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2021-06-21 09:20:40

With the results for China’s college-entrance exams, or the gaokao, scheduled for release later this week, parents are turning to businesses to help find suitable higher education institutions for their children as well as aid with the application process.

Demand for agencies that provide higher education-related services is particularly high in seven provinces and the Chongqing municipality, which implemented gaokao reforms for the first time this year, according to state-run Xinhua News Agency. Under the new reforms, students can submit between 40 and 112 applications, significantly more than what had been available to them before.

While the increase in the number of universities that students can apply to has given them more alternatives, it has also created confusion over which institution may be the most appropriate choice. This has allowed education agencies to step in, helping to match a student’s final scores with suitable colleges — for a fee.

“One-on-one consultations provided by our experienced gaokao planners would cost you 2,980 yuan ($460),” said a customer service representative at an online-only, Beijing-based agency that specializes in application services. “This is particularly useful for average-performing students who have the largest range of choices. We’ll make sure they get admitted.”

Many businesses that advertise consulting services have also set up shops on e-commerce platforms such as Taobao, indicating their growing popularity. The price of each agencies’ services often depends on the student’s location rather than their gaokao score as that it is usually settled before release of the results.

“Our tailor-made services range from a bit over 2,000 yuan to around 5,000 yuan,” said a customer service representative from another agency. “Our pricing is based on a prediction of how difficult it will be to fill out the application.”

For Chinese high school students, while gaokao results are a crucial step in securing a place at elite academic institutions, the application process for those schools is a test for both parents and their children. Parents are then willing to seek help from agencies and spend extra to secure what they hope will be the best future for their children.

“It’s worth it if the several-thousand-yuan consultation fee can help my child get into the right university,” Yan Luna, a mother in the northern Hebei province who is considering consulting an agency for her child, told Sixth Tone.

However, the popularity of such businesses has led to a boon in agencies profiting from parents and students, as well as related scams. For instance, some agencies fabricate admission quotas to specific schools or fake admission information, tricking unwitting parents into paying tuition fees into false bank accounts.

Last week, China’s top education authority warned families to stay vigilant against potential scams. The education ministry said that no higher education institutions have collaborated with third-party agencies to offer admissions guidance, urging students and parents to seek information only from authoritative sources.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Students after finishing their college-entrance exams at a school in Beijing, June 10, 2021. People Visual)