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More Chinese Students Are Coming To US High Schools To Get Into American Colleges

The number of Chinese students studying in American high schools jumped up 48% since 2013. Many are hoping to stay in the US for college.

Posted on August 10, 2017, at 1:59 p.m. ET

Str / AFP / Getty Images

Chinese high school students preparing for the high-stakes college entrance exam, the gaokao.

Chinese students are flocking to American high schools in hope of increasing their chances of being accepted to US universities, according to a report released this week. The influx has helped drive up the number of international high school students studying in the U.S. long term by 22% since 2013.

The number of Chinese students studying in American high schools has skyrocketed, up by 48% since 2013, the report found, and Asian students now make up more than three-quarters of the almost 60,000 students studying in the US long term. That’s a sharp contrast to the demographics of high schoolers studying on temporary visas, who are mostly European.

The report by the Institute of International Education points to the strong demand — and competition — for an American college degree, especially among Asian students.

“They’re seeing it as a way to better position themselves for an admission at a US university,” said Rajika Bhandari, a head researcher at IIE. “That’s the primary motivating factor.”

In elite college admissions, international students who have studied in the US frequently have a leg up over those who remained in their home countries to study, said Brian Taylor, who works Ivy Coach, a college counseling firm.

The majority of international students who come to the US for high school diplomas are wealthy, Bhandari said, with parents who pay not just tuition but also fees to recruiters and counselors who place their children abroad.

Taylor has seen an increasing number of international clients who attend US private schools, especially boarding schools. These schools offer better English skills and more experienced guidance counselors than foreign schools, Taylor said, but they also have decadeslong (and even centurieslong) relationships to the country’s top colleges — something even the best schools abroad cannot typically offer.

“It’s easier for them,” Taylor said of international students studying in the States. “In their home countries, the colleges don’t trust those schools. They don’t know how good they are.”

More than 2,800 American high schools now have international students, an increase of 21% from 2013, the report said — a number growing at an even faster pace than the rate of foreign students coming to the US — which means that not only are there more international students, but also that they are more widely dispersed.

That dispersion suggests high schools in the US are increasingly competing, too — hoping to recruit and admit international students, just like their counterparts in higher education have done for years. Some top-tier private high schools have recruiting programs abroad to help them find and import students, Bhandari said, “the same way that a college or university might.”

Foreign students typically pay full tuition — an allure for private schools and even a small number of public schools, which have begun to admit and even board tuition-paying foreign students.

“Some small, rural public school districts have initiated international programs in situations where there’s not enrollment,” Bhandari said. International students, she said, “bring in revenue to the public school.”

A New York Times story chronicled a public school district in Oxford, Michigan, which partnered with a Chinese company to import foreign students, collecting $10,000 for each high schooler. The company has even offered to build a multimillion-dollar dormitory to house the students.

The allure for students studying in US schools goes beyond a desire for an American college degree, said Christine Chu, a counselor at another elite admissions firm, Ivywise. American high schools offer a reprieve from the high-intensity culture of Chinese schools, including the relentless focus on the national college entrance examination, called the gaokao.

American schools “are geared toward more creative thinking and less rote memorization” than traditional Chinese schools, Chu said.

The report found an increasing demand to study in other Western countries, too, like Canada and the United Kingdom. Australia has seen an increase in foreign secondary students of 34% since 2013, a greater percentage than any other country.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.