Ripples in the Pond: Spreading the IECA Way in China

By Bo Wang , IECA (China) 

I am not a teacher, but an awakener.

—Robert Frost

I have been eager to share my experiences working with Chinese clients as an IECA member since I attended the webinar Working with Chinese Clients the IECA Way on June 14, 2016. It’s been almost a whole year since I was accepted as an IECA Associate member, and it’s my seventh year as an independent educational consultant (IEC). The Robert Frost quote is one of my favorites because it sums up how I feel about my work. But the sad fact is that a certain number of Chinese clients don’t want an awakener in the educational counseling process at all, and they don’t even want a teacher. What they really need is a babysitter.

If you currently have your educational consulting practice in China or if most of your clients are from China, congratulations! You must have been asked at least one of the following questions by your clients:

• Are you the current or the former admissions officer?

• Can you offer us a guaranteed admission to a certain college/university?

• Does your service package include everything so I/our kid just need to focus on the standardized tests?

• Look, here are my GPA and standardized test scores, where can I go?

• You are an IECA associate? Wow, good. Well, what is that?

Compared to the education counseling giants in China, such as the infamous New Oriental Education & Technology Group Inc. that falsified applications of some of their clients, IECA members are the minority group. According to an online survey of prospective students who would like to study in the United States, over 40% tend to find an agency to help them—that means to “do everything for them” rather than accompany and guide them. Apart from that group, approximately 35% of students indicate that they do not believe agencies and will consider a do-it-yourself way to complete their applications.

Challenges for IECA Members

The ever-changing competitive market has brought new challenges to the professional ethics of IECA members. The letter of recommendation is a good example: that required item is supposed to be confidentially completed by the recommender and the applicant has to waive the right to access to the letters. The fact is, however, that many high schools in China do not have any “international class,” and the counselor (class advisor in most cases) is not even able to write a letter of recommendation in English. It is an open secret that the counselor or teacher gives a draft of the Chinese letter to the applicant and signs on the English letter translated by the applicant. That is how it works in China, and it is quite common because the high schools that have international classes and English speakers are mostly in major cities, which is because of the unbalanced educational resource allocation in China.

For prospective students in regular high schools, submitting letters of recommendation that way is the only opportunity for them. I used to try to work this out, and I made attempts to collaborate with the school counselor and the student to get letters done. For example, I once discussed the personal traits and activity highlights of an applicant with a high school teacher and the teacher then had his Chinese letter translated by a translating company and submitted it on his own. But for most of the cases, the applicants still have access, limited or full, to the letter of recommendation.

Another factor that parents and students both care about is the essay. There are countless rumors online telling success stories about how a certain applicant who has normal test scores and GPA gets accepted with an amazing essay that literally “moved” the admissions committee. And those stories spread faster online by social media networks than you can imagine. “Can you write the application essays for my kid?” then becomes the most frequent question I have heard when dealing with prospective clients, regardless of how I explain to them that it is against the professional ethics—and even against the application regulations—to have someone else complete your essay. Those people eventually end up with going to somebody else who offers a “full-service” package. I do not know their application results, and I feel sorry for them.

But I feel grateful that there are still a lot of energetic, committed, and versatile students who are willing to work with an IECA member throughout their applications. I have just heard from one of my clients, who is a senior from the international class of a leading high school in Beijing, that she got ED admission to Rice University. She is a thoughtful girl with a great passion for physics, and in her application essay, she discussed the relationship between physics and the spiritual world. It was a brilliant essay because it reflected who she is and what she really cares about. Some parents, however, always believe that in the essay, they need to mold the applicant into a person whom the target college might prefer, an overcoaching game indeed.

I have read Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good Through College Admissions, a report by Harvard Graduate School of Education, and have found that utilitarianism is growing in the application process, regardless of which country. The report discourages overcoaching as well. According to the admissions requirement of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, “there is a big difference between ‘feedback’ and ‘coaching.’ You cross that line when any part of the application (excluding the letters of reference) ceases to be exclusively yours in either thought or word.” So the essential questions that Chinese clients need to consider are: How can I make my voice heard by the admissions officers? and How do I let them know who I really am? I’m happy that a growing number of them have become aware of this need.

There is still a long way to go for IECA members in China, and it does take time to change the perspective of some Chinese clients. But from what I have seen, we are working on it along with our students, and we are spreading our influences and reputations among schools. We IECA members in China, like the pebbles dropped in a pond, will cause a ripple effect to make a growing number of qualified professionals involved. I hope one day I will hear from my Chinese clients about their educational consulting experiences: “For once I was blind, and now I can see.”

Bo Wang, Chuchuguo, can be reached at [email protected].

[From IECA’s Insights newsletter, February/March 2017]