A record number of Chinese students are expected to study abroad this year, as more and more apply for visas to attend universities in the United States, Europe and Australia. Many students say they want an overseas degree to help them compete in China's tough job market. Jennifer Pak reports from Beijing.
Not long ago, people are jammed into the Beijing office of New Oriental, a company that helps students apply to study abroad.
Liu Hui is among the many hopefuls. She wants to get a master's degree in the United States.
"As a child I grew up in a village, not in the city. People in my village might not even know what ice cream is, but they know that New York is in the U.S. That is to say, the average Chinese has a deep impression of America," she said.
The U.S. government issued a record number of student visas in China last year - just over 53,000 student visas. That is 43 percent more than the previous year.
Officials at the U.S. embassy say the increased number of visas issued is the result of the increased number of applications and not a change in policy or any easing of regulations.
Other countries, such as Australia, have started scholarship programs to attract more Chinese students. And British diplomats say schools in their country try to attract top students from China and other countries. The British embassy says more than 20,000 new Chinese students have visas to study in Britain.
In China students face stressful university entrance exams and a fiercely competitive job market. China's Ministry of Education says one million new college graduates had not found jobs by the end of last year.
That is why third-year university student Yanchang is determined to get a competitive edge by obtaining a master's degree in Ireland.
"Students with bachelor's degrees these days are like tree leaves on the street. It's everywhere. I don't care if I do well or not I just want a degree," said Yanchang.
Lu Wei advises students who want to study in the U.S. She says people who in the past could not study there, are now granted visas.
"In the past, people who didn't have strong English skills could not go for a bachelor's degree in the U.S. But they're trying to adapt to the Chinese market because TOEFL [Test of English as a Foreign Languange] exams are hard," said Lu. "Now, many universities are allowing students to upgrade their English skills while doing their bachelor degrees, or other programs. We certainly feel that Chinese students have an easier time applying for American universities or high schools. Of course these are mainly average universities. If you're talking about top universities, the competition is still fierce."
Lu says that some students, whose applications for U.S. visas were rejected before, are reapplying in hope of getting approval the second time around.
But Xie Qing says she is not sure she is ready to do it all over again. Her U.S. visa application was rejected in 2004, even though she had a scholarship to Boston University.
Xie says people who want to study abroad begin preparing four years in advance, signing up for English tests and classes on how to answer questions from visa officers. Xie says a student can easily spend close to seven thousand dollars, just for a chance to go abroad.
"It's a very long preparation process. If you keep thinking that your visa will be approved the first time, there are a lot of people who would be very upset. It's a feeling of total loss, not quite sure what they should do," said Xie.
Student Liu Hui realizes that going overseas to study is no sure thing.
"It all boils down to how lucky you are, and you have to see what kind of mood the visa officer is in. They say that 99 percent is about how much effort you put in, and one percent is luck. But for me, I think 99 percent is luck, and one percent is your hard work," added Liu.
Liu says she hopes she is lucky enough to join an estimated 200,000 Chinese studying abroad this year.