Some international students pay for admissions app help
Published: Monday, November 21, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 22, 2011 04:11
Junior Haitao Zhang can hold a conversation in English, and he earned an A on his last speech for his public speaking class this semester. However, three years ago he failed his Test of English as a Foreign Language, which he took in China. His family paid a college application agency approximately $4,000 to prepare his application to the university, which included writing his essay, and he was accepted.
"It's very hard for a high school student to apply in English," Zhang said. "The English is limited, so it's hard to apply. Most of the parents do not speak English as a second language, so there is no place to find help, we just simply go to the agencies and ask for help."
The number of Chinese undergraduate students enrolled in American universities has grown by 43 percent from last year, according to the Institute of International Education's Open Doors report. Officials from the university's admissions department and the English Language Institute have recently been recruiting from China, and the number of Chinese university students rose from eight in 2007 to 517 this year.
In China, American degrees are highly valued. Chinese agencies that inform students about universities abroad, help them prepare their applications and train them for their visa interview at the American Embassy are a growing business.
The extent these agencies are helping students is being increasingly called into question after both the New York Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that officials at these institutions write students' personal essays, fake documents and receive payments from universities.
Lou Hirsh, director of admissions at the university, said the admissions office, which handles international applications, is aware of these application agencies and has relationships with them, mostly to discuss the university's viability to international students. The university does not pay them, he said, but the families do.
Zhang said the agency did everything for him, expediting a process which might have taken him two months to complete. Even if he didn't use an agency, he would have asked someone else for help, and would still have wanted to pay them.
Hirsh said the increased number of agencies is a response to the growth of the college-aged students' population in China. He said while the purpose of these agencies—to help students through the application process—is legitimate, he realizes their practices could be an area of concern.
"It's not the agents themselves that are the problem, there is a difficulty with whether they're overstepping some bounds," Hirsh said. "There are two really big issues; one of them is the question of being paid by institutions and the other, somewhat more serious, issue is the authenticity of the documents."
He said admissions uses agencies such as the Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers and World Education Services to verify application information and check for forgery. The organizations validate the authenticity of documents by confirming institutions in the application exist, retrieving original documents and ensuring the validity of students' information.
"Our major concern of course is obviously transcripts," Hirsh said. "We want to be sure that this is indeed the work the student has done in his or her home institution, not some fabrication."
Hirsh said although there may be questions about international students' applications, the international students have comparable grades to those of out-of-state students.
When international students apply to the university, they can choose from one of two routes, Hirsh said. If their English is strong enough, they can apply directly to the university. They submit their essay, transcript, summary of educational experiences and
Test of English as a Foreign Language score, or the British equivalent, International English Language Testing System. The minimum TOEFL score is 90 out of 120 points.
International students must also include a bank statement and financial information to proving they have the funds to pay tuition. If admitted, the admissions officers will sign an I-20 form, which allows them to receive their visa, and they are enrolled at the university like any American student.
If students have strong grades but do not know English well enough to pass the TOEFL, they can apply through the Conditional Admission Program. If accepted, they must take a placement test on arrival at the English Language Institute, an intensive language school which teaches reading and writing. They take classes there they are ready to begin regular university classes.
"They've done everything they're supposed to do in their home country to prepare for college, except they just don't have strong enough English scores," said Nadia Redman, assistant director of the English Language Institute. "It's the university's way of being flexible with international students, to enable them to be admitted without punishing them basically for the fact that they don't have strong English the way that you and I have strong English."