International undergraduate students applying to universities overseas are accustomed to taking standardized college admissions tests, such as the SAT and ACT used by U.S. schools. However, Susu Zhu from China took the gaokao, the rigorous…
International undergraduate students applying to universities overseas are accustomed to taking standardized college admissions tests, such as the SAT and ACT used by U.S. schools. However, Susu Zhu from China took the gaokao, the rigorous Chinese university entrance exam that takes place over two days in June each year. When Zhu took the test in 2015, she didn’t realize it would lead her to eventually attend the University of San Francisco.
“It was the only school that I applied to outside of China,” says Zhu, a senior finance major and mathematics minor at USF. She was accepted by a Chinese university, but chose to apply to USF after learning that the school accepts the gaokao.
While there are only a handful of U.S. schools that accept gaokao scores, there are a number of universities worldwide — in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Canada — that do. Some of these institutions include the University of Western Australia, the University of British Columbia in Canada and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.
Though many global universities accept the gaokao, Chinese students should be aware that schools may have other admissions policies or requirements. Here are some factors for Chinese students to keep in mind.
English language. Along with gaokao scores, many Western universities may require additional evidence of English language competency.
“Students must receive a minimum score on an English test — Duolingo, TOEFL or IELTS — as well as score in the top 25 percent of their province on the gaokao,” says Erika Mantz, a spokesperson for the University of New Hampshire. The maximum score a student can earn on the gaokao depends on which province in China he or she is from.
Mantz says during the second phase of the application process, a written test is conducted by a faculty member who teaches ESL, or English as a second language. He or she shares a writing prompt via email, and the student has 30 minutes to return the sample via email.
The University of Western Australia does not accept the gaokao as an English language competency standard, spokesperson David Stacey says. Most of the university’s Chinese students who submit gaokao scores meet the English requirement through the IELTS test, he says. The school requires a minimum overall score of 6.5 on the IELTS.
Stacey says the school also allows students who may need more development with English to attend UWA’s Centre for English Language Teaching before starting their university studies. This allows them to complete an Academic English and Study Skills Bridging Course, a short intensive course to bridge the gap between secondary education and university studies.
Zhu didn’t take a standardized English language exam prior to applying to USF but says she had a written test and an interview as part of the admissions process. For the written part, she was given a short article to read and then questions to answer about the article.
“As a result of both, I had to take an English as a second language course in the beginning semester of my study in USF,” Zhu says.
Interviews. While universities may accept gaokao scores from Chinese applicants, some may also require an interview.
Michael Beseda, vice provost for strategic enrollment management at USF, says the school requires Chinese students who are applying for admission using their gaokao scores to be interviewed by a faculty member.
“For this past admission cycle, the interviews were completed via Zoom,” Beseda says, referring to the videoconferencing tool. “In previous years USF faculty members traveled to Beijing for the interviews,” he says.
That was the experience Zhu had when a USF professor interviewed her in China. She says she was given a general interview that included answering questions about her reasons for applying to USF.
“As I talked to the professors later after I started studying in the U.S., they told me that the interview was recorded and sent back to USF and was evaluated by the admission department to decide which student to accept,” Zhu says.
At UNH, Mantz says in addition to the writing component, the second phase of the application process requires a Skype interview conducted by a UNH faculty member.
Experts say Chinese students should check school websites to learn about all the steps required in the admissions process.
U.K. foundation programs. Many U.K. universities will only consider gaokao scores for entrance into a foundation program, a one-year preparation course for international students who need extra English language and academic preparation to attend a U.K. university.
For instance, the University of Kent does not take gaokao scores into account in its undergraduate admissions policy, university spokesperson Martin Herrema says, as the university believes that high school transcripts provide a better and more accurate reflection of academic achievement and potential. However, he says the school does review gaokao scores when assessing foundation applications.
Similarly, the University of Bristol accepts the gaokao for entry into the school’s one year International Foundation Programme. The school does not accept the gaokao for regular admission into undergraduate degree programs, due to the Chinese education system consisting of one less year compared with what is typical in the U.K., spokesperson Robin Knowles says.
“The university has implemented the one year program in order to ensure our students are fully equipped to enter their undergraduate degrees, as it is designed to specifically assist international students transition from their home education system into the U.K. system,” Knowles wrote in an email.
However, at the University of Edinburgh, the College of Science & Engineering does consider, on an individual basis, Chinese applicants who have achieved excellent results on the gaokao, according to the school’s website.
Zhu says her good gaokao score ended up giving her an unexpected bonus at USF.
“USF offers scholarships to those who have a relatively high gaokao score,” Zhu says. “I did get scholarships due to my gaokao score.”