Participating in internships and contests for the accumulation of distinctive extracurricular experiences
As shown in Chapter 6, Sunny High IAP provides students with a wide range of extracurricular activities and community service opportunities. These are the common experiences that all Sunny High IAP students have. In order to make the content of their college essays unique and attractive to U.S. college admission officers, the students explore internships and participate in contests that can enrich their curricula vitae.
Wenbo was admitted to a top 40 U.S. university. Both of his parents are professors in a top-rated Chinese university. His father received a PhD from a well-known university in England and then returned back to China. He runs a lab in his university. Wenbo is not a high academic achiever like his father. But his parents hope that taking an international track to a worldclass university will empower him. With the help of his parents, Wenbo started as an intern in a lab at the university where his parents have worked since he was a 10th grader. He put this internship experience in his personal statement for college applications.
When I was conducting this study, Shanshan was in 11th grade. I first met her at the school library and we started to chat. She was very interested in urban planning and shared her opinions about Moon City Subway’s design problems. She told me that she developed this understanding of the subway issues partly because of her internship experience in an architecture institute in Moon City. It was her aunt, an architect, who helped her find this intern opportunity.
Both Wenbo’s and Shanshan’s cases reveal the role of family’s cultural and social capital in planning and enriching students’ extracurricular experiences. These experiences are accumulated for writing impressive personal statements which have an important impact on the students’ college admissions. As Feng’s mother commented,
The student [at Sunny High IAP] who is admitted to a top 10 U.S. university, to a large extent, depends on his participation in a charity organization. I heard from other parents that every summer vacation this student went to the charity organization and did volunteer work because his family knows someone in the organization. In addition, he has another activity related to an environmental research project... about a water pollution issue. He attended a contest [on the environmental research topic]. He is the student who plans [for extracurricular activities] early. I don’t know if it is zhongjie that helped him to plan these activities or his families. I am not sure. Perhaps, it is his family. This student is different from others. He stands out from other students. The universities that Weiwei [her son] likes and has applied for give admission to this student [rather than her son],
Feng’s mother regretted that she didn’t help Feng to get into the competitive extracurricular activities that the student admitted to a top ten U.S. college had. The result of her son’s college admissions is good, but it is not as successful as that other Sunny High IAP student. She emphasized the importance of planning distinctive extracurricular experiences early. Her description also shows that international college applications are a competitive market where privileged Chinese students struggle for control over cultural capital valued by U.S. colleges. When it comes to their college applications, the students have to build stronger personal projects than others in order to take good positionings in this field.