This post is current and updated regularly. Last updated as of March 2020!
If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me about teaching English in China, I could quit my day job. Teaching English in China is great. I taught for multiple different schools and companies all over China.
That said, I think it’s important for you all to know that teaching abroad isn’t the only education-related job in China.
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Most of you already know that I worked for over two years as a college counselor in Beijing. Basically, my job is to help Chinese high school students apply to American universities. I had my own private office, I made a pretty decent salary, and I had lots of great benefits.
Today I’m going to talk to you about what working as a college counselor in China entails, and give you all the details on how to apply as a college counselor in China.
What’s Working as a College Counselor in China Like?
Personally, I preferred college counseling to my old job teaching oral English to 1,000 high schoolers. Not only was I right in the heart of Beijing’s Haidian district, but I also had a higher salary, my own office, comprehensive benefits, and more quality time with my students.
I’ve met a few other college counselors in China, and every job is different. Some positions are better than others, so you’ll need to do your research before you decide to take a job. Even within my company, each office does things completely differently!
You may work for an agency or within a high school. Some places require you to teach classes, others actually have you doing admissions paperwork. The worst places will have you writing your students’ essays for them.
My Tasks as a College Counselor:
I started meeting with students in their first year of high school (year 10) all the way through the application process. In their first two years, I counseled them on things like appropriate extracurricular activities, writing an essay, tips for scoring well on the ACT and TOEFL and creating a high school resume.
In the fall I helped year 12 students prepare their applications. While the Chinese college counselors actually help them pick universities and go over admissions strategies, I focused on the essays and interview prep. I helped students come up with incredible topics for their common app essays that are unique to their personality and story. Then I helped them edit those essays.
I never, ever, ever write essays for the kids, and I purposely leave a few “Chinglish” phrases in the essay so that the admissions officer knows the student wrote it.
I also helped them come up with ideas for all of their supplemental essays and help the students edit those essays once they’re finished. If they have an admissions interview, the student will come to my office where we’ll do a practice interview and I’ll coach them on how to improve.
Every once and a while I’d teach classes on things like essay writing and interviewing. We also have fun events like a dumpling-making party, a mooncake party, a graduation celebration, and a summer school college fair.
Again, not all offices are like mine. I have a friend who is a college counselor at a Chinese high school in Ningbo and she gives two classes a week. I have another friend in Beijing who does all of the administrative paperwork and helps kids select colleges in addition to helping with the essays and interview prep. She works with fewer students intensively, while I do fewer tasks with a larger group of students.
Want to see a day in the life of a college counselor in China? Read it here!
College Counselor Benefits
Working as a college counselor in China is a much cushier job than I imagined when I originally applied a few years ago. The pay is significantly higher than a typical first-time ESL teacher, with more prestige and better benefits. Unless you’re a career teacher working at a private or international school, you probably will have a much better package as a counselor.
Most jobs don’t disclose the salary upfront, but the going rate for new counselors seems to be around 16,000 – 18,000 CNY per month with a housing stipend or 20,000 CNY without housing. You can definitely negotiate in this job, and expect a raise after your first year. If you have significant admissions experience, you can expect to be paid more.
This is a huge step up from most English teachers who are making 10,000 CNY with free housing. I actually made 5,000 CNY at my first job!
Keep in mind, some salaries are before taxes, and others are after-tax, so be sure to check.
Some places will provide you an apartment or a housing stipend, and others will give you nothing at all. The housing policy should be written in your contract, so be sure to look into rent prices before you sign anything. Also, keep in mind that some companies will let you keep unused housing stipend money as part of your salary while others won’t.
The housing stipend tends to depend on where you live. For example, at my last company, in Ningbo, you’ll get an extra 2,000 CNY per month for housing, and in Beijing, it’s around 7,000 CNY. Yes, the prices of housing in those two cities are THAT different.
Since this is a year-round position, you should also expect vacation and sick days. My company has 10 vacation days per year and 5 sick days for foreign employees, as well as breaks for all Chinese holidays. You should have a week off for National Day, another week off for Chinese New Year, and a bunch of 3-day weekends.
This gives you more than enough time to go home or travel during your breaks. However, you can’t take all of this vacation at once, as the company doesn’t officially close outside of national holidays.
Most companies will offer a round-trip flight and a free visa. My company even paid for my entire trip to Hong Kong (including the hotel and a food stipend) to get my visa. You should also have health insurance provided by the company, which may or may not be good. I had great health insurance that covered 80% of hospital visits and medication, and 100% of hospital overnight stays.
When I worked as an English teacher, I had catastrophic health insurance that only covered me if I spent over a few hundred USD, which is actually hard to do unless you’re dying. Seriously, I had blood poisoning and an operation to remove sea urchin spines from my foot and I think I paid $40 USD total.
College Counseling Job Requirements
With great power comes great responsibility.
I should say, with great benefits come great expectations.
It’s super easy to get a job teaching English in China, but college counseling is a bit more selective. Most companies want a native-speaking USA citizen with a 4-year degree who went to a highly selective college in the USA. A master’s degree, teaching experience, or admissions experience is always a plus.
For example, I taught English to Chinese high school students for a year, which proves that I can work well with that age range. I also worked as a tour guide for George Washington University when I was a student there. In my last year, I gave admissions interviews for student applicants, which was a big bonus for my company because I became the go-to interview prep person.
Finally, these companies are really worried you’ll just pick up and leave China, so the longer you’ve lived in China (or even elsewhere in Asia), the better. I’d been in China for two full years before I came to Beijing, so no one was too worried about me taking off because I hate China.
One thing you don’t need to have as a college counselor is a TEFL certificate. Congratulations!
How to Find the Good Companies
I’ll be pretty blunt: some companies are definitely better than others. Like any job, you have to be aware of what you’re getting yourself into before you sign any contracts. But in China, it’s especially nerve-racking since you probably won’t be able to see the office in person before you sign anything. While most jobs are legitimate and have great intentions, a few are downright awful.
My biggest tip is to read, re-read, and re-re-read your contract.
Your contract should be extremely specific, and if it’s not, have them re-write it. Dig through that thing with a fine-toothed comb and have someone you trust look it over as well.
What are the government holidays and are they paid? What is the policy on overtime? Do I pay for the apartment deposit? When will I be reimbursed for my flight? Do I get the yearly flight after a year, or can I use it sooner?
I originally felt awkward asking these kinds of questions and didn’t really have my company clarify much. While it mostly worked out for me, I wish I would’ve known I’d have to front 7,000 CNY for my apartment deposit, or that most of the apartments right around work would be over the stipend allowance.
Unsure of what to check for?
ONE: See if you have a trial period. In my contract for the first three months, I received no vacation days, and the contract could be terminated with minimal notice on either end. This means I had 3 months to decide if I liked the job or not, and I could leave at any time if I decided I didn’t like it.
TWO: Clarify your role during the interview. Ask exactly what your job will entail so there are no misunderstandings. Will you be working on weekends? What is the daily schedule? How many students will you be working with? What will you be doing with them?
THREE: Ask about the structure of the company. Ask how many other counselors there are, and how many foreign staff they have. You can even ask to chat with a current employee if you want.
FOUR: Make sure your contact can’t blackmail you into staying like my first English teaching job. My school could charge me up to $8,000 USD if I left early. That is ridiculous and completely unfair if the school decides to treat you poorly. My college counseling contract stated I needed to give them three months’ notice before I leave, which I think is pretty fair for China.
FIVE: Ask about overtime. If you work as a college counselor you will be working overtime during the admissions season. Are you compensated for this? Do you accumulate extra vacation days like I did? How much overtime are you expected to work?
FINALLY, BE SURE TO ASK IF YOU WILL BE WRITING ESSAYS FOR THE STUDENTS. Seriously. If they so much as mention any hint of you writing stuff for students DO NOT TAKE THE JOB. You will end up writing all of the essays for all of the students and that is immoral and unethical. Don’t do it. You will hate your life and hate your job.
How to Find an Awesome Job as a College Counselor in China
Do you want to find and land a high-level job as a college counselor or something similar? As part of my Teach Abroad Squad course and community, I offer job placement assistance!
In addition to the full online course and Facebook community, members of the Teach Abroad Squad get access to my curated Approved Jobs List, which is an awesome list of schools and recruiters that have been fully vetted by me. They all pay well and on time, offer great benefits, and have excellent reviews. This list has multiple college counseling positions as well as other high-paid jobs!
Not only does Teach Abroad Squad help you narrow down your job search and ensure you don’t get scammed, but we also have multiple lessons on signing and negotiating contracts. In TAS I analyze three real-life contracts on the screen showing you what I like and don’t like about each of the positions. You even have a downloadable Good Job’s Checklist to make sure the position meets all your needs!
TAS will also teach you how to negotiate for an extra $3,500 USD per year with our contract negotiation lesson. Talk about getting your money’s worth!
If this sounds amazing to you, then you definitely want to join Teach Abroad Squad!
I open up TAS to new members every few months, so the best way to know about future course openings is to get on the Teach Abroad Squad Waitlist. Once you’re on the list you’ll be the first to know about any course openings, as well as awesome free training and opportunities for free 1-1 strategy calls with me!
Not the Right Fit?
I know the requirements for being a college counselor are super specific, especially since they only hire Americans. However, if you’re interested in working as a drama teacher, debate coach, critical reading and writing teacher, or SAT tutor, Teach Abroad Squad has plenty of those positions as well!
The best part? The salary and benefits for these positions are all comparable to working as a college counselor!
There are so many education-related jobs in China that aren’t just teaching English, so be sure to check into them! There are companies like mine looking for English-language extracurricular teachers in almost everything under the sun. Want to teach art in English? Want to help kids prepare for English-language debate competitions? Want to help kids put on an English musical? There’s a place for you in China.
Do you have any questions about working as a college counselor in China? Be sure to ask below and I’ll get back to you ASAP!