Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tips for Studying in China

While the thought of studying in China may seem intimidating at first, it is actually not a hard thing to do. The costs are low (both in terms of fees and cost of living) and there are few barriers to entry for foreigners into most courses. The two main factors which make it hard to study in China are the relatively small number of people who go to China, and the fact that those interested may not be aware of where to search for information on Chinese schools. 

Chinese Language Courses

Chinese language courses in China can be divided into two main kinds: those through private language schools, and those through universities. Private language schools usually have smaller class sizes and are more flexible with starting dates, however they are more expensive than universities and are of more variable quality. That said, class sizes in universities are not large – usually 15-20 students. The price for university language courses is also cheaper than at private language schools, and the quality is much more strictly controlled.

Prices for university language courses are usually 18,000-21,000RMB for a 20 hours/week course, with private language schools costing about twice that. The two most highly regarded universities for Chinese language studies are Beijing International StudiesUniversity and Shanghai International Studies University, though most other major universities also have Chinese language courses. Those who I’ve spoken to who have studied Chinese at Tongji University have spoken very fondly of their memories there.

Universities usually require candidates be a high school graduate under 65, but have no under requirements. There’s no requirement for previous Chinese ability when entering a Chinese language course in China. Courses start from beginners’ level, with classes being divided into “beginner”, “intermediate” and “advanced” levels. Students who have studied Chinese previously take a placement test before beginning the course in order to determine which class they enter into.

Chinese University Study

Entry requirements for Chinese universities vary by university and by course. All universities require that people gain a certain level on the HSK (The standard Chinese Proficiency Test) – usually level 4-5 for science and engineering courses and 6-7 for humanities subjects. These are, of course, merely minimum requirements, and I would highly recommend that anyone wishing to study in China exceed these levels before they actually enter the university. I entered my university with HSK level 6, a full two levels higher than what was required, and found some subjects (especially chemistry) to be challenging. I have a friend who entered the university with only the minimum requirements, and he seemed to find many subjects nearly impossible. Some of this difficulty may have been to do with the fact that most Chinese language courses do not touch on technical and scientific vocabulary

General academic performance is where universities have the greatest differences in requirements. My university, for example, has no requirements save for a high school diploma, however it also has a very high drop out rate amongst foreign students. Other universities require foreign students to take the Chinese university entrance examinations, though with set requirements rather than being graded against other applicants, as are Chinese students. Tongji University does not have a test, but does, however, require a letter of recommendation from two teachers.

Fees for university courses are usually about 23,000-26,000RMB for undergraduate courses, depending on major, with Masters and Doctoral courses costing slightly more

There is also an age requirement for courses. Tsinghua University requires that undergraduate students be under 25 when they apply, while other universities allow older students.

The top three ranked universities in China are Tsingha University, Peking University (both in Beijing) and Zhejiang University in Hangzhou. Tsinghua and Zhejiang Universities are both general universities, with an emphasis on Engineering, while Peking University focusses more on pure sciences and humanities. Zhejiang University has actually recently overtaken the more famous Tsinghua as the top-ranked university in China, though the best university to study at varies by major. A list of Chinese University rankings, both overall and grouped by major, can be found here

Student Visas

Student visas are quite easy to apply for. After being accepted by the university, the university will supply you with an admission letter and a JW202 form, with which you can apply for an X class visa. X-class visa’s are single entry visas with 30 days validity after entry to China. After entry into China, you are required to register at the university and undertake a physical examination before applying for a residency permit. Residency permits last for one year, or until the completion of your studies. Residency permits can me extended without any further need to undergo a physical examination, so long as the previous residency permit has not expired

If you only wish to study in China for a single semester, things are much simpler – students studying for less than six months need only apply for a 6 month tourist visa.


Bank accounts are easy to apply for in China. All that is required is your passport, with a passport, and a 10RMB deposit for opening an account. You are required to write down your address, but no proof of address is required.

Unlike countries like Japan, most ATMs in China accept foreign bank cards and credit cards, making it simple to with draw money from an account in your own country. Some ATMs do require a six digit PIN, however I have heard that if your PIN is shorter than 6 digits, you can make it up to six digits by putting 0s in front of your pin as required, though I have not tested this out first hand.


Universities all have dormitories, with foreign students having a choice between one and two person rooms (depending on availability). Living off campus is often cheaper (or at least not that much more expensive for foreign students), however I would advise living on-campus for your first semester, at least, especially when studying an undergraduate degree. A large amount of the socialising on Chinese university campuses is done through the dorms, rather than through common areas on campus.


The cost of living in China is very low. For those who are willing to live simply, 1500RMB per month on top of rent is a sustainable budget (though less sustainable in Shanghai than other cities), although I would recommend something more like 2000-2500RMB per month on top of rent in order to take into account incidental expenses. Aside from this, living on-campus means that you have the foreign students who surround you as a valuable resource to go to when you need help navigating your degree. 

If you have any more questions about studying in China, feel free to ask me!

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