The Scholastic Aptitude Test is a rite of passage not only in the U.S. but in any part of the world where students aspire to enroll in American colleges. That includes over 40,000 main-land Chinese high schoolers who trek all the way to Hong Kong in order to take the exam in an auditorium large enough to accommodate some of the biggest entertainment names on the globe.
The SAT is not offered on mainland China, so students who wish to have a shot at an American-based higher education must travel to the former British colony in order to take the exam. Since the region is considered semi-autonomous, it has a mainly independent political and education system, therefore it doesn’t follow the dictates set down by the Chinese government such as in the matter of the SAT.
This year’s exam is scheduled for May 4th, and organizing trips to the exams for teenagers throughout China has become a lucrative business.
China’s largest private education company, New Oriental Education – which has almost 18,000 teachers in 50 cities across China – is the largest operator of ‘SAT exam groups’, organising trips to Hong Kong and to Singapore. It charges each student US$800-US$1,300 for a three- to five-day journey to either city.
On average, students will attempt the test 3 times before they are satisfied with the score they receive. The cost of actually taking the exam comes on top of the thousands many parents would have already spent on getting their kids ready, as many families pay for private or group tutoring and teaching in order to give their kids the best possible chance at a U.S. university education.
As expensive as that seems, education abroad could prove to be a cheaper and more attainable alternative as colleges and universities in China are notoriously competitive and students from lower-income families are routinely locked out due to the unaffordability of the required training to pass the entrance exam.
New Oriental organised its first SAT exam trip to Hong Kong for a dozen students from Shanghai in 2003. The company, listed on the New York Stock Exchange since 2006, now sends thousands of students from all over China to the former British colony every year. While student numbers are stagnating in China’s own saturated hubs of Beijing and Shanghai, the company said it expected its revenue to grow by over 40% in China’s second- and third-tier cities, according to a stock exchange filing in January. In the quarter that ended on 28 February, its revenue will have grown by a third compared to the previous year.