It's a pretty normal experience for many people to attend college and to choose their major. However, some people in China cannot choose their major. I have met a few young Chinese who have said they cannot choose or change their major. The first was in Shanghai a few years ago. And then again here at the hostel in San Francisco.

Like in other countries students have to take a national entrance exam to get into college. Those with the highest scores may be chosen to go to a certain school. And according to one young Chinese man the "geniuses" will go to the best universities to study biology.

Some of the wealthiest Chinese will go to America to study where they will have freedom to choose their major. They may have more freedom, but many will still get pressure from their parents to study a certain subject. In some US universities Chinese may seem like they make up a large number of the foreign student population, but they are only a tiny percentage of all the students in China.

Like the USA the score you get on your entrance exam (SAT in the US) will determine what school you get into. Unlike the USA that score will also determine your major. One student said she didn't like what she studied. I said why not change your major and then she said that she couldn't. Her test score said she should study law.

National College Entrance Examination

So like other countries students take an exam that will give them a score that may determine what kinds of colleges they are eligible for. There is a form with an option that says something like "if you get accepted to our school and you can't get the major that you would like would you like to take another major?"

After the universities gather all the students scores and paperwork they will decide which school the student will go to and their major.

Here's an example (paraphrased) from a Chinese friend:

"If my score is 550 and the minimum requirement to get into the best school is 540 that would mean that I can get in. My choices for majors are A, B, C, D, and E. However, A is very popular and many students want to go there, but they can only have 5 students from my province for this year. So my score is not high enough for that major. The same thing happens in B, C, D, and E as well, but I have to get a major, right? So here comes major F, G and H which are the unpopular ones and they will have a lower grade requirement.

The school will arrange which major you should take according to your score in different subjects. Like if I get a high score in math then I’m more likely to get a math major and if I get a higher score in English I might be accepted to the English Literature program. And that’s why I’m studying law."

On one hand it seems like not allowing a student to choose or change their major is rather suppressive. It's like the system is training them all or at least some of them to be automatons and robots. On the other hand a test that judges students' strengths sounds like a good one. I still don't completely understand this system. But as my friend Yixue said "It's China."

Learn more about teaching English in China.