NYU: A View into the American University Admission Philosophy and Its Influence on NYU Shanghai

Dec 13 2012

In recent years, an increasing number of Chinese students have applied for admission to foreign universities, exposing these students to a different type of admissions process than the familiar Gaokao system.  The key difference between Chinese and foreign universities in the admission process is, of course, students are not selected based solely on a test result, but on an evaluation of the student’s overall development through his or her high school years.
In less than one year, NYU Shanghai will open its doors to students.  A partnership between New York University (NYU), the largest independent research university in the United States and East China Normal University), NYU Shanghai will be the first university in China authorized to award a degree from a foreign university, as well as a Chinese degree recognized by the Ministry of Education.  In that sense, NYU will be the first American university authorized by the Ministry of Education to award degrees in China.  This will be an exciting time for higher education in both China and America. 

To that end, while construction is underway for NYU Shanghai’s campus in Pudong, admission outreach officers are canvassing the globe, searching for the best and brightest young people for admission to NYU Shanghai’s inaugural class in September 2013 (just less than half of the student body will be international).  With initial enrollment at roughly 200 to 300 students, these students will all have the opportunity to take advantage of NYU’s global network of campuses in New York, Abu Dhabi, and eleven Study Away Sites.  What further distinguishes NYU Shanghai, however, is how students will be recruited and selected for admission.  

NYU Shanghai will provide an education that combines the best of higher-education traditions from the US and China.  Our curriculum, student body and faculty are deliberately international in outlook and composition.  Our students will be ambassadors to the world as exemplars of open-mindedness and innovative thinkers.  With their exposure to different strands of thought and cultures, they can bridge communication gaps.  Similarly, NYU Shanghai’s admissions process hopes to bridge and join the best of admissions practices from the US and China.

Transcripts, Test Scores, and Beyond:  Best Fit

Universities in the US place extraordinary emphasis on high school academic performance and analyze each student’s courses and grades received in the last 3-4 years. Attention is paid to a student’s academic success in more traditional subjects including math, the physical sciences, the social sciences, the humanities, and languages (including English).

Admissions officers also look, of course, at teacher recommendations, standardized test scores, essays, and extracurricular activities. In that sense, admissions offices are looking beyond academic excellence for students who are the “best fit” for the university.  Every university has a specific culture and type of student who thrives in their learning environment.  It is the job of the admissions officers to find those students.  These other submission materials such as essays, letters of recommendation, and interviews are useful tools for identifying whether students would bring interesting perspectives to the classroom and if they are the right student for the university.  Interviews are a tool that the admissions team uses to not only evaluate student credentials, but to also gauge a student’s character. 

In consideration of and respect for China’s unique education environment, the admission selection process for NYU Shanghai goes beyond traditional US practices and instead represents a new model in higher education anywhere, and certainly unprecedented in China. Applicants will be rigorously evaluated not only on the basis of national entrance examinations like the all-important Gaokao for Chinese students, but through a holistic analysis of multiple quantitative and qualitative variables. Similar to the US admission process for NYU, both Chinese and international students are required to submit essays and recommendations, and complete the Common Application, the application universities in the U.S. utilize to capture qualitative information about each applicant.  In addition, all students for NYU Shanghai will be interviewed for admission. Students’ overall competencies are then carefully examined during a Candidates Weekend, a unique program tailored toward discerning student fit with NYU Shanghai.

Through the holistic evaluation of the credentials above, NYU Shanghai will attempt to identify not just the strongest students by traditionally-defined and respected measures such as the Gaokao, but will be offering Chinese students a new hybrid model for admission to elite universities.  This hybrid model will allow NYU Shanghai to identify the right students amongst the world’s most talented applicant pool and most importantly, discern the Best Fit for NYU Shanghai.

Drawing on the Experience of NYU Abu Dhabi

As the second degree-granting campus in NYU’s global network and the first outside of the US, NYU Abu Dhabi’s success in attracting the brightest students from around the globe provides a solid foundation for NYU Shanghai’s admissions process. A key objective of the admissions process across the three degree-granting campuses is to identify students with the ability to translate their academic excellence into all facets of life.  In order to discern this ability, NYU Abu Dhabi designed a unique Candidate Weekend, where top applicants for admission are invited to the campus in Abu Dhabi for a two-day session.

During the weekend, students introduce themselves to their peers and members of the university community, learn about NYU Abu Dhabi, and for those attending from outside of Abu Dhabi, the city itself.  In smaller groups, they participate in various activities, such as solving puzzles together and attending sample lectures. Students engage in conversations with faculty members and university leadership as well as complete a reflective writing assignment. The various activities that comprise the weekend not only allow NYU Abu Dhabi to further evaluate in-person an applicant’s suitability, but also give top contenders for admission with an invaluable first-hand opportunity to evaluate whether NYU Abu Dhabi is right for them.

What is NYU Shanghai looking for?

As mentioned above, an outstanding transcript is necessary, but does not guarantee a place in NYU Shanghai; the overall capabilities of a student will also be evaluated.

First, our students must all be able to communicate in and out of the classroom.  We will require all students to have a strong grasp of English – listening, speaking, writing and reading.  Our classes will be conducted in English.  By the time the students graduate, they should be fluent in English.

With regard to individual characteristics, the ideal NYU Shanghai student will possess a willingness to open him/herself to new experiences, a sense of intellectual adventure, and a desire to push him/herself by learning to listen and ask questions.   At his/her core, the NYU Shanghai student possesses a deep sense of curiosity (whether as an innovator or a problem solver), a sense of civic responsibility, and empathy.  In short, we are looking for tomorrow’s inventors, entrepreneurs, scholars, and leaders.

Financial Aid

Inspired by the plan the Ministry of Education released in April to increase enrollment for disadvantaged students, NYU Shanghai, like many other universities, is committed to providing equal opportunities to all talented students.  It is NYU Shanghai’s principle as well as core value to ensure that students’ educations are not limited by their financial hardship.

Shawn L. Abbott is the Assistant Vice President for Admissions at New York University in the United States.  Before coming to NYU, he was the Director of Admission at Stanford University in California from 2006-2010. He previously served on the admissions committees at Columbia University in New York and Boston University.  He holds a doctor of education degree from Columbia, where he studied the architectural, economic, and social impact of urban colleges and universities in America.

R. May Lee is the Vice Chancellor, Strategic Planning - Asia for NYU, and Deputy Vice Chancellor for NYU Shanghai. She is a key partner in developing the University’s growing portfolio in Asia and in particular, spearheading the effort to develop NYU Shanghai.  One of her primary responsibilities is to head the admissions effort for the inaugural class of NYU Shanghai.