China’s Test Prep Juggernaut

Test preparation company New Oriental Education is helping a rising generation of Chinese students to ace U.S. college entrance exams

On a Sunday afternoon in March, Morgan Meng, a broad-shouldered, mustachioed high school senior from Jinan in eastern China, wanders through an exhibit hall in Beijing, browsing tables stacked with brochures showing leafy campuses and smiling, multi-ethnic faces. Elsewhere at the “Colleges that Change Lives” fair, hundreds of Chinese parents and students overflow conference rooms where admissions representatives from the likes of Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., are promising small classes, mild winters, and Asian cuisine. For hundreds of American institutions, from obscure colleges to prominent universities, Chinese students, who typically pay full international tuition, have become highly desirable.

Meng has been admitted to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he plans to major in history. He’s one of tens of thousands of Chinese undergraduates expected to attend stateside schools next year. Prosperous Chinese families see an American education as a sign of status that can help their children find jobs once they return home. In conversation, Meng responds to questions about his readiness for studying in America by saying, “Let me think.” Then he waits for an interpreter to explain in Chinese. “I have the concern about English,” he says haltingly. “I may read the textbook smoothly. I can’t always catch up with the professor. Their speaking speed may be faster. There may be some”