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Unpacking the factors driving Chinese student mobility abroad

China is the largest sending country for international students globally, with over 1.6 million Chinese students pursuing higher education abroad prior to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

Notably, 71% of counsellors observed an increase in the number of students and parents inquiring about global campuses (such as NYU Shanghai) in China

Chinese students applying to overseas institutions are facing an increasingly complex set of challenges due to the pandemic.

In addition to the pre-existing obstacles such as language barriers, differences in education systems, and difficulties adapting to new cultures, the pandemic has exacerbated the stress and difficulties faced by this population. Additionally, geopolitical tensions and travel restrictions can also make it difficult for Chinese students to pursue their academic aspirations abroad.

All of these factors highlight the importance of providing support and resources for Chinese students as they navigate the complex and ever-changing landscape of international education.

The China Institute of College Admission Counseling recently conducted a study aimed at gathering high school students’ application data, evaluating the effectiveness of recruitment by overseas universities, and identifying challenges that high school college counsellors face in guiding Chinese students towards their future academic pursuits abroad.

The ChinaICAC Annual Guidance Counselor Report presents compelling insights into the current trends in Chinese students’ higher education pursuits. Based on data collected from 121 counsellors representing 91 high schools, the report reveals several significant findings.

The surveyed Chinese high school graduating class is expected to increase by 14% over the next two years. Additionally, the report identifies the top three popular fields of study of the graduating class of 2022 as STEM, Business, and Social Sciences.

Unsurprisingly, the United States remained the most sought-after destination for Chinese students to study abroad, followed by the UK. However, Asian countries also emerged as the third most popular destination among seniors.

Moreover, the report highlights a growing trend of students applying to colleges and universities in multiple countries or regions. Notably, 71% of counsellors observed an increase in the number of students and parents inquiring about global campuses (such as NYU Shanghai) in China.

The report highlights the top three factors that influence Chinese students when selecting an institution to apply to are rankings, academic programs, and location. It also reveals that the class of 2022 has pressing concerns, including mental wellness, Covid-19 disruptions, and academic challenges.

These insights are crucial in guiding counsellors and admissions officers in providing the necessary resources and support to ensure student success in their academic pursuits.

The report also entails an important part on the experience of guidance counsellors in China.

Guidance counsellors play a crucial role in helping students navigate the college admissions process. They provide students with guidance and support as they make important decisions about their academic and professional futures. However, the demands of the job can take a toll on their mental wellness.

“62% of counsellors rated their stress level as high, with a score of 4 or 5 on the stress scale”

This is also why the ChinaICAC Annual Guidance Counselor Report is important in advocating for the needs of the high school guidance counsellors. One of the most important findings of the report is the high level of stress experienced by guidance counsellors.

According to the survey, 62% of counsellors rated their stress level as high, with a score of 4 or 5 (5 being the most stressful) on the stress scale. This is a cause for concern, as high levels of stress can lead to burnout, which can ultimately harm the counsellor’s ability to help students.

The report calls for resources and support to counsellors to manage stress and prioritise self-care.

In addition to these key findings, the report also offers valuable perspectives from counsellors on the most effective ways for universities to recruit Chinese students. This information can aid institutions in tailoring their recruitment strategies to better connect with and attract potential students from China.

The full report will be presented during the fifth ChinaICAC annual conference on April 27-28, 2023, making it a significant resource for college admission counsellors, educators, and administrators.

The ChinaICAC Research, Scholarship, and Learning Committee is dedicated to advancing the field of international education by providing data and resources to support educators and promote transparency. With a focus on promoting best practices and evidence-based decision-making, the committee strives to provide valuable insights and information to all members of the international education ecosystem.

By leveraging data and promoting transparency, the committee aims to create a culture of collaboration and knowledge sharing that benefits students and the broader community. The ChinaICAC invites international educators to join the annual report release session.

About the author: Yanjie (Ruby) Cheng is director of International Enrollment Program, APAC in the Office of Admissions at University of Colorado Colorado Springs.

ChinaICAC is committed to developing the professionalism of all school-based counsellors in China by providing a wealth of networking and learning opportunities including but not limited to webinars, workshops, and conferences.  ChinaICAC also effectively brings together high school counsellors serving Chinese nationals and college admission officers. The organisation currently has over 350 high school counsellors and college admission officers.

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