I received another e-mail today that is a good continuation of the discussion that began as a result of my last post. Most of the respondents to that seem to be Chinese (as was the original e-mailer).
This student pointed out the high cost of taking the SAT and pursuing AP exams. They also noted that we may not know their schools very well. Also noted was that many applicants don't have the opportunities that students in the major cities have. Here is my response to that e-mail. I hope you find this helpful.
We are aware of the general educational system in China and have tried to look at the whole picture of all of the students that apply.
Oberlin does not expect to see AP scores from Chinese applicants. A few do have them, but I'm reasonably sure that none of the applicants that we have accepted in the last few years have had any.
We do require the SAT exam. While we have on VERY rare occasions admitted a student without one (including one Chinese applicant this year), we think that this is pretty important. Because we don't know every school in China, this is one way we have to help assure ourselves that excellent grades aren't an artifact of a weak school, but rather are the result of a bright young student. As a cost saver, you should know that most EducationUSA offices have SAT study guides that you can use. Their web address is http://www.educationusa.state.gov/
We do consider applications from students who have incredible international experiences and/or honors. However, we are just as likely to admit the student who has made a difference in his or her community or in his or her high school.
Oberlin has recognized that the interview process is a problem in China. The reality is that we have far more requests for interviews in China than we could ever fulfill. And the few alumni that we have in China are located in the largest cities. Precisely because of this, we have decided not to grant interviews to anyone in China. We believe that this creates the fairest situation for all applicants. Of course, it does mean that we don't always get to know every student as well as we would like to.
In the end, the admission process is always a subjective one. We do like to see applications from the key schools in the largest cities as we know that students who have done well there and who have excellent SAT scores are almost certain to do well at Oberlin. However, we also actively seek out interesting students from other schools and locations in China. We know that there is slightly more risk that they won't be able to survive in our intense academic environment, but we also know that they bring other things.
I do have to be honest about the competitiveness of the Chinese applicant pool. Oberlin received 250 applications from China last year. There is absolutely no possibility that we could admit all of the students who we know would thrive at Oberlin. In fact, to preserve diversity of nationalities, we admitted only about 15 Chinese students despite that fact that at least 100 would have done superbly here. We needed to be particularly selective when considering applicants with significant financial need as those applicants not only fill one of our limited number of spaces in the entering class, but also make it difficult to admit students from other parts of the world where there is also limited financial strength. There is no reason to think that this is going to change anytime soon. However, students should know that we have admitted Chinese students with significant financial need for as many years as I can recall.