13-17yrs, commentary, Education, global citizenship

Peking : “Harvard of China” or “Beida of U.S.”?


imagesHigh school seniors in every country around the world need to think about their futures. Some of them want to work after high school, while others prefer to pursue further education. Those who want to pursue higher education cannot avoid asking themselves a question: “Which college should I go to?” Obviously, different students aim to study at different colleges. Thus, excellent students always look to the best universities in their countries. For example, top high school students in the U.S. consider Harvard University, while the most intelligent students in China dream of Peking University, or “Beida” as it is called colloquially. Because China has become as influential as the U.S. in the world, many people believe that the best Chinese university is comparable to the best American university. This belief is only partially true. Although Peking University and Harvard University share some similarities, they differ in terms of admissions processes, teaching methods, and campus culture.

Peking University and Harvard University have similar academic reputations and admissions requirements. Both universities maintain excellent academic reputations. As the most prestigious university in China, Peking University places significant emphasis on academics. The university faculty is composed of 58 members in the Chinese Academy of Sciences, 7 members in the Chinese Academy of Engineering, and 15 members in the Third World Academy of Sciences. Almost 100% of its faculty members have obtained doctorates. Peking University also has the largest university library in Asia. Similarly, Harvard University, one of the best universities in U.S., has the best scholars in the nation, including Nobel Laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, and National Book Award winners. Harvard also has the largest university library system in the nation. In addition, both universities are extremely selective. Each year, Peking University only accepts around 3000 students out of more than 10 million students who take the National College Entrance Examination. Likewise, Harvard University only accepts about 6% of its applicants each year.

harvard_shield_wreath-1Despite the similarities between these two universities, Peking University and Harvard University differ from each other in the admissions process. Admission to Peking University solely depends on students’ scores in the Gaokao, which is the Chinese National College Entrance Examination. They only accept students whose scores are among the top 100 in a province. For example, in 2010, Peking University accepted 37 students out of 615 thousand high school students in Guangdong Province. All 37 students’ scores in the 2010 Gaokao were among the top 50 scores in the province. However, Harvard’s admissions process is more complicated and comprehensive. The factors that influence the chance of admission include standardized test scores, high school grades, high school courses, extracurricular activities, leadership ability, application essays, and a personal statement. Because Harvard’s admission officers pay attention to each of these factors, excellence in test scores alone is insufficient.  Therefore, unlike Peking University, Harvard University does not place significant emphasis on students’ scores, but students’ well-roundedness.

In addition, teaching methods distinguish these two universities. Peking University focuses more on memorization rather than on the application of concepts. At Peking University, the professors believe that memorization of theories and facts can lead to a good application of knowledge. Hence, they tend to present their knowledge straightforwardly and urge students to memorize the information. In many classes, professors lecture the students and the students take notes, but few class discussions happen. At Harvard, the professors value students’ class participation, and therefore choose class discussion as one of the main teaching methods. In a class discussion, students can express their own ideas freely to the professor, who welcomes different ideas from the students. Via the class discussions, the professors can inspire the students to use the knowledge in their real lives.

Finally, the culture in each university demonstrates the most differences. The student body of Peking University consists of most of Chinese native students. Therefore, the culture in Peking University doesn’t seem quite diverse. Besides, because the university recruits students based on their scores, ignoring the importance of versatility, it is possible that some students in the university do not know anything else but study. In addition, because the courses at Peking University are intense, many students prefer to concentrate on their studies. Consequently, the university fully focuses on academics and leads the campus culture to become academically-oriented. If the culture of Peking University is a clear mirror, the culture of Harvard is a kaleidoscope. The student body of Harvard University consists of a population of various races including Africans, Asians, Caucasians, Hispanics, Latinos, and Native Americans. The diversity of the student body enriches the culture of the campus through student organizations such as Czech and Slovak Society, Alliance for Africa, Latinas Unidas, etc.  Because the campus culture is rather open-minded, students with phenomenal versatilities eagerly participate in a wide range of student organizations and activities in fields from sciences to humanities.gate-peking-university_000

Inheriting the Chinese rigorous and scrupulous traditions on academics, Peking University has led its students to climb to the top of academics, while Harvard University, a western higher education leader, has succeeded in raising versatile and comprehensive students. Because of globalization, students around the world can choose a college education in either oriental style or occidental style. Therefore, in order to make the right decision, they need to fully explore the differences between an eastern education and a western education. Exploring the differences between the best representatives of an oriental education and of an occidental education has provided them with some insightful ideas on that topic. If they are ready to immerse themselves in academics alone, an eastern education, like that offered by Peking University, is their best choice. Nevertheless, if they want to be well-rounded individuals, why not consider a western education like the one offered by Harvard?

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