China Focus: Intense college application battle to unfold after gaokao-Xinhua

China Focus: Intense college application battle to unfold after gaokao

Source: Xinhua

Editor: huaxia

2024-06-22 16:34:00

BEIJING, June 22 (Xinhua) -- For students who sat China's annual national college entrance examination, also known as the gaokao, earlier this month, another crucial challenge is about to begin as their focus shifts to filling out college applications.

They must carefully consider their interests, make full use of their scores, and craft the most suitable academic and career plans possible.

CRUCIAL CHALLENGE

To some extent, the immense pressure of filling out college applications comes from the fierce competition of the exam. Data shows that 13.42 million young people participated in this year's gaokao, an increase of 510,000 compared to last year, marking a record high since matriculation resumed in China in 1977.

Although the planned admission figure for this year is not available, the country enrolled only 4.78 million students into its regular undergraduate programs last year, according to the Ministry of Education.

Moreover, the process of filling out the applications itself is quite a challenge for many. A Beijing resident surnamed Guo said that local students can select 30 categories of majors on the application form, with six blanks under each category to fill in specific preferred majors. This hasn't included the options to apply for majors in programs admitted in advance.

"Theoretically, students have to make 180 decisions to complete the application form," said Guo, whose daughter will apply for colleges next year.

Traditionally, students completed this process with help from their parents and teachers. However, a significant number of families now turn to professional counseling, with fees for such services running up to tens of thousands of yuan.

A parent surnamed Chen hailing from the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu spent 12,000 yuan (1,652.7 U.S. dollars) on a one-on-one college application counseling service last year. "It is difficult for parents to digest a large volume of materials, so entrusting this task to professionals is worthwhile," she said.

According to iiMedia Research, the market for paid college application consultations in China reached 950 million yuan in 2023, with nearly 90 percent of surveyed students expressing their willingness to pay for such services. The business analysis firm projects the value of this market to grow to 1.22 billion yuan by 2027.

Despite the growing market, many parents remain skeptical about the quality of such services. Guo has consulted several agencies on behalf of her daughter. While acknowledging the efforts of these firms in data integration, she has decided not to purchase their services.

She cited two reasons: the persistent anxiety these firms fuel in trying to convince people to use their services, and her belief that the data remains too generalized and cannot fully alleviate her from the inherently exhaustive process. "It would not be cost-effective to shell out thousands of yuan on currently available market data," she added.

The Ministry of Education on Tuesday urged students and parents to exercise caution when considering expensive consultation services, warning of potential financial losses and application risks caused by engaging such profit-driven businesses.

China has this year for the first time launched a free information service to help students with college applications. Like many private consultancies, this initiative offers services including majors and college recommendations, psychological assessments, employment data, and job prospect evaluations.

Additionally, more than 2,000 colleges and universities hold online consultation sessions to help students fill out their application forms. Tasked forces comprised of admission officials, teachers and specialists have been set up across the country to interpret admission policies, processes and methods.

PERSONAL INTERESTS, ASPIRATIONS

Wang Wenlong, an admission official at Sichuan Agricultural University, said that personal interests and hobbies are essential considerations when selecting a major and planning one's life, as what is currently trendy in majors may not necessarily remain popular in the future.

Instead of spending tens of thousands of yuan on application services, it's better to start by first helping kids understand college majors and careers, he said.

Following the 2014 reform of the gaokao system, schools in China have been tasked with providing career counseling and guidance on subject selection. The reform encourages students to set preliminary academic goals in their first year of high school and choose subject combinations accordingly for the gaokao.

In fact, universities have lowered the threshold for changing majors at the undergraduate level, offering students a second chance to select their majors after enrollment.

Li Yihua, a recent graduate from Nanjing University, successfully switched her major from Chinese to astronomy in her junior year. She has joined the research team of China's solar explorer "Xihe" and has now been accepted directly into a doctoral program.

Shanghai Jiao Tong University has newly introduced a "zero-threshold" policy, allowing students to apply for a change in their major during their first, second, or third year of college, even if this means switching from its main campus to a different one or vice versa.

The so-called popular majors cannot suit everyone, said Xiong Bingqi, director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute. "Only majors that align with one's interests and aspirations can lead to sustainable personal development."