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Studying Mandarin in China – University Application Process

Application Guide on Studying Mandarin in China - (Part 1 of 2) Choosing a University and Getting Accepted.

It's hard to imagine this time last year we were studying Mandarin in Ningbo, China.  We haven't really touched on our experiences with studying in China at all on etd.  This is because it's hard to think of where to start.

This guide has been put together to help people that might be interested in going to China to study.  The aim is to show you how easy it is to get accepted at a University / College and get your visa sorted at the embassy. Our mentality is, if we can do it.. So can you!

We have divided this guide up into several features.  You can skip straight to the one you are interested in below.

This Guide (Part 1):
  1. Application schedules (When you can apply / get accepted)
  2. What courses are available to me as a Foreign Student?
  3. Finding a course and applying
  4. Getting accepted on a course – preparations you need to make
Part 2:
  1. Chinese Student Visa – The process to getting your Chinese Study Visa
  2. Booking your flights & being ready for arrival in China
  3. Registration at University / Accommodation & Paying your Fees
  4. First Week at University / College in China

 Application Schedules for Chinese Universities 

There are 2 major intakes per year, for studying Mandarin in China on a Chinese Language Course.

  1. Fall Semester Intake (September)
  2. Spring Semester Intake (Late Feb / Early March)

To ensure you get a place at your chosen University / College, you must ensure that you apply well in advance of these intake dates.

Fall Semester – Application Schedules

March You can start applying for courses starting in February / March.
May Deadline for applications usually is in May.  This is so you have enough time to receive your acceptance letters by post and get your visa sorted.
June / July You should get a confirmation of acceptance onto your chosen course.
Early August Admission Letter and JW202 form would be delivered 4 weeks before programs start. This is when you can apply for your Chinese Study Visa.
September You start your course in China.

Spring Semester – Application Schedules

October You can start applying for courses starting in September/ October.
December Deadline for applications usually is in December.  This is so you have enough time to receive your acceptance letters by post and get your visa sorted.
December / January You should get a confirmation of acceptance onto your chosen course.
January Admission Letter and JW202 form would be delivered 4 weeks before programs start. This is when you can apply for your Chinese Study Visa.
February / March You start your course in China.

The academic year at Chinese Universities / Colleges follows the Western system.  The above dates for applications may vary slightly depending on the University you apply to.  As a general rule, give yourself enough time and don't do late submissions if you can help it.

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 What Courses are Available for Studying Mandarin in China? 

It's not just Chinese Language Studies that is available to foreign students in China.  There are now many foreign students on regular degree courses in China.  You can see why, most have international (English Speaking) lecturers that teach the same curriculum as in the West.  These courses are available at a fraction of the cost of in the West.

As an example, the average cost of studying as an undergraduate in Peking University (Beijing) is $5,760 per annum including accommodation / living costs.  If you studied the same course in the USA, it would cost upwards of $50,000 per annum.

Think about it this way, you are learning from the same books / materials and at the end, get a degree worth the same value.  I know where I would prefer to study!  We were very luck when we studied at University in the UK, tuition back then only cost $2,500 per year.

You can even study at Western Universities in China! Many Universities have a campus in China, which means you can get a degree at a fraction of the cost, from a globally recognised University.

Studying Mandarin in China – examples of courses

I have taken these examples from Ningbo University, which is where we studied.  Studying Mandarin in China can cost from as little as $7 per day for 1 semester of Tuition Fees!

Course Price (RMB) Price (USD) Price (GBP)
Business Administration (1 Year) 16,000 2,500 1,500
Short Term Intensive Chinese Language
(12 Weeks – 30h/w)
12,500 2,000 1,200
Regular Chinese Language Training
(1 Semester – 20h/w)
6,400 1,000 600

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 Finding a Course in China and Applying Through CUCAS 

CUCASChina's University And College Admission System – is the official online portal for international students applying to China's universities. CUCAS was set up with support from China's Universities and Colleges to act as an online liaison between international students and China’s universities.

The application service that CUCAS provides is now actually free.  The only costs of applications are direct to the University that you apply for.  However, CUCAS will provide the following services for free, as standard.

  • Answer all calls within 60 seconds
  • Process applications within 24 hours of submission to CUCAS
  • Release admission decision online once receiving the decision from the university
  • Respond to emails within one working day
  • Deliver Admission Package by DHL once the mailing address is confirmed

We used it when it was a paid-for service (still we are only talking about $50 each + university application fee, that included 2-3 day fast-track delivery of our applications by post from China.

The process of applying for a Chinese Study Course through CUCAS:

First read some of their online guides, because they are the no.1 source for information on the internet for studying in China.  Some of the most important ones to read are..

  • Application Schedule (read)
  • 5 Reasons to Study in China (read)
  • Admission Requirements (read)
  • Cost of Studying in China (read)
  • Pre-departure Preparation (read)

Studying ‘Chinese Language Studies' – Mandarin in China

There are a variety of options available to you, below are guide prices.

If you are looking at studying the standard Chinese Language Studies curriculum, then I recommend the Long Term options.  These run a semester at a time and you advance to the next stage if you pass that levels HSK test at the end of the term.  It can take between 3-4 years to get the most advanced level HSK certification.

Chinese Language Study Program Durations Hours PW USD Price HSK Test?
Short-term < 3 months 4 – 12 Weeks 20 – 30 $1,200 NO
Long Term (Semester) 1 Semester 20 – 25 $1,000 YES
Business Chinese 1 Semester 25 – 30 $2,000 YES
Summer Camp 4 – 8 Weeks 20 $800 NO

As you can see, the best value and most immersive of all the courses is learning on the standard long-term course.  However, if you are wanting to learn Business Grade Chinese at a faster speed, the Business courses might be worth looking at.

Where should I study in China?

As you can see from the map below, depending on the region you study in China, depends on the local ‘dialect' that they speak.  The majority of foreign students go to China to study Mandarin – Beijing dialect.  This is kind of the official language that the government wants everyone to understand.  So it makes sense that you learn this.

If you intend to learn Mandarin in your classes and choose to study in a place such as Guangzhou, then you might find it hard to understand locals accents.  You might find you need to learn a little of the local ‘Hua' to get by.

If you choose to study in Beijing, then the same language you learn in lessons can be used in the local area with ease.

Map of Sinitic Dialect - Studying Mandarin in China


Here are a few other considerations you may want to think about, when making your choice for location.

Air Quality This is a serious consideration you must think about.  Being near the coastal areas generally means better air quality.  You should check historical levels and shortlist cities this way, this is a good website.
Climate Yeah sounds like a no-brainer.. But you need to understand some parts of China have incredible contrasts in Winter / Summer temperatures.  They call Wuhan a heat box in the summer, that is because combined with pollution, the temperature soars to 40 degrees celsius with no cool breezes to bring relief.  If you choose a city near the sea, then you get cooling winds in the summer months and mild winters (generally).  When we were in China, we saw TV reports of students in some cities sleeping on the roof of their dorms, because the heat was inescapable inside the building.
Tier 1,2 or 3 city? Cities in China are divided into 3 different tiers, to differentiate their size / importance.  Shanghai is a Tier 1 city, Ningbo is Tier 2 and a place such as Yuhuan County is Tier 3.  The top tier cities will undoubtedly be more expensive than smaller cities / towns / provinces.  So compare prices as you can save a hefty amount of money by studying in a Tier 2 vs. Tier 1 city.
Local Cuisine If you are really not into spicy food, then staying in the Sichuan province might mean lack of variety of local cuisine that you can eat.  Maybe you are more into your fresh seafood, so staying on the coast would make sense.  Much of the Chinese food you find in the West is actually Southern Chinese food, from around Hong Kong.  So if you are really into Canton cuisine, studying in the South means you would get your fill of Dim Sum everyday of the week!
Transport / Direct Flights Generally speaking, even if a city you want to study in isn't attached to a direct flight from the West, it shouldn't put you off.  Internal flights are cheap / fast.  Plus there are high speed trains available in much of China these days, linking cities up.  One consideration you should look at is staying in a city with High Speed Rail.  This is because it means you can travel far easier / cheaper at the weekend and on days off.  Many cities are also well underway with building massive sprawling metro systems, connecting the city up better.

Using the CUCAS website to search for a University & apply

It's a simple website to use.  Simply use the search tools provided and search for the area of study you wish to look at.  Each University has a main page that details not just the course you are searching for, but everything that they offer across the year.

Once you have found the right course, at the right University, click Apply!  The CUCAS service will then outline everything that you require to apply.  This process can take as little as 20 minutes.

Application Procedure for Studying Mandarin in China:

  1. Click “Apply Now”
  2. Fill in online application form – 10 min
  3. Upload required documents – 5 min
  4. Pay the application fee (CUCAS is authorized to collect on the university’s behalf) – 5 min
  5. Click “Submit”

Typical Application Materials:

  1. Photocopy of valid passport  (With name, passport number & expiration date, and photo included)
  2. Passport photo (A recent passport-sized photo of the applicant.(48mm*33mm) )

CUCAS will also outline the total costs (payable when you arrive at the University) upon your application being accepted.  The only thing you need to pay before your arrival in China is the Application Fee and then your Visa that you will do separately from this process.

Example of potential course costs 1 Semester (Cost)
Accommodation Cost (RMB) 3600 – 4800
Tuition Fee And Living Expenses (RMB) 12800 – 14600
Other Cost (RMB) 500 – 2300
Total Cost (RMB) 16900 – 21700

There are a lot of mandatory costs associated with studying Mandarin in China, such as Insurance, Residence Permit, etc.. These aren't optional, regardless of if you have travel insurance already.

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 After Getting Accepted on a Course 

As an example, if you applied for a Spring Semester in October (when applications go live) then you should hear back approval by December.

Once you get admitted, you can book accommodation through CUCAS for free.

CUCAS will email you the application status. If it’s “ACCEPTED”, it means the university is processing admission notice and JW 202 form for you. It takes about 1 to 6 weeks. CUCAS will inform you to confirm the mailing address once receive the admission package from the university.

In addition, you also need to do the following things:

  1. Visa application. You need to apply the visa from your local Chinese Embassy.
  2. Take physical examination. If your study duration is over 6 months, you need to take physical examination and get the report.
  3. Book through CUCAS your accommodation in advance.  This is available in your account area once you are accepted onto a course.  It is important to do this ASAP, to ensure you get allocated your preferred room type.  First come, first served!
  4. Book your air ticket.
  5. Prepare your luggage and make sure you get all your paperwork ready and together.

It normally takes 4 to 8 weeks for a university's  admissions office to process an application and prepare the admission package with the documents you will need to apply for a Chinese visa.

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This completes part 1 of our guide on Studying Mandarin in China – University Application Process.

You can read Part 2 here – which covers getting the appropriate visa and the registration process for when you arrive in China, at your chosen University. 

We've put together some additional guides you might find useful on China:

About Darryl Hall (85 Articles)
Darryl left the shorelines of England in 2013 to study and travel in China and South East Asia for a year. Darryl is a co-founder of, a travel blog with the aim of sharing travel tips, country & city guides for other backpackers. Visit my Google+ page.

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