By Jack Cao, IECA (Beijing)

When I visited Brooks School in North Andover almost eight years ago, the director of admissions (DA) told me that they had worked with Vericant, a Beijing-based video interview service company. All applicants from mainland China had to go through a preliminary video interview and a writing section delivered by that company before they could set up the regular school-conducted interview because they didn’t have the capacity to handle the number of applications from China.

Since then, the third-party interview (TPI) business has boomed along with the increasing applications from Chinese students in the past years. Ryan Huang, Vericant Beijing manager and a Kansas native, said that more than 85% of his company’s 87 partner schools require mainland Chinese applicants to complete the Vericant video interview as part of their application.

While TPI achieved wide recognition among boarding schools, it also permeated the college applications process. More colleges, especially top-tiered colleges of both major universities and liberal arts colleges, realized that their traditional admissions system could not adequately identify the readiness of the rush of Chinese applicants. The vast increase of accepted Chinese students also had adverse effects on their campuses. Some of the Chinese students who were admitted through the routine application process struggled from the first day on campus. Their stellar scores on TOEFL, SAT, or ACT did not properly prepare those newbies for a smooth transition into the new lifestyles. Nor did tests teach them how to participate in class discussions; work with professors, advisors, or peers; raise critical questions; or present their opinions bravely and effectively. The tests also could not help them interact socially with peers from distinct backgrounds.

US colleges found it hard to pinpoint the ideal Chinese candidates just from the application materials, in which substantially altered documentations were widely submitted. Wisdom and innovation were needed to change the crux of the unhealthy Chinese student phenomenon. Two bilingual speakers who were educated in the United States and lived in China, Terry Crawford, a graduate of UVA and Michigan Law School, and Gloria Chyou, who graduated from Wellesley and Harvard, created InitialView, another TPI company, which introduced a video interview as a bridge to connect Chinese students to US colleges and strengthen their mutual understanding through the unconventional means.

Both Vericant and InitialView (see figure 1 for a comparison of their services) have had great success in China’s booming study abroad service market. Their successes come from not just creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship but also their advocacy for integrity, which resonates with the value of the holistic admissions philosophy of the US schools and colleges.

How Does TPI Work?

School Level Interview

An interview promoting the mutual understanding of schools and families has been a compulsory part of the school application process; however, the overwhelming rise of overseas (particularly Chinese) applications strained boarding school admissions. TPI service has gradually been introduced into the school admission system as a filter to screen Chinese applicants and complement the insufficient HR resources that the schools were confronted with. Those students who fail in TPI squander the school-conducted interview opportunity, which further undermines their school applications. The schools with high reputations among the Chinese families but limited ESL and HR resources use TPI most. Webb Schools in CA; Tabor Academy, Brooks School and Northfield Mt. Hermon in MA; and Saint James School in MD are examples.

The elite boarding schools, such as Exeter in NH; Andover, Middlesex, Deerfield in MA; and Lawrenceville in NJ do not use TPI to interview Chinese students apart from the other students, but some set up other benchmarks for the campus interview for international students. For example, Middlesex requires that nonnative applicants submit a TOEFL score of at least 105 before scheduling the campus tour and interview because it—like all the other elite boarding schools—does not offer ESL for nonnative students.

Schools with fewer international students or those that are interested in increasing their international population prefer to interview students by themselves because they see the direct interview as a tool to acquire a comprehensive understanding of students in addition to their written applications. Most of those schools offer a full range of ESL programs. Fountain Valley School in CO, Dublin School in NH, Dana Hall in MA, and Blue Ridge School in PA represent this cohort of schools.

College Level Interview

College admission is much more sophisticated than that of schools. Although many colleges are just now becoming familiar with TPI, a group of selective colleges stood out years ago to endorse this newborn service after suffering from a substantive number of forged materials. Rick Clark, DA of Georgia Tech, told the New York Times (Li 2016), “We have definitely found examples of discrepancies between documents and application materials, as well as instances in which applicants or agents have falsified materials. The interview helps to confirm a student’s English ability, as well as to really probe into both curriculum as well as extracurricular involvement and passions.” His words won wide recognition among the top US colleges. In my survey of 114 selective colleges, which is available in the Peer to Peer Section on the IECA website (, 100 colleges accept TPI delivered by InitialView or Vericant. Among the Ivies, Columbia, Cornell, and Yale are included. Currently, other selective colleges that favor TPI include Duke, Harvey Mudd, Middlebury, Northwestern, Pomona, Swarthmore, and Washington University in St. Louis. Although most TPI partner colleges are private, Georgia Tech, UVA, and UC Berkeley, flagship public universities, have already followed the trend to utilize TPI as a tool to identify their international applicants, especially the Chinese nationals.

Both Vericant and InitialView say that they can send the video interview to all schools or colleges, but it is not clear how that works at schools that do not partner with them. We also don’t know whether TPIs are reviewed properly even at the partner schools/colleges, especially the big universities that deal with thousands of international applications. IECs must verify those factors on behalf of clients.

Why Is TPI Important to IECs?

Increasing international students’ exposures to more colleges. Unlike schools that include an interview in the application process, few US colleges require an admission interview. Admission to the top colleges has become extremely competitive for international students, and TPI sheds additional light on those who use it. For example, Yan Xiaoliang, a Chinese student from Chengdu, talked about his interest in electric cars in his interview, which helped him get into Georgia Tech although his SAT scores were below the average. (View the interview at TPI also brings added value to international students who are applying to top private colleges, such as ND; Carnegie Mellon or NYU; or the big public universities, such as UVA, UC Berkeley, or Georgia Tech, because none of those colleges routinely offer admission interviews in their application process.

Advocating integrity in international student admissions. The fraudulent credentials that have been widely reported in the media have undermined the reputation of Chinese students. As a Beijing-based IEC working with Chinese students, I struggle from time to time with those adverse issues that might negatively impact my students’ applications. For example, I received a phone call in 2013 from a Chinese freshman at Georgetown who was not my client. He wanted to transfer because he had failed in the rigorous curriculum. I learned that his Chinese agent “helped” him get into Georgetown to meet his parents’ plea for getting him into any of the top 20 colleges ranked by USNWR. They did everything, including forging school transcripts, having substitutes sitting TOEFL and SAT for him many times at different locations, and writing essays.

He told me that the Georgetown experience was a disaster, and he tried to hide himself every minute from the campus life because he was unprepared academically and socially. He sought my help but asked me not to tell his parents because he did not want to let them down. That student eventually transferred to a community college with success. His experience is not merely an exception among the Chinese students that now constitute over one-third of the international student population in the United States.

My experience working with struggling Chinese students illustrates the importance of advocating holistic admissions among Chinese students. From this point of view, TPI is an effective supplement for schools and colleges to better read the international applicants with diverse backgrounds and decipher the overall readiness of the applicants. I encourage my students to see TPI as a trial of their student life in the United States, through which they must learn how to survive, stand out, and accomplish. I hope to generate more in-depth discussions in the IECA community about how to use this rising TPI service to help our international clients achieve not just their admissions expectations but also their life goals in a greater way.

Special thanks to my IECA colleagues Laura O’Brien Gatzionis and Patricia O’Keefe, Ryan Huang, Vericant, and Terry Crawford and Gloria Chyou, InitialView, who generously contributed to this article.

Vericant and InitialView Compared

Vericant: Vericant uses Spoken English Evaluation (SEE) for the high school application videos. SEE is originally based on the Common European Framework Reference for Language (CEFR), but it has developed to include categories and factors not considered in traditional language tests using five linguistic categories—range, accuracy, fluency, interaction, and coherence. SEE scores are marked by two experts behind the scenes without knowing the name of interviewee.

I asked many boarding school admissions offices about the SEE report because a few of my advisees did not get satisfactory scores, and almost all the schools told me they mainly look at the video interviews and writing samples rather than SEE scores. Vericant’s Huang confirmed that “schools are getting familiar with the standard of SEE,” so we will have to watch how use of the score evolves.

In addition, a unique Chinese dialogue section that allows students to answer one question in Chinese is included in the high school interview. The aim is to test the student’s confidence and personality in a comfortable mother tongue so that schools can see an authentic student without the pressure and nervousness of using a second language.

With Vericant students can watch and compare all their interviews before choosing which one to send to each school and highlight a section of the video that they want the admission officer to watch first. The college interview’s price ($199) includes delivery service (within three working days).

InitialView: The unscripted, unedited, and unscored interview, facilitating schools’ and colleges’ evaluation of the applicants without the third-party influence distinguishes InitialView, which has worked hard to develop probing questions raised adaptively by experienced interviewers. Those questions bring width, depth, and rigor to the interview, measuring not just interviewees’ English skills but also their personal experiences and personalities. InitialView hires former admission officers and counselors as interviewers, and each year brings an admission officer from the US to join its Beijing team as a fellow.

Students can review their interview video and redo it within 30 days if they are not satisfied. That policy applies to all levels (school/college/graduate); however, students may only provide schools with their most recent interview. A flat fee of $220 covers the delivery of the interview to an unlimited number of schools and colleges.


Li, Cao. 2016. “Chinese Students and U.S. Universities Connect Through a Third Party.” New York Times, January 19. https:

Additional Resources

Why Chinese Students Aren’t a Threat by Terry Crawford

How to Talk your Way into College

The US Selective Colleges That Accept TPI by Jack Cao

Jack Cao, DYO Consultants LLC, can be reached at [email protected].