group of college kids smiling

Access to higher education is greatly increasing around the entire world – a situation that has led to a sharp increase in both living standards on one hand, and competition on the other, especially in China. Once students make their way into college, they are exposed to a completely new experience that is unique to any other in life. Various popular TV shows have blasted stories of American college life around the world so much that it has become the standard of comparison (though nearly not as crazy as shows like “Community” plays it out to be), while Chinese college life goes relatively unnoticed. Here we contrast how its like to go to college in China and America.


1. Getting Accepted


chinese vs western students testing

Getting into college in China is a one route road. Students all over the country study for years just to complete a single examination: the dreaded Gaokao. The score from this test not only determines if the student qualifies for a college education, but where they will study as well as what they will study upon arrival.

chinese parents waiting for students to finish gao kao

Not to mention the pressure from their parents

Meanwhile, in the United States, there are many different ways to get into a college or university. Similar to China, students take an exam – either the SAT or the ACT. However, the difficulty of these exams pale in comparison to the Gaokao. Furthermore, American students can take and retake these exams as often as they please if they need to improve their scores. Exams aren’t the only consideration. American universities want to have well rounded students who hold interests and responsibilities outside of the classroom. In high school, students are encouraged to volunteer, participate in sports or clubs, even get a part time job to develop real world skills. Most colleges require an essay on the application so the students can convey their personality to the admissions board. What does this all mean? Ultimately, even if your grades in school aren’t the best or if your exam score wasn’t very high, you still have the chance to get into college.

college students pay for loans later

Sally gets straight C’s, but she gets into college because her family can pay the $50,000/yr tuition fees


2. Choosing a Major


making choices is difficult

The process of choosing a major varies from university to university in China, but it is largely determined by the previously mentioned Gaokao exam score. It’s not uncommon for Chinese students to be bridled with a major they don’t like or have no interest in studying. Furthermore, they have limited mobility when it comes to changing majors within the university. For a student to change majors, they need to meet specific requirements outlined by the university; such as GPA. This can be especially difficult for students stuck in a major with which they naturally struggle.

gao kao test results by school

Majors and what students scored on the Gaokao.

Students in the United States have much more freedom when it comes to choosing a major. In fact, if a student doesn’t know what they want to study when they arrive on campus their freshman year, they aren’t required to declare a major. Instead they maintain an “undecided” status which allows them to study a wide range of subjects to help them determine their interests. Changing majors is also a simple matter. In fact, many students will change their major at least twice during the course of their study.

Confused student balancing options

Because when I graduate, I’ll be working at McDonald’s anyways

Categories: Life, Stories

Leave a Reply