While searching for teaching jobs in China, you might have certain expectations – perhaps a classroom full of adorable young students, eagerly ready to learn their ABC’s and some simple English sentences and songs, mornings of “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, snack time and naptime. And for many, this is the “teaching abroad” experience – obtaining a TEFL or equivalent degree, finding a school in your city of choice, and teaching finger painting to five year olds for 15,000 RMB a month.
What if you don’t have a TEFL, though? Nowadays not only are many schools, specifically in China, unwilling to hire a teacher without a TEFL, but they’re literally unable – thanks to China’s newly restrictive visa policies, many schools are only able to hire candidates who have had two full years of relevant work experience, and/or those who are certified. So if you’ve never taught before or don’t have the time or money to invest in a TEFL certification course, you may feel SOL.
Happily, the for-profit education industry around the world – and perhaps most especially in Asia, where education has for centuries maintained a sacred status – is burgeoning. For many fortunate families across China, Korea, Japan, Singapore (the list of countries goes on), education doesn’t end at the last bell of the school day. For these lucky kiddos, their education is just getting started.
Enter the advent of a new form of education – a supplemental schooling we’ll blanket with the term “college consulting”. You might hear the word and think of a room of fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen year olds plugging away at SAT practice exams or revising and re-revising Personal Statements, but in fact the term covers so much more than that.
The rise of a new class of wealth in China (and other nations in Asia) is more than the emergence of your typical nouveau riche – this is a class of nouveau SUPER riche, and they are not only willing to pay top dollar to ensure that their kids are accepted by elite Western institutions, but furthermore, they’re investing this money in their child’s future success from a very young age.
As an employee at an education company that professes to offer “college consulting” services, you may find yourself responsible for any number of tasks – indeed, correcting practice SAT essays may be one of them, but so may be drilling ten year olds on SSAT vocabulary, or even business-expanding responsibilities like marketing, promotion, and networking. The market is huge – students as young as kindergarteners are attending these elite after-school and weekend academies with the hopes (or rather, their parents’ hopes) of a bright, wealthy, successful future in an Ivy MBA program.
Pros of Working in College Consulting
1) No TEFL? No Problem!
The first and most immediate advantage to working in college consulting is the educational companies hiring often don’t require job candidates to have a teaching certification or teaching-specific resume experience (although of course that always helps tremendously). In China, at least, because you are working in private education at a for-profit business, there are ways and means of obtaining visas even for those fresh out of college with virtually no work experience – which is great news for those recent grads who, despite having a degree from a prestigious Western university or college, don’t have much work experience or aren’t sure what their next career move should be.
Looking for work in, say, Colorado with an expensive liberal arts degree from Hamilton College will get you nowhere, whereas in Beijing, parents fall over themselves to have their child’s college essays looked over by a recent grad from a top-tier school. Put that prestigious degree to good use – you likely paid more than you should have for it, so take advantage of the power of the name you paid for.
2) Alternative working hours
As a teacher in the college consulting business, you may find yourself working unconventional hours. Consulting peak times are the opposite of school peak times – as soon as a student is free from school, her parents are dropping her off at your academy, so week days are quiet while week nights run quite late, and you may have to fight for free time on the weekends (or seize the opportunity for more tutoring hours and make as much money as possible).
While your Mondays and Tuesdays will often be quiet, you’ll find your holidays like Dragon Boat and even Spring Festival filled up with extra test-prep and essay writing courses. The upside to working regular holidays and taking your breaks on different days is that fares are cheaper and crowds are smaller – not to mention working after school hours means staying up late and sleeping in, an often attractive job feature for those recent grads still nostalgic for the college lifestyle.
3) (More Than) Teaching as a Career Move
More generally, in college consulting or otherwise, teaching is constructive work experience. As anyone who has stood in front of a classroom of twenty bored students can tell you, teaching is not easy. It takes confidence, poise, a quick-wit, and a comprehensive mastery of at least one set of knowledge. To engage students in lively class discussion, to see them make truly significant and meaningful progress, and to watch them internalize and analyze class content is rare, special and difficult to accomplish. Those who can master the skills to become an excellent teacher are also mastering skills that will serve you in all walks of life – professionally, personally and socially. So, teaching skills don’t just make you a valuable teacher, they also make you a valuable hire across all sorts of industries.
Furthermore, in Asia, the college consulting industry is growing at breakneck speed. The rapid increase of education start-ups across the continent means not just lots of job opportunities for foreigners, but it also means that once you’ve secured a teaching position at a startup, your job will require a lot more than teaching skills – you’ll learn how to expand a business, the joys and frustrations of working for a growing company, and be thrown into positions where, sink or swim, you’ll have to market and sell your product, your company and yourself.
4) Earning Potential
Probably the most compelling of all reasons to choose a career in college consulting over more traditional forms of education is the industry’s earning potential. As a new teacher just starting with a new company, your salary and benefits may look quite similar to that of a job at a more traditional school, but over time, your potential to profit sky rockets while your colleagues in school settings more often expect the same salary year to year.
Of course working for a successful tutoring, SAT Prep, English head-start, or whatever particular brand of college consulting company you choose has the potential to earn you more money as the company earns more, the most valuable career move you can make for yourself is to become a good teacher, loved by students and parents alike – and in many cities across Asia, where there are fewer native English speakers and even fewer with degrees from top-tier universities, the numbers are on your side. In a smaller pond of foreigners, it’s much easier to be the big fish.
Professional life in general is all about building a reputation for yourself, but nowhere is that more true than in the college consulting industry in Asia. Parents have been known to pay educational companies as much as 800 RMB (or 130 dollars) an hour for private consulting or tutoring, so imagine the possibilities of setting out on your own once you’ve built a reputation for yourself as an excellent teacher/consultant who can get results.
The going rate for private tutoring for subjects like college essay prep, SAT, AP, and IB prep in cities like Shanghai and Beijing is a base of 300 RMB (or about 45 dollars) an hour. Nor do the possibilities end here with contracting privately with students and their parents – the proliferation of college consulting firms across Asia is largely due to these kinds of teachers whom, after achieving a certain reputation, had enough momentum from local word-of-mouth marketing to open their own educational companies.
So Asia’s class of nouveau riche doesn’t have to be limited to native Chinese, Koreans or Singaporeans – Americans and other Westerners are also striking while it’s hot to make their fortunes.
5) Exposure to an international audience
The experience to live, work and play while teaching abroad in a foreign country will produce life-long memories, no doubt, but the advantage of working in college consulting is that very often, your classroom will consist of a whole range of different students and backgrounds.
In the time it takes to teach one course, you yourself will learn the often subtle but important differences between the customs of Korean, Japanese, mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singaporeans, even Canadians and Americans– at least as they pertain to the classroom and the socialization that goes along with it. What better way to understand emerging new cultures (& markets) than from your students?
Cons of Working in College Consulting
1) Demanding Parents with Unrealistic Expectations
Educators around the world – especially those working in private for-profit education – have to deal with the woes of “helicopter parents”, and China and other Asian countries are no different (and in China, to make matters worse, parents usually only have one child on whom to focus all of their energies, anxieties and attention). You may find parents essentially asking you to write their child’s essay for them. You may find parents asking how to fill out multiple financial aid forms specific to the school their child is applying to (which is also illegal, by the way). You almost certainly will find parents angry with you for their own child’s sloth and recalcitrance. “Political correctness” doesn’t exist outside of America, and you may find yourself feeling insulted and offended.
Furthermore, as in any business, it’s important to provide your customers with a quality product, but in college consulting, you will often find parents refusing your informed advice and insisting on taking their own, for example, sending their children to SAT “boot camps” instead of sending them a service trip that would add volunteer service to the otherwise empty extracurricular section of their resume, or applying to schools way beyond their child’s ability with no thought to applications for proper safety schools. And often, when parents refuse your advice and take their own, the anger and frustrations will still fall on you, the consultant.
2) Spoiled Students
In the course of a teaching career, you’re likely to have wonderful students with whom you develop a unique rapport and supportive relationship – you’re also just as likely to have students with whom you can never accomplish a break-through. What’s part of a larger and quite tragic trend, in China often referred to as “Little Princes”, there are millions of children across China who are not only being raised as spoiled only-children (thanks to a combination of the One Child Policy and the emergent nouveau riche phenomena), but they are also victims to all of the pressures and expectations of their parents and grandparents, while they’ve never been given the skills or experiences necessary to become capable, independent adults.
They don’t understand why they’re studying, they don’t see any incentive to work hard, and they don’t necessarily share their parents’ Ivy League dreams for them. When it comes to writing decent college essays, they’ve never had any true real-life experience about which to honestly write. With these kinds of students, you may not only have to act the disciplinarian or even slave-driver, but furthermore, you may have to deal with emotional meltdowns as these kinds of students react to the pressures they are facing from their parents. The college application process can become as emotionally taxing for you as it is for them.
3) Morality of For-Profit Education
It’s true that success in professional life is all about building a reputation – people know your name (or your company’s name) and associate it with excellence and results. However, once the reputation is earned, who is controlling for continued quality? For the vast majority of educational companies in the college consulting industry, the bottom line is profit, so in many cases that means over-charging for services the family and student may not need, or making promises of college acceptance or SAT score thresholds they may not be able to meet. (Sound familiar to those of you coming from Western institutes of higher education?)
As you and many of your fellow teachers, consultants and tutors may be eagerly taking parents’ money and in turn sending it home to your student loan lenders, you’re in effect perpetuating and encouraging a system that could drive your students into the same debt you have. As a recent graduate of a prestigious and overpriced Western university or college finding yourself relatively un-hirable, what kind of service are you providing to other students who are doggedly pursing the same promises you’ve since discovered are rather empty? On the other hand, as a college consultant, you can use your influence to try and help your own students from making the same mistakes you did.
To sum up, college consulting isn’t for everyone, but it can be a great opportunity for those of us looking to make money with a relatively prestigious degree that we don’t know how else to use. I still remember my first weekend out in Shanghai with my coworkers at the educational company – I noticed my fellow teacher wearing the new Michael Kors watch in rose gold. I gasped and complimented her, only to lament that I would never be able to afford the same watch. She lowered her voice, grinned, took my hand and said, “You work for us now. With this job, you’ll be able to buy five of these.”
You can prepare for the launch of your international business empire by developing indispensable location independent skill sets. Good luck!