More Chinese students are enrolled at American colleges than ever before, but US degrees that aren't from Harvard aren't widely valued at home, meaning connections are still what matter most.
It’s Saturday night, and Wei, a senior majoring in economics and math, is having pizza and French fries with his American roommates in the dining hall of a prestigious liberal arts college in New England. Soon they head out to watch football, then to a frat party.
By 2 a.m., Wei is back in his room, browsing corporate websites – Goldman Sachs, McKinsey & Co., Bain & Co. – to check out their recruitment process and job applications. He can’t sleep, because he’s worried about his future.
“I don’t think I can find a job in the United States easily because of my visa status and the competitive job market,” says Wei, who asks that his last name and school not be identified, as do the other students interviewed for this article. “But back in China, I have nowhere to go either. No one has ever heard of my college – it doesn’t even sound like a university. How can I even get an interview?”
Also, coming from a middle-class family, he doesn’t have the connections – or guanxi – that someone close to the Chinese Communist Party or from a prestigious Chinese university would have.
Wei’s friends both in China and the US envy him for his seemingly bright future, and to a certain extent his predicament sounds like the typical angst of a college senior faced with the imminent challenge of meeting his own, or his family’s, high expectations. But the challenges he faces are real, not least the lack of broad appreciation in China for the value of an education from an elite non-Chinese university that isn’t Harvard, Oxford, or Cambridge.
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