October 22, 2020

Coaching and Much More for Chinese Students Looking to U.S.

For answers, she turned to ThinkTank Learning, a college admission consulting company from California that had recently opened an office in Shenzhen, next door to Hong Kong.

“I wanted American professionals to look at my application and shed some new light on how I could make it better,” she said.

The price was steep: 100,000 renminbi, or $15,000. But it came with a 100 percent money-back guarantee — if Ms. Lu was rejected from the nine selective U.S. universities to which she applied, her family would get a full refund.

Ms. Lu brainstormed with a ThinkTank consultant on ways to redo her admissions essay, which had originally been about playing badminton. The new version she came up with focused on a cross-strait dialogue conference that Ms. Lu had organized with high schoolers in Taiwan.

Happily for Ms. Lu and for ThinkTank, the approach worked. She has just completed her first year at the University of Pennsylvania.

As a record number of students from outside the United States compete for a limited number of spots at the most selective American colleges, companies like ThinkTank are seeking to profit from their ambitions.

In the United States, students have long turned to independent college counselors, but in recent years, larger outfits have entered the market, offering full-service designer courses, extracurricular activities and focused application assistance. These services have spread to the fast-growing and lucrative market in China.

With China sending more students to American colleges than any other country, the competition for spots at the top schools has soared. During the 2009-10 academic year, 39,947 Chinese undergraduates were studying in the United States, a 52 percent increase from the year before and about five times as many as five years earlier, according to the Institute of International Education, a U.S. organization.

But students from China can find themselves ill-prepared for the admissions process at American colleges. The education system in mainland China focuses on assiduous preparation for the national university entrance exam, the gaokao, often at the expense of extracurricular activities.

About 400 overseas education agencies — including joint Chinese-foreign schools, language training centers and college application consulting agencies — are certified by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The ministry is affiliated with the two largest application consulting agencies in China, the China Center for International Education Exchange and Chivast Education International.

Some of these agencies offer to write their clients’ college essays from scratch, train them for alumni interviews and even modify student transcripts, consultants have said.

Capitalizing on the increasingly globalized education system, ThinkTank Learning has tapped into the market in the United States and China.

The founder of the company is Steven Ma, 32, a former Wall Street analyst who started the company as a business for preparing students for college entrance tests in 2002 before expanding into application consulting in 2006, starting with seven students. In 2010, that number had risen to 300, including 75 from China. The company said it made about $7 million last year, with 50 percent from admission consulting.

ThinkTank said it was able to distill the college admissions process into an exact science, which Mr. Ma compared with genetic engineering. “We make unnatural stuff happen,” he said.

Students, whose parents often pay tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, are molded by ThinkTank into well-rounded, socially conscious overachievers through a regimen often beginning as early as the year before entering high school. The company designs extracurricular activities for the students; guides them in essay writing; tutors them for the SAT, the U.S. college admission exam; and helps them with meet-and-greet sessions with alumni.

“There’s a system built by colleges designed to pick out future stars and we are here to crack that system,” Mr. Ma said.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=ca082d09c173e4bd0915a7e52c4f06a9

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