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College Entrance Exam (Gaokao)

In China, admission to college is based on a national college entrance exam (commonly known as “Gaokao” in Chinese). This nationwide exam determines not only whether students can study at Chinese universities, it also determines which university in China students may attend.  Students select the school they would like to attend and are admitted based on their Gaokao test score and their preferred institution’s test score criteria.  This is very different than the North American model. To gain entry into Chinese universities, students do not need to fill out an application form, submit personal statements, letters of recommendation, or a list of extracurricular activities. There is a great deal of pressure put on students in China and many see the Gaokao as a "battle to determine their fate" as students are admitted by universities solely based on their scores on this one-time exam.

In some cases, students could be admitted to a Chinese university based on their outstanding high school academic performance. This route to university is a rare exception accounting for less than 5% of students in the most prestigious universities, and less than 1% overall.

Increased economic prosperity in China has prompted the government to build more universities (there are currently 2,000) to meet the increased demand for higher education. As China has become more global, this demand has further increased. It is estimated that 9 million high school students take the 2-day Gaokao exam every year in June to compete for nearly 7 million seats in China’s universities and colleges. The standardized exam ensures that all candidates across the country have the same access to higher education. There has been some effort to modify the Gaokao exam to allow for cultural differences from province to province, however the exam continues to be highly competitive.

Chinese high school students are also interested in studying abroad. This has given rise to the Chinese agent model, where agents assist students in preparing their applications, since the application process across the globe is completely different from that in China.  In the search for international education opportunities in North America and Europe, students take standardized exams such as the TOEFL, SAT, and ACT. Alternatively, students may also earn an internationally accredited high school diploma such as the International Baccalaureate or UK version of A Level exams.

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