Chinese Students’ Reaction to CNN Report on Cheating

We are not a nation of cheaters.

(Credit: chalabala via Shutterstock)

(Credit: chalabala via Shutterstock)

The CNNMoney report on cheating found within Chinese students’ US college applications broke last week, striking up another wave of discussion concerning Chinese students’ integrity and qualifications. As a team of outspoken advocates for Chinese students in America and members of the subjects addressed in the report, Channel C producers – Cecilia, Pan and Muge – voiced their reactions to this report, commenting on the reported phenomenon in China and the report itself.

Do Chinese students cheat to get into US colleges?


Cheating and using shady college application agents are not unheard of; in fact, the number of these cases has been on the rise as the demand for overseas education increases each year. It is especially disheartening to me when I see news like this about Chinese students, because I know some do cheat but many don’t, but those who do have smeared the image of the entire group.

Like the quoted statement by Allan Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education, no one has good statistics about how much it happens. So the report is dangerously labeling all Chinese students cheaters.


The problem exposed in the article is real and deserves attention. But I take issue with the article’s second paragraph: “admission officers say as many as one in 10 applications to U.S. colleges by Chinese students may include fraudulent material.”

This is a very weak statement. Who are the unnamed admission officers, how many? Which universities do they work for? Do they all agree on the 10 percent number? May include or include? The named source in the next paragraph says nobody has reliable data so why is the author throwing around “one in 10”? To have a meaningful discussion we must be more careful with allegations like this.

That aside, I do agree with the article wholeheartedly on a few points. One is that third-party recruiters lack proper regulation. Many charge high fees and guarantee admission to at least one of the schools on client’s wish list. In order to fulfill the promise, they cut corners, forge recommendation letters and even ask English teachers or native speakers to write application essays for clients.

This naturally hurts the reputation of the entire population of Chinese international students. I’m extremely sad to see the comments below this article saying, “You can’t trust Chinese, they do whatever it takes to get ahead” or “China are a nation of cheaters”. Because neither comments is true.

Why the cheating – drastic differences between the two education systems


I’ve never used a recruiter (I applied for college in the U.S.), but a lot of my friends who applied for universities in the States went to recruiters for general direction and recommendation of schools (because as the article points out, China doesn’t have a culture of putting together application packages and college application can seem daunting even to American kids), but then they would do the rest of the work themselves partly because no recruiter can have as the motivation and drive as oneself when it comes to college application. They may ask a few people to look over their essays but no one I know hired others to write essays for them.

With that said, cheating is more prevalent among those who don’t do well at domestic schools. Let’s face it: third-party recruiters’ grammatically correct but boring-as-hell essays probably can’t get you into Harvard. Good students don’t benefit much from those services.

Cheating is also more common among those, parents or students, who don’t understand getting into a good college does not guarantee a life of success. The cruelty of the gaokao has led many parents and kids to think so. This mindset takes time to change but the change is happening with more Chinese universities adopting the application model and more admission officers touring the country educating parents and students about college education and admission process so they understand cheating can’t get you very far down the road and so they don’t have to blindly trust the recruiting companies.

Sure China has cheaters, but it also has many over-achieving, intelligent young people who want to get to know the world beyond the Great Wall and it is to the world’s benefit that they do.


I sounded like such an awkward and uncharismatic kid in my undergrad application. Like everyone else who applied for schools abroad five years ago, I didn’t know what else I could write about a school or a program that I was applying for, there were absolutely no guidance from family, neither was there any from my high school, even if you would like to pursue off-campus assistance, there weren’t even any credible agencies in the market. Five years has passed, looks like things haven’t changed much at all.

Policy from the Bureau of Education remains unclear as well as minimum; the student market largely remains unregulated if they were to pursue degree abroad. And since I’ve been working with those students for a public school for two summers, I think it is fair to say that many Chinese students who want to study abroad are complete outliers in the Chinese education system. Even if there is any regulation on such matter, the prescription will probably vary regionally. As a result, many students pursue off-campus assistance with a third-party agency to help them prepare the package.

What the article missed


I agree with Cecilia and Muge that any form of cheating is intolerable, as it impairs academic integrity and downgrades individual morality. As much as I want to side with the author, I found it distressing that he only pointed out the surface of the problem (as did many other education watchers), and wasn’t able to answer “what led to this problem”[1].

The two education systems are not made compatible with each other in the first place, if one wants to transition from one to the other, glitches will occur naturally, if not regulated.

U.S. will remain the most popular destination for education for Chinese students at least for the next decade, rather than blaming what many Chinese kids or families have already done wrong, wouldn’t it more efficient to spell out what should be done instead?


While some would suggest singling out and scrutinizing Chinese application packages, I think this scenario resembles the dilemma of racial profiling to some extent. After we expose this problem and punish the cheaters, we also need to investigate the causes of these problems, such as lack of regulation in the industry and misguided information received by students (and parents), to fully address the issue.

While Chinese students have high demand for US education, are admission offices that are accepting applications giving and channeling sufficient and clear instructions and expectations to Chinese applicants?

Students, educators and policy makers should work together to address this issue. As a Chinese student who never cheated in the application process or in school, I encourage all other Chinese students alike to take actions against cheating, such as reporting cheating to faculty, helping educators identify the causes of cheating or showing your stance on this issue to friends who cheat.


[1]This is the only sentence I found in the article that somewhat tackles the cause of the cheating “Chinese applicants often aren’t familiar with the complicated admissions procedures for schools in the U.S., said West. In China, admission is based entirely on a single test.”




1 Comment on Chinese Students’ Reaction to CNN Report on Cheating

  1. Let me offer some thoughts as someone who has worked with students — both American and Chinese — preparing their college applications. Specifically, I have some observations about the personal essay, which drives every applicant a little nuts.

    The PE has two purposes: (1) to demonstrate you can write clearly and effectively with college-level language and style and (2) to tell the admissions committee something about you and your personality, goals and background, the kind of insight that the application form cannot provide.

    Now, the typical college admission committee faces several challenges. On the one hand, the committee wants to accept well qualified, well educated students, who can adjust quickly to the demands of college academics — lots of reading and writing. On the other, the committee wants diversity among its students, and wants to offer deserving students a chance to prove themselves in the college.

    So, it’s possible for a student with poor mechanical skills in writing (grammar, punctuation, spelling) to write a very effective essay that will impress the committee and lead to his or her acceptance by the college. Most American colleges are used to remediation classes even for native English speakers, so poor writing skills are not an overwhelming problem, unless the student is applying to a place like Princeton of Stanford.

    Chinese applicants (and agents) assume only essays with proper grammar, spelling and punctuation are suitable, so there is a temptation to either copy a PE from the Internet, or imitate one, creating a a mechanically perfect essay that says nothing at all. Maybe this tendency comes from the Chinese education system, which prizes proper English grammar, etc., over creativity and expressiveness.

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