University of California applications are due on Nov. 30. That has many high school seniors in California spending the Thanksgiving weekend writing, rewriting and proofing essays. Some are studying for the SAT and ACT, as they have a final chance in December to boost their test scores to get into the highest-ranked public universities in America – UC Berkeley and UCLA.
Half a world away the pressure is no less and, in fact, may be greater. I recently participated in a roundtable discussion on the differences in primary education in China and the U.S. It was eye-opening to say the least.
Many students in China, including Hong Kong, are aiming for the same distinguished universities that California students are; however, in China the stakes are much higher. Yes, there are those students who have their sights set on the Ivy League as that group of schools carries global prestige. But what American students don’t realize is that a degree from any American college has more value and prestige in China than a degree from one of their local universities.
Bo Wen Zhu, a student at the International School in Hong Kong, explained it this way:
“In the past two decades people who have shown a degree from any university in the West, like Europe and America, they got better jobs and had a higher social standing. Even though China has developed and caught up [to be] on par with America, there is still a stigma.”
Stories reported in the Los Angeles Times in recent years revealed that many Chinese students are living in California in group homes with guardians so that they can attend high school in California. They perceive that this will be advantageous in getting into one of the nine UCs. Although those of us who attend public high school in California take it for granted, Chinese parents spend a lot of money to send their children to our same schools. In China, a degree from an American university means so much more than here in the U.S.
Zhu went on to explain, however, that the American college degree is so sought after that more and more families are pursuing them. It is no longer only something that only a select few have: “Today there are so many kids coming back from the states with degrees, it dilutes the value [of those degrees]. And yet parents are still sending kids over. There’s no sign of this stopping.”
Zhu wonders if the millions of dollars spent on getting an American education are worth it or if going to Beijing University would have a better return on investment. Zhu didn’t expand on his personal plans, but he did say that he believes this trend will continue.
California seniors, grab another piece of pie and take one more look at those essays. Thursday will be here before you know it.