Chinese collegiate education


While talking with a housemate about college in his country, I realized how different my life would be in another country. It was interesting to imagine myself as a student in China. However, there are certain aspects of US colleges that I find attractive.

Changlong Ke of Nanjing, China, explains that aspiring students take an “eternal exam” for placement into colleges. Different scores on the exam allow entrance into various colleges, ranging from the least to most prestigious. One’s previous high school grades are irrelevant, “all that matters is if they failed or passed.”  Yuzhang Lin from Szechuan province interjects to explain that this exam is commonly called the “Gao Kao.”

It is given only once per year. There’s no age restriction, but commonly, people take it after high school. The super ambitious students will take the exam year after year until they increase their score sufficiently to enter their desired college. But, usually this will go on for only three years before they give up.

The Chinese government recognizes that students aren’t always so wealthy.  Free food is available in the cafeteria but “it’s really cheap,” says Asher smiling. Also, they provide subsidized, gender-separated housing for $100 a month. Each room holds six to eight people. Although the housing is optional, almost everyone opts in.  Electricity is turned off from 11pm-6am. And, “they have 40-50 year old guardians” who check each door by night to insure that students are asleep.  Although there is an optional process for a room change, most students stay in the same room throughout college.

College itself is a “world of difference” compared with the education in United States, explains Yuzhang. That is, with the exception of a similar four year degree system. Yuzhang adds, “one big difference is everyone’s Chinese.” Classes are much larger than here. It’s very unlikely for one to find a class size of 30 or even 50 students. Another major difference, according to Changlong, is “you can pick your major, but everything is decided.” The course sequence is entirely predetermined.

If I consider my feelings about college in China, there are some aspects which I would not mind being incorporated here. For instance, having an “eternal exam” might be a great idea.

I tend to do well on standardized exams. Plus, having it down to an exam makes it seem like any university is a possibility for anyone.  A person only has to somehow score well on the exam. However, I’m not sure I would adjust well to certain parts of a Chinese college. There seems to be a lack of privacy.

I would be sharing a room with up to seven people. People would periodically stop by the door to watch me sleep. Also, having everything predetermined seems stifling. If people make a conscious choice about their study plan, they might be inclined to try harder. Something being required is slightly less compelling than making a personal commitment. Although lack of choice and privacy might make for an overbearing existence, some aspects of Chinese college seem interesting and appealing.