The Background of Chinese International Students

Who are they?

International students in American high schools typically come from upper-middle class families. Although a few of these families are extremely wealthy, most students are from middle class families who value education a lot and are willing to spend a great amount of their salary on their children’s education, since private American high schools are far more expensive than Chinese high schools.


The middle class income in China is around $7,000-$60,000, and the middle class income in the U.S. is around $40,000-$120,000.



Data: the tuition of typical Chinese public schools is around $1000 - $3000. The tuition of typical Chinese private or international schools is around $5000-$20,000. The tuition of American private schools is around $25,000-$60,000 (not including expenses such as airline tickets and living expenses).


What types of schools are they from?

Chinese students come from college-prep schools or international schools. Students from international schools can usually fit in in American high schools more quickly and easily.

International schools are designed to help students get into colleges around the world in countries such as America, Britain, Canada, etc. To prepare students for studying abroad, these schools are usually similar to American high schools, although certain parts of the schools, such as the language environment, culture, traditions, are still more close to that of Chinese traditional schools because the schools are still run by Chinese people and located in China.

Generally, college-prep schools are more strict and test-oriented. The majority of students in college-prep schools will be taking the Chinese college entrance exam. Therefore, most school rules and course content are designed to help students get a better score on this standardized test.

More information about details of Chinese college-prep schools and international schools can be found here. In the other section, there will be more discussion about Chinese traditional values and the perception of education. Students in college-prep schools are usually more influenced by these Chinese traditions, while students from international schools are less impacted.

Why do Chinese students go to American high schools?

Access to colleges with higher rankings:

In spite of an increasing number of higher education institutions and rising enrollments in China, only two institutions are ranked among the top 100 best universities in the world, while 41 out of these top 100 are located in the United States.  

(The reasons that Chinese people place great emphasis on rankings can be found here.)

Competitiveness of getting into good colleges and getting jobs in China:

Admission into the top two institutions—Peking University and Tsinghua University—is fiercely competitive: less than 0.1 % of the test-takers are accepted each to Peking and Tsinghua Universities. Less than 20% of students can get into National Key Universities, and failure to get into National Key Universities in China is almost equivalent to failure to get a middle-class job later. Statistics show that students from National Key Universities have salaries about 40% higher than those who are not from these universities after they graduate.

It should be noted that choosing to study abroad does not mean that students are bad at academics so that they want an alternative. There are students who are not good at test-taking (but talented in other fields such as art or music), and there are also students who do extremely well at school and want to challenge themselves or want access to more advanced courses and labs.

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Disappointment with education in China:

Education in China has long been criticized as test-oriented and unpractical. Although there are more and more new educational reforms in China, most high school students still have to spend about 12 hours a day studying and preparing for tests, and the knowledge they gain by doing so is often considered impractical and rigid. In addition, they have very limited opportunities to join extracurricular activities and athletics. (more information about the details of studying in Chinese high schools can be found here.)