Ms. Peng (Parent of Boarding School and University Applicant), Shenzhen, China

Enrolled School (Entry Year & Grade):
The Webb School in TN, US (2012 Fall G10 entry)

Enrolled University (Entry Year & Major):
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, US (2015 Fall Entry)

"According to what I've seen, Foundation has a dedicated and professional team. Due to the fact most of the team of counselors and teachers studied and lived in the US, they are able to help Jason because they are all familiar with the application procedures. Whenever we had problems, they gave concrete, workable recommendations and we knew that we were in safe hands.

With Foundation’s help, our family made it to the US and did 12 campus visits in January, 2012. Finally we were enrolled in a boarding school in Tennessee for 3 years (G10, G11, G12) after schools’ interviews and our screening. Jason graduated in May 2015, and is now ready to step into Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo, and explore the beauty of architecture. We signed another contract with Foundation for Jason’s university application, because our last experience with Foundation was such a pleasure, and we know that Foundation is professional and has years of successful experiences. This includes course selection recommendations and communication services with the school. I will elaborate Jason’s 3-year high school life and his university application process below.

2. US senior boarding school application

We renewed our contract with Foundation in August, 2012. I will withhold the contract details here. It is true that Hong Kong people are very careful and attend to detail when it comes to contract items. They listed everything in detail regarding service content and extra charges in the contract with clear explanations.

This only covers the consultancy fee. All the following application fees, registration fees, sending TOEFL and SAT score report fees, test registration fees, and all other fees need to be paid separately, but Foundation did not charge any service fee from this, which means they were just helping us to do the trivial work. They noted with details of every fee they charged according to the contract, and sent confirmation receipt of every purchase to us through email for future reference. It is extremely convenient and considerate, and enables me to locate every spending till now.

When speaking of consulting service fees, I personally believes that Foundation’s work deserves the amount they charge. Most of their education consultants graduated from overseas universities, and they are much more professional, passionate, patient, and nice. They are more dedicated as well, especially when communicate with American school teachers, despite the time difference. As far as I know, there is no set quoted price for education consulting in Mainland China, ranging from 30000 to 100000. I don’t like to bargain, or try to find all kinds of reasons for refund. As a result, I feel it’s more like a fraud, and I’m paying them money but they are not doing their job. On the contrary, Foundation lists out all service areas and contents in the very beginning in the contract, so there is no such thing as “additional service fees” after signing the contract. Their professional ethics and integrity set a very good impression to me. As a parent, I realized how messed up the education consultancy market is after talking with so many families, and learned so much about test prep prices and consulting service fees. Just take the Shenzhen agency we signed as an example. They charged us 30000, but charge another family 20000 whose child has a better academic background. Whilst they charge another Ningbo family 100000. What made us mad was most of the work was done by our children after charging us so much money. Let’s look at Foundation’s service. Their consulting service fees already include 1 hour essay coaching session, and additional coaching can be added if family decides to do so after discussion within the family and with the counselor, given that most hardworking children do not need those additional sessions.

3. US boarding school life

After we got the student visa, Foundation gave us a lot of recommendations for course selection in the first semester. Foundation did all the work in terms of communication with school via email, and would forward all the emails to us. So as a result, we were not very familiar with the school, and didn’t build a close relationship with school. We only knew Jason’s grades after school sent his official transcripts via email. We registered campus network the second semester, so we were able to access all information related to Jason’s courses, assignments, academic plans, test scores, and activities through mobile app. And this was when we could really monitor Jason’s conditions. Our counselor from Hong Kong also frequently checked in with how Jason was doing regarding his attendance, grades, and school activities. They would initiate phone conversation or Skype meeting with Jason or school staff when they spotted Jason was absent for a class or there was a decrease in his grades. This was particularly helpful because we as parents could not communicate with the school that well in English.

There was one accident between Jason and a black student one time. The black student poured industry glue all over Jason’s new laptop. But the communication between Jason and the school did not went very well, leading to a result that we didn’t get the compensation we should have gotten. It was Foundation who represent us and negotiate with the school, and helped school to realize that this is a serious matter. In the end, we received the compensation, and Jason learned a lesson that he needs to stand up and make his voice to protect his rights.

To apply universities in the States, a student must provide the transcripts from the 9th grade through 12th grade. Jason completed his third year in middle school and first year in high school in China, which is the 9th grade and 10th grade in the States, so we need to go back and provide those transcripts. And the US boarding school is very cooperative. There is one good thing about attending a private boarding school that American universities tend to believe and like to see candidates’ transcripts provided by American high schools better. So it’s ok if an international student does not achieve a very good score for the first year here (better not to have any Ds), as long as the international student keeps making progress, and university admission committee can see that from the transcripts, because that demonstrates the student is always trying to do better and has that potential.

Our counselor at Foundation has always been helping Jason with course selection, and has been emphasizing the importance of considering majors and future career path after college since 11th grade. Jason was not sure whether to choose finance or engineering as his college major, so we selected AP courses according to a big direction in sciences. Jason also needs to arrange his 11th grade and 12th grade courses according to his 4-year obligatory courses in high school. It was difficult for us to complete both high school courses and college level AP courses. Our experienced counselor from Foundation helped us select AP courses such as math, physics, chemistry, biology, and American history for 11th grade, and helped us plan AP course selection for 12th grade as soon as Jason decides to pursue architecture for his college major, such as American history, AP environmental sciences, AP physics, etc. It only costs $70 to select an AP course in the US, which is much cheaper than China. So it’s really beneficial if it’s possible to decide a college major, so that family can better plan AP course selection and complete more AP courses in high school to save time when step into college. But unfortunately, his college requires a score of 5 in AP courses to redeem a college credit, and Jason didn’t get any 5s in high school. We could only use those AP courses as a preview of college curriculum.

4. Prepare for TOEFL and SAT

We suggest families to go back to China for TOEFL and SAT test preparation, even if studying in US boarding schools. Generally speaking, the test scores trained by Chinese test prep organizations are very good. TOEFL was not a problem for Jason, since he has went through several TOEFL test prep when applying for boarding schools, plus two years experience of studying in the US. Jason had 10 sessions of one-on-one TOEFL training for his weakness in Listening and Writing, and completed several sample tests at other test prep schools. I was hoping he could get 110 or above, but sadly, he was not hard working enough, and only got 100. We could not arrange any more time for preparation and take more tests, so that was it.

As for SAT preparation and test registration, I suggest families to do it as early as possible. SAT is a lot different from TOEFL test, which is language test. SAT is the standard entrance test for American university admissions, and requires certain foundation of English reading abilities. There are usually many difficult vocabularies and phrases in the test, so it’s difficult even for US domestic students. Jason started university application in October 2014, and submitted all applications by January 15, 2015. We started making plans and prepare for SAT test in 2013 summer. Vocabulary and reading were our focus during the SAT training in 2013 summer, which last for 40 sessions. We went back to China again for another SAT training in 2014 summer. This time we were focusing on sample tests. There are only three times in the second half of year, which are in October, November, and December. The December test will be a little too tight for US university applications, since you have to mail out all application materials including score reports and transcripts in late October if you want to include some ED (Early Decision) universities. Most of my friends’ children hit 2000 and above in SAT for the second or third time of test, so we registered both October and November SATs as well. It’s even harder to register SAT test than TOEFL, because there is no SAT test centers in Mainland China. You have to go to Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore, or any other cities outside of China to register and take the test. We were lucky that we were studying in the US at that time, so we did experience that tough time flying around preparing for the test and taking the test. Those who experienced all this know what I’m saying.

5. US university application

Foundation recommended us early enough (when Jason was still in high school) to participate in volunteer activities, especially those long-term international volunteers to another country. It’s more like a chance to travel and do volunteer work at the same time.

It took us around 10 days, but quite expensive. Families should take financial expenses into consideration. This can be demanding since living in a total strange country with a bunch of strangers doing volunteer work is not an easy job for a child, but it’s definitely beneficial. A lot of families whose children are strong in English regretted that they spent the large amount of money at agencies and they didn’t help that much. Because the agencies in Mainland China don’t really do too much regarding test prep and preparing application materials. Children write their own essays after all.

Personally speaking, I believe 7-8 universities would be enough. You have to consider overall ranking, rankings for different majors, college type (public/private), liberal arts colleges, geographic locations, climates, etc. You have to read through a lot of information and that can be time consuming. Some families apply to over 20 universities at a time."