Apart from things like medicine, sericulture, and gunpowder that China is historically known for, education and philosophy have never been overshadowed aspects of the Eastern country. In this guide, we break down all the ins and outs of pursuing higher education in China.

With a significant cultural heritage and a diverse population, China easily makes it to the top countries international students should consider for higher education. Visiting the country would be a unique experience in and of itself, as it is a country that has a rising global presence with an environment that’s safe, vibrant, and comfortable to live in.

Academic programs in China are known for their unique approach to education, with standard curricula, affordable tuition, professional guidance, and consistent success in terms of employability. Education is relatively very affordable in China, and to make things better, the hundreds of scholarship programs offered are highly in favor of the students.

Read on as we explore your opportunities for a fulfilling academic journey in this beautiful eastern country.

How to Plan for Your Studies in China

The decision to study abroad requires a lot of thought and courage. Here is how you should plan your studies in China to avoid any hassle.

Education System in China

The Chinese education system comprises three divisions:

  • Basic Education: The level of basic education which constitutes preschool, elementary school, and regular secondary school could last anywhere between 10-12 years. Each academic year in this stage is divided into two semesters.
  • Higher Education: Higher education in the country begins at the undergraduate level. This includes undergraduate programs that could last three to four years, leading to master’s and Ph.D. programs. Three-year undergraduate programs are generally offered at “short-cycle colleges” and universities as well. Four-year programs, which do not necessarily lead to an undergraduate degree, are offered at four-year colleges.
  • Adult Education: Adult education could include all of the categories and is aimed at workers, peasants, cadres, and in-service teachers. These could last between two to three years and can adopt an undergraduate curriculum.

According to the latest government statistics, there were a total of 253177 international students across China enrolled at over 3,000 higher education institutions across the country in 2022. The COVID-19 pandemic had a major influence in the past few years causing the numbers to drop a little, however, statistics show that the country is recovering at a fast pace.

    • Total number of international students = 253177
    • Total number of universities = 3000+

Choosing a University in China

There are over 3000 higher education institutions across China, and picking one that fits you might be an overwhelming feat. While factors like the cost of living in China for students, campus location, languages used, and university rankings are some things you should be considering, one of the easier ways to narrow down the list would be to explore universities that are already hosting international students.

Your choice of university may also depend on the program you’ve chosen, and whether or not you are willing to pursue some units of the subject in languages other than English. On the topic of English-taught universities, Peking University, Zhejiang University, and Xiamen University are some of the top universities for international students that you should consider. More importantly, keep up-to-date with the latest university rankings of popular ranking agencies.

Choosing a Study Program in China

Picking the right study program for you isn’t something you should leave for later when considering flying abroad for higher education. Needless to say, your future goals, strengths, interests, academic history, and the country’s best offerings have a significant say in your choice. China is specifically known for its study programs in medicine, computer science, mathematics, and agronomy among other subjects.

As alluded to previously, China’s education system might seem novel to someone just exploring the prospect of studying in China. It is encouraged to educate yourself about the different levels of study and their respective durations in the Chinese education system before proceeding with applying for a program.

Here is the common pathway students are expected to go through when studying in China:

  • Bachelor’s Degrees – Offered at China’s short-cycle colleges and universities, the three to four-year bachelor’s program corresponds to the undergraduate level of study.
  • Master’s Degrees – Two to three years of higher studies typically after bachelor’s studies that lead to a postgraduate degree.
  • Doctoral Degrees– Three to four years of full-time postgraduate studies in China involving both coursework and a dissertation.

How to Finance Your Education in China

In this section, we explore the costs involved in studying in China and how to best deal with it.

Tuition fees in China

Tuition fees can depend on various factors including your level of study, choice of program, and the university. Typically, you would find that tuition is very affordable in China relative to other top study destinations for international students. Tuition fees at popular international universities like Peking University are relatively higher compared to the ones on the cheaper end like Wuhan University ($2,500/ year)

The average tuition per year of studies on all levels could vary between 11,480 Chinese Yuan and 331,885 Yuan according to Times Higher Education. This has largely got to do with the program, level of study, and the university. In general programs like engineering, sciences, and business cost more than other programs that are in the lower end of the above range.

Most bachelor’s programs offered at Chinese public universities charge between 17983.50 and 71,934 Yuan per academic year. Tuition at private institutions could be between 53,100 and 99,565 Yuan a year. Students who wish to pursue a US or UK degree at one of the private institutions in China could incur the same tuition or adjusted tuition to meet Chinese financial standards. On average, master’s degrees at these universities could cost somewhere around 89,610 Yuan.

Cost of Living in China

As an international student, apart from tuition fees, there are other costs you will have to bear. This includes accommodation, food, transport, entertainment, books, and insurance. While proof of funds might require you only to prove enough to manage tuition, it is safer to ensure you can deal with all related expenses during your stay in China.

Depending on the city you plan to live in, living expenses could range from 150 USD to 1,500 USD a month. A huge chunk of it is attributed to housing for international students in China which costs over 400 USD a month by itself. Accommodation costs can be minimized if you choose student residence halls, dormitories, or homestay as opposed to renting flats and other expensive options.

Once accommodation is sorted, food (USD 500/month), transportation (USD 20/ month), books, and school equipment (~USD 150/ month) are some other expenses that need to be dealt with. The Chinese government also makes it incumbent to pay health insurance for international students in China which costs less than a dollar a day ( USD 30/ month).

    • Accommodation – USD 150/month – USD 1,500/month
    • Food – USD 500/month
    • Transportation – USD 20/month
    • Books and other school-related expenses – USD 150/month
    • Miscellaneous expenses – USD 100/month

Financial Aid and Scholarships

When applying for universities abroad, you should never miss out on prospective scholarship opportunities. There are both merit-based and need-based scholarships and grants offered by local, international, and governmental organizations that students could benefit from to offset the cost of studying in China. These scholarships in China might even provide stipends to minimize other living costs.

If you come from an ASEAN nation, a popular yet competitive scholarship that you can apply for is the ASEAN-China Young Leaders Scholarship which is offered by the ASEAN-China Cooperation Fund. The scholarship covers school fees, accommodation, and insurance, and in addition, provides a stipend too for international students. The Confucius Institute Scholarship program for postgraduates is also a popular scholarship accepted by many universities.

The Chinese Scholarships Council is the Chinese government’s official wing of the Ministry of Education that aims to support international students during their studies. The MOFCOM Scholarship is one such program aimed at international students who wish to pursue a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in China. Scholarships that fund postgraduate studies are rare to come across, but it’s certainly possible to get full scholarships for any program.

Apart from these, you can also apply for scholarship programs organized by universities independently. The Tsinghua University Tuition Scholarship and the Peking University International Student Scholarships for graduate students are some such financial aid options for international students made available directly by the respective universities.

How to Apply to Chinese Universities

When applying to universities in China, the application procedures may vary across universities, but here’s the general flow of the application process international students could expect to go through when applying to a Chinese school.

Admission Requirements

The admission requirements of a university outline the minimum requirements a student needs to fulfill to follow a program at an institution. These comprise legal documents, academic qualifications, language certifications, and other age and individual-dependent requirements which are usually clearly detailed in the respective university website you are applying for.

Of the basic requirements that universities demand, generally, applicants for the bachelor’s programs are required to have graduated high school or equivalent with good grades and a strong academic background. The age cap for programs could vary from 23 to 35 years old depending on your desired program. For Master’s degrees, students are expected to have fulfilled the GPA requirements in their bachelor’s degree, and likewise for Ph.D. programs.

If the program you’ve chosen is delivered in the Chinese language, you will have to meet the Chinese language requirements the university sets for you. The Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi Chinese language proficiency test is a widely accepted language proficiency test that most universities expect students to take. For undergraduate studies, the required level at the HSK is usually 4-6 and for postgraduate studies, the required level is 5-8.

For English-taught programs, HSK is not a requirement and non-native students might be asked to submit TOEFL or IELTS results.

Required Documents

The required documents for a particular course or university would have to be submitted along with your application. These may include:

Application Deadlines

Now that you know the basic requirements and the documents needed for application you should start organizing your application and documents before the deadline.

It’s best to start the application process ahead of time to minimize issues related to web traffic since most university applications are filled out and submitted online. While most universities have closing dates that fall between June and August, application deadlines may fall at any time of the year depending on the choice of university and program. This is why it’s best to stay updated by following the relevant university and course page.

General Admission Steps

After deciding on the university and program you want to follow, it’s time to begin the application and admission process. Here are some general steps of the admission process most applicants will have to go through:

  1. Submit your application along with the required documents and the application fees.
  2. Await feedback from the university (Four to eight weeks usually).
  3. Participate in the online screening interview.
  4. Await pre-admission notice including information about the course (for successful applicants).
  5. Settle payments to the university and await the admission package
  6. Receive admission package (usually through post) and review.
  7. Apply for a student visa.

How to Obtain a Student Visa in China

Upon receiving the letter of acceptance from the university, you can begin your application process for a student visa. Study permits for international students in China are of two types: X1 and X2. The X1 student visa is for students planning to study for a longer period (generally over 180 days) which could include a bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. studies. The X2 visa allows students a maximum stay of 180 days, which can be extended on legitimate grounds a month before its expiration.

Both these visas allow a student to stay and travel throughout the country and require the following documents to apply for:

  • A valid passport
  • Recent passport-sized photographs
  • A completed application form
  • The admission letter from the university
  • Completed JW201 or JW202 form issued by the State Education Ministry of China
  • An itinerary detailing your expected date of arrival and departure
  • Expected accommodation details
  • A medical examination record (for X1
  • Bank statements to confirm that you can bear the cost of studying in China

Depending on the country you live in you will have to submit your documents at the respective Chinese Visa Application Service Center, the Chinese Embassy, or the Chinese Consulate. There will also be an application levy incurred when applying.

How to Prepare for Your Arrival in China

Before arriving and also as part of your visa requirements to study in China, you will have to organize your accommodation and source of funds, which would both be checked before being issued a visa. It might be a good idea to get in touch with anyone you know from China or the university you’ve been accepted to. This could help you in figuring out your way during the first few weeks.

Here are some things that you will have to look forward to when making the transition:

Preparing for a smooth transition

Needless to say, you wouldn’t want to make any mistakes when booking flights, readying travel documents, and packing essentials before the flight. It’s a good idea to have your itinerary already planned to the detail for a few days after your arrival as it can take some time to get used to shopping and moving around in the new environment.

Arranging transportation before arrival

Check if your university offers any pick-up services for international students from the airport or try exploring taxis and other transportation services online. DiDi is a popular app for hiring rides which you might find useful even during your stay in the country.

Look up and download applications you will need

Since some popular mobile apps are blocked in China even with the use of a VPN service, it might be a good idea to explore other alternative options. Ensure that your family back home is informed of ways to contact you and vice versa.

Cultural Differences to Expect in China

If you hail from a Western country, it could take a while before you get used to the cultural differences in China. Here are some aspects of the Chinese culture and diversity you’ll have to look forward to:

  • Language: Other than the obvious fact that Mandarin Chinese is the most common language in the country, one thing you will have to look out for is the differences in expression. While we are accustomed to more straightforward expressions when communicating, the Chinese prefer much softer and subtler expressions and politeness.
  • Food: Chinese cuisine is widespread and loved across the world. During your stay in the country, make sure you try their different dishes which include noodles, rice, tofu, and soups.
  • Cultural Festivities: From Chinese outfits to architecture, Chinese culture is fully on display during festivities throughout the Chinese year. The Chinese New Year, Qingming Festival, and the Winter Solstice are some events to look forward to.

Tips on Adjusting to Life in China

  1. Make friends with the locals and international students in China
  2. Explore and take part in Chinese festivals and cultural events.
  3. Ensure you are up-to-date with the most convenient apps to get in touch with your family back home
  4. Spend wisely.
  5. Always explore new areas with a guide or a friend who knows the surroundings

How to Study and Live in China

Studying in China is undoubtedly a wonderful opportunity for you. It’s one of the best countries in Asia and the East to host international students. However, if you hail from a European nation or a Western country, it might take a while to adjust to the new environment. Here are some challenges you might face during your transition:

Challenge 1: Language barrier

Mandarin Chinese is the most spoken language in China which is why everything from TV commercials to billboards are entirely in Chinese. Mandarin might be a bit daunting to learn, however, you must have a conversational level of proficiency in the language to communicate with the people. Only less than a percent of the Chinese speak proficient English, which can be a noticeable challenge for international students trying to settle in.

Challenge 2: Getting used to the online ecosystem

The Chinese government takes censorship and surveillance across the internet seriously, and therefore, has implemented strict rules on usage. Most of the mainstream social media platforms are banned in the country. You will have to make use of other alternatives like Weibo, WeChat, and Zhihu. These platforms are not necessarily widely known elsewhere in the world, which is why it might be a challenge to keep up with friends and family.

Challenge 3: Living away from home

Homesickness is a challenge most international students complain about regardless of where they’ve chosen to study. We encourage you to make friends and familiarize yourself with the friendly locals in your city to ensure that you feel at home in the country. The Chinese can be very polite and sociable people which is why we think it wouldn’t be a challenge to fit in in the Chinese society.

Can You Work in China After Graduation?

Even though working while studying is not allowed for international students, students