- Posted May 3, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Life in China
Confessions of an Education Consultant in China
My industry is booming in China. Every year more and more wealthy Chinese families look to send their students abroad for high school and college in pursuit of better education and a status symbol. However, as the number of Chinese students applying to US universities increases, the number of spots at top universities reserved for Chinese students remains the same, propelling my booming industry and creating fierce competition among students and education consultants alike. It is not uncommon for a Chinese family to spend around 30,000USD on a consulting company like mine, an astounding price when you realize that it is just for applying to colleges that many Americans put themselves tens of thousands of dollars in debt for.
Aside from the growing industry, another more notorious consequence of this increased competition is the increase in dubious and fraudulent applications. Within the industry and college admission circles, stories of falsified Chinese applications are well known. Falsifying transcripts, recommendation letters, and extracurricular activities are rampant throughout China.
For example, it is not unusual for a Chinese student to list a fake internship on their application and then also provide a fraudulent recommendation letter or certificate of completion from said ‘internship.’ Further, in the rare case that a high school will not help improve a weak transcript, I have even seen students apply with a completely fake transcript. These students would strike a deal with a school that they never attended to provide the student with a certified transcript and fake recommendation letters from teachers they never met. In China, a little money and some connections can go a long way.
As an Education Consultant, parents expect me to do EVERYTHING I can to get their child into college. During my time in China, my moral compass has been tested many times. Every year, millions of American high school students work hard in passing or failing their classes, knowing that each grade could affect their chances of admission at their dream college. I understand their anger upon reading this confession. I too was an American high school student once. I remember how hard it was to balance my time between a challenging course load and water polo. I remember pulling all nighters after practices, studying my ass off to get the grade in AP Calc. To help sleep at night, I remind myself that my students are not taking spots from American students. They are only competing against other Chinese students and if I don’t do EVERYTHING I can to help them, they would be at a severe disadvantage.
The crux of the problem is that Chinese high schools have no incentive to keep students who will attend university abroad honest. High schools in China are judged and rewarded by their students’ admission results to Chinese universities. Once a student decides to go abroad, the school cares very little about their future and thus the counselor or principal has no incentive not to exchange falsified transcripts for a new Louis Vouton purse. Furthermore, international high schools in China, schools for students who will go abroad, also have incentive to help their students deceive admission committees. If I am the principal of an international school and one of my students is accepted by Harvard, the next year I will have a long line of new applicants/ customers who want to attend my school. So why would the principal not do EVERYTHING he/she can to get the school’s students into Harvard?
So what can US colleges do to ensure that the Chinese candidates they admit are deserving?
One solution would be to stop placing so much weight on GPA in the admission process for Chinese applicants. Thus far, I have been generalizing and talking in absolutes. While I estimate that over 95% of Chinese applicants, in one way or the other, are dishonest on their applications, the percent that submit false transcripts is probably closer to 70%. In most cases, those students who submit real transcripts are ones that go to an international school that refuses to change grades. It is these students that suffer most from rampant Chinese application fraud and it is these students who would benefit most if colleges stopped weighing High School GPA so highly in the admission process.
For example, this year I had a female student whose high school unfortunately did not “plays ball.” This student worked hard in school, is smart, and has an above average extracurricular activity profile. Most importantly however, she possessed a genuine love of learning, a characteristic lacking in most Chinese students. Unfortunately though, because of her school’s pride and uncompromising integrity, this student had to apply to colleges with a 3.4 GPA. An embarrassing low average when juxtaposed with the 4.0 of all the ‘hard working’ Chinese students she is competing against. For further illustration I have made a chart bellowing comparing this student with another one of my students.
Student Honesty Dishonesty
GPA 3.4 4.0
SAT 1860 1620
Results Rejected from University of Illinois, UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine Accepted by UIUC, UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine
I understand that GPA is just one factor in admissions, but the story of Honesty and Dishonesty is one that I have observed play out all too often over the past couple of years in China. And each time I analyze this story, I always come to one conclusion as to why Honesty and others like her were rejected while more dishonest candidates were accepted – GPA.
Honesty deserves better. On behalf of her and other students like her all over china, I strongly urge colleges to reconsider how much importance they put on GPA for Chinese applicants. The job of an admission officer is hard and my industry is not making it any easier. Still, the elimination of GPA as a criterion would be a step towards leveling the playing field between the honest and dishonest college applicants in a country where Dishonesty is rewarded far too often.