• Sun
  • Aug 31, 2014
  • Updated: 6:02am
Column
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 February, 2014, 12:48pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 February, 2014, 1:57am

Asia's 'coached students' should be denied coveted college admission

Kelly Yang says the practice in Asia of hiring professional help to get a student into college is defeating the purpose of the exercise

BIO

Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school writing program for children in Hong Kong. At KYP, she teaches creative writing, public speaking and critical reasoning. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and Harvard Law School. Follow Kelly on Twitter: @kellyyanghk
 

It has been a while since I've been excited about college admissions. In the past five years, I've watched it change from being a step of self-discovery to a billion-dollar industry complete with ghostwriters, agents and other hand-holders.

The forces driving this industry are insecurity, obsession and perfectionism. These are the fears admissions companies here in Asia play to. In the process, they are ruining admissions.

Admissions used to be a great equaliser, the one, true opportunity to catapult a bright kid out of poverty and into the halls of higher education and a better life. At my graduation from law school, I remember looking around at my classmates and thinking, it didn't matter where we came from - from this point forward, we were equal.

But now, with reports of 90 per cent of Chinese applicants submitting false recommendations, 70 per cent of them having someone else write their college admissions essay for them, and half forging their transcripts and grades, it's becoming harder for admissions officers to find the students from Asia who are likely to succeed.

To be fair, it's not just Chinese applicants who are lying to try to get into US colleges. However, the burgeoning Chinese middle class has pushed demand for US school and college places through the roof. Last year, China sent a staggering 235,000 students to study in the US.

Yet, thanks to all the coaches and agents, most of these applicants look virtually the same on paper. They all have high TOEFL scores. Their test scores are near the top. Their personal statements are now useless, thanks to the ample supply of ghostwriters. And forget about the recommendation letters; every one of them is glowing to the point of blinding.

A handful of educational start-ups based in China are attempting to fix the problem. InitialView, CIEE, and Vericant - to name three - seek to verify Chinese applicants by conducting interviews on behalf of schools and, in some cases, even administering supervised writing samples for submission to the schools.

Face-to-face interviews and supervised writing samples show true English ability better than standardised tests or prepared personal statements. More importantly, they also show an applicant's creativity, logic, spontaneity and interaction skills. Any US or British university professor will tell you how a student who never participates can cripple classroom dynamics. For many Western institutions, this is the biggest risk of admitting Chinese applicants.

The admissions process has to be changed, before all faith in the integrity and quality of Asian applicants evaporates. We need to get rid of personal statements and letters of recommendation and replace them with supervised writing samples and interviews. This shift may initially mean a fall in the number of applications, but the purpose of higher learning is not to preserve rankings but to educate the best-qualified students. To do this, we must first find these students.

Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school programme for children in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School. kelly@kellyyang.com

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6

This article is now closed to comments

dunndavid
Sensible comments from Ms. Yang. Slightly off topic but related, I notice how Asian immigrants don't participate in discussions in the U.S. I noticed that in business school. I also notice that from listening to talk radio in the U.S. You will sometimes here people call in to radio programs that are immigrants from Russia, Latin America and other non-English speaking countries. Many of these callers have strong accents, but nevertheless frequently have interesting perspective on issues of the day. You never here Asians call in, never. You might think the reason Asian don't call in to radio shows is that they are "culturally reticient" to express their opinions, but yet in Taiwan, Hong Kong and even in the Cantonese language radio in the U.S. Asians are not shy to express their opinions in their native language. I suspect the real reason they don't participate is that their language skills, particularly their listening skills are not that good. It's a daunting task to overcome this obstacle, as Chinese students seem to have real difficulty in learning English and the reverse also seems true.
dunndavid
Sensible comments from Ms. Yang. Slightly off topic but related, I notice how Asian immigrants don't participate in discussions in the U.S. I noticed that in business school. I also notice that from listening to talk radio in the U.S. You will sometimes here people call in to radio programs that are immigrants from Russia, Latin America and other non-English speaking countries. Many of these callers have strong accents, but nevertheless frequently have interesting perspective on issues of the day. You never here Asians call in, never. You might think the reason Asian don't call in to radio shows is that they are "culturally reticient" to express their opinions, but yet in Taiwan, Hong Kong and even in the Cantonese language radio in the U.S. Asians are not shy to express their opinions in their native language. I suspect the real reason they don't participate is that their language skills, particularly their listening skills are not that good. It's a daunting task to overcome this obstacle, as Chinese students seem to have real difficulty in learning English and the reverse also seems true.
321manu
Getting "help" to get into college is not a problem per se. People get "help" with finding jobs, learning math, playing piano. Heck, going to school itself is getting "help" in learning the essentials. That's not the problem.
The problem is the expectation of college education (from society, from family, from potential employers) coupled with the simple reality of too many applicants/too few positions. The problem is further exacerbated by the weak morals of (apparently) a large number of individuals who, in order to solve the first problem, are not above cheating in all shapes and sizes. It's certainly not a problem confined to Hkers or Chinese...but if the "reports" are correct, it is a problem more prevalent in those cohorts. So the next question is why, and whether the first problem justifies the second one.
Interviews and in-person assessments are already the norm for graduate studies. However, I'm not sure if it's practical to do that for every undergrad applicant.
koonwahleong
I think honesty is a virtue that has quickly faded from modern society. Intense competition at all levels has sent us back to the primative ages where only the fittest can survive. Maybe we should trace back to where and how these students were raised and educated. Was honesty being praised and cherished? Another issue to consider is that colleges in US have been running severe deficits the past few years and would love to have more foreign students whose parents can afford paying full out-of-state tuition, 3 to 4 times of what the local parents are willing to pay. Many colleges admit students based on their special talents in addition to their academic performance and community service during high school. The selection process is very complicated in my opinion.
anthonygmail
I fail to see how having more vetting agents can weed out the frauds/cheats when those vetting agents can easily be bribed and most institutions derive so much of their income from these students.
.
I suggest that all applicants must declare by oath the authenticity of their submissions and once found to be fraudulent then the relevant authorities in the US and UK should prosecute these students.
.
Additionally, the criteria for advancement to Year 2 etc should be stringent enough to ensure only suitable students can graduate.
pslhk
KY is quite lost and mistaken
-
“The admissions process has to be changed”?
A challenge and response process
between colleges and applicants
it’s always changing
-
Technical knowledge is a hurdle
only for those mediocre in intellect and family background
Character is what matters
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KY is naive and biased to focus on Chinese cheats
The Chinese are just less subtle and less sophisticated
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“Admissions used to be a great equaliser”?
stabilizer, assimilator, and discriminator but never an equalizer
The usual quota is a parvenu for every four or less preppies
either for developing Rachel’s first borns for future pharaohs
or as also-rans to accompany student princes (倍太子讀書)
 
 
 
 
 

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