third days, invite promising candidates back for more in-depth interviews.

One thing is certain: there’s no simple, one-size-fits-all solution. However, a little creativity and willingness to understand the Chinese market will result in an arrangement that works for your school and your applicants.