SuccessBuildingI recently watched an interview from a show on CCTV in China called “Culture Express” in which two men, one a Chinese principal at a progressive school in Beijing and the other an American consultant, were asked about some of the issues facing Chinese students seeking overseas admissions. The interview was almost entirely focused on Chinese students hoping to come to American universities and colleges, although they did touch on the fact that there is an ever-growing number of Chinese younger students coming to U.S. high schools (indeed, there is a real trend toward younger Chinese students seeking admission to U.S., even at the middle school and primary school levels).

The questions asked of the show’s guests were good, if not fairly standard. The same was true of the guests’ responses. But there was an exchange that began at the 3:20 mark in the interview that caused me to sit up and take notice. The interviewer asked the American consultant, David Leonard, “What types of students might have a better chance of entry to famous universities like Harvard or Columbia in America?” Mr. Leonard began his response by pointing out a fantastic distinction between “entrance” and “success once you’re at the institution”. He went on to list just a few of the many challenges international students, especially Chinese, might face at an American university that could jeopardize their chances of success: the ability to think critically, the ability to engage in collaborative learning, and the ability to interact confidently and even critically with professors and other students.

Dr. Leonard hit the nail on the head with these three challenges and, in doing so, indirectly highlighted some of the differences between the Chinese and American educational systems. International students may gain “entry” to a famous university, but that does not mean they will meet with success. It’s worth noting that an October 29th article in the South China Morning Post reported that 25% of Chinese students at Ivy League universities drop out because they were “unable to adapt to the new environment largely due to differences in the educational system and language barriers” (2013 Overseas-Returned Graduate recruitment Report).

What’s interesting, but not surprising, is that these challenges, and many others, are the same ones that face Chinese students coming to the U.S. to attend high school. The only difference is that instead of being 18 or 19 and perhaps slightly better equipped to manage these challenges, incoming international high school students are often only 14 years old. This goes back to my first blog post in October where I discuss how truly brave these students are and how steps can and should be taken to better prepare them for their new American experiences.

This is at the very heart of what International Students Preparatory Academy does: from many dozens of interviews with U.S. Admissions Directors and Upper School Directors, we know what the challenges for these young students are and we know how to address those challenges, specifically. With targeted pre-arrival preparation, new international students in the U.S. will experience academic, social, and cultural success from Day 1. When that happens, everyone wins.


Scott F. Vasey