How To Get a Full Ride Scholarship in China (then throw it away)

How To Get a Full Ride Scholarship in China (then throw it away)

Come on, Learn Chinese for Free!
Come on, Learn Chinese for Free!

If learning how to speak Mandarin and living in China is your dream, or even a plausible next step in your life, then you’ve got great timing—because China wants you, and wants you now.

China is allocating tons of money so it can lure 100,000  foreign students to China for the sole purpose of teaching them Mandarin. The United States and China created this 100,000 strong incentive to provide money for young American hopefuls to go abroad, study Chinese, love it, and give China some (hopefully) good PR.

Most of these scholarships cover full tuition as well as room and board.

Yup, you read that right. Free, full-ride scholarships where you don’t pay a dime.

You may feel distraught thinking that, perhaps, you’re not a competitive candidate for these scholarships—but have no fear, China is there for you.

All you need to do is remember these three letters: CSC

China Scholarship Council

Study... on the Great wall (ok, maybe not..) photo credit: shenxy via photopin cc

Study… on the Great wall (ok, maybe not..)
photo credit: shenxy via photopin cc

The China Scholarship Council (CSC) is a government organization that awards scholarships to both nationals and foreigners. Right now, rather than sending their locals abroad, China is far more focused on spending money to bring you, a savvy foreigner, into China.

The amount of money funneled into this program is insane: meaning, if you graduated with a bachelors in a degree—any degree—then you have a good shot at getting a Chinese Language Learning Scholarship, masters, or even Ph.D in China (if you so desire).

I applied for the CSC scholarship to get a master’s degree in interpretation because simply, without a scholarship, I wouldn’t have the means to support myself (living in Shanghai aint cheap!). My whole academic future was riding on CSC.

So I did hardcore research on how to get this scholarship, submitted my documents, and awaited my response.

Applying for the CSC is a big pain in the ass, mostly because the Chinese government is horrifically disorganized. To apply for this scholarship you can either do it through the Chinese university you plan on attending or going rogue and applying independently through your country’s consulate.

The Chinese University is the best way to go, since they already have a set quota on scholarship recepients (and depending on the school, these slots usually don’t fill up—meaning, you have very good chances of getting it).

Applying through the consulate is exactly what it is—throwing your documents in an envelope, mailing it to Washington D.C., competing with all American applicants, and praying.

Since I applied a mere three months before the deadline, I only had one option: Send to the Consulate.

And lo-and-behold, a mere two months later I was awarded a full ride scholarship.

This included:

1. Full Tuition
2. Books
3. Room and Board
4. 700 USD monthly stipend for food
5. Insurance

To apply and gather more information, you can go to CSC’s official homepage and try to figure out that mess.

The real lifesaver to successfully filling out this application, however, was the Chinese-Forum. The moderator and board participants are very dedicated to helping prospective CSC applicants and give nothing but sound advice. Hell, CSC should be paying them.

This is my own personal opinion, but I felt like the CSC scholarship was far easier to get than its Japanese equivalent MEXT—not to mention a lot less hassle.

MEXT is a year long process that involves a phone interview and in-person interview.

CSC? A few months. No interviews.

Still don’t think you can get the CSC? Well, you can try for the…

Confucius Institute Scholarship

Take this guy's advice..
Take this guy’s advice..

The Confucius Institute promotes Chinese language learning around the world with offices and schools in most major cities. Since the Chinese government is loaded with money and they’re aching for some good PR,  tons of cash is currently being funneled into these programs and it’s just sitting there in wait.

Waiting for you.

Unlike CSC, the Confucius Institute scholarship is only limited to Chinese study. So if you want to study engineering in China, this scholarship isn’t for you.

However, if spending a year in China learning Mandarin—for free—sounds like something you might want to do… then why not give it a try?

Confucius Institute offers a myriad of scholarships for all kinds of applicants. Whether you’re a student, recent graduate, or even mid-career—the Confucius Institute is an equal opportunity provider, and they want to throw money at you so you can go to China and study.

Like CSC, you can apply for the Confucius Institute scholarship either through your university or directly online. While I haven’t applied for this one personally, I have met tons of people in China studying for free on this scholarship.

Wait, why did you throw your scholarship away?

Don't ever go to this school.  Ever.
Don’t ever go to this school. Ever.

To put it bluntly: Higher education in China is terrible.

The Masters of Translation and Interpretation program at Shanghai International Studies University was everything I wasn’t looking for, and after six months into the program I was offered a very attractive position at a famous company to be a Japanese interpreter. I had the choice to either

1. Continue a terrible Chinese university experience,
2. or make money and work at a great company as an interpreter

I think the choice is obvious.

Thus, while getting free money to study abroad may sound like a no-brainer you still have to consider: Is this worth my time?

If you want to study something that is not Chinese, i.e. study engineering or marketing in China, you may want to rethink your decision and remember that free isn’t always better. While tuition in America is exorbitant, you usually get what you pay for.

However, I definitely recommend doing the 6-12 month Chinese language programs offered at all Chinese universities. Unlike a masters or Ph.D program, it’s a much shorter commitment and it also gives you the chance to experience China and beef up your Mandarin. Basically, you invest your time more for the experience than for the piece of paper you get at the end of the program.

If you want to read more about my terrible experience at Shanghai International Studies University (and get some GREAT advice on interpreting and translating from professionals!) then take a look at the thread I started on Chinese-Forums (the name’s Angeia).

So…Is Chinese Worth It?


Hell yeah. Chinese is a great skill to have and it can make you 100x more attractive as a potential employee.

And more importantly, China is an amazing place.

Even if you go to China on a scholarship and don’t walk out speaking fluent Mandarin, it’s okay. Because China is, in my opinion, a must.

24 thoughts on “How To Get a Full Ride Scholarship in China (then throw it away)

  1. I had the CSC scholarship back in 2007! But it was very bad organized, at least in Spain. We had to apply through the Chinese consulate and the only available option was to study one year of Chinese language, we couldn’t apply for masters or anything else.
    The monthly stipend was only 1200 RMB I think, but at least we got the tuition fee and dorm covered.

    I read about your masters misadventures in that forum. 你太厉害!! I studied Chinese for 7 years in total and I still suck. Especially after I stopped studying and started working in 2010. Now my reading skills are awful (they used to be ok) and my tones are still awful (they always were!). I always wanted to be a translator but ended up taking a job that wasn’t much about translation and now here I am at 30 and without the slighest idea of what my next step will be haha. Well, rant is over, I have to continue my online job search 😉

    1. Yeah the CSC scholarship is super disorganized.. I remember scouring the internet forever trying to find information. I even tried calling the US embassy to get through but no one would answer. It really is a mess. Without the Chinese Forum there is no way I could have successfully applied. Yeah I think our monthly stipend was about 1700? I mean, it’s not a lot (and definitely not enough to live on for a month) but it’s better than nothing. The Japanese MEXT scholarship gives a 2,500 USD monthly stipend which is crazy haha–it’s like having a higher salary than a job!

      My Chinese has gotten so much worse and there’s no way I could ever become a translator/interpreter now. I work in Japanese all the time now so my Chinese is slipping–at least when I lived in Shanghai I spoke/heard it everyday. Now in the USA I don’t have many opportunities to speak Chinese (nooo!!!).

      Hey, don’t worry, I’m almost 30 and I don’t know what I’m doing either. I used to stress about it but–hey, 30 is still pretty young, and from what I’ve heard here and there it seems like most people don’t really know what they’re doing until 34 or so. Especially now, young people are lost, haha. Good luck on your job search! I know that you can find something!! I noticed that finding a job in China wasn’t as hard as the USA (although it IS hard to get one that pays half-decent). But you’re super smart, I know you can find one! 加油!!

      1. Thanks for your 加油s! Weird as it might sound I think it would be easier for me to find a job in Spain as a Chinese teacher than in China as anything… but I want to live in China!!
        There is this computer games company I would love to work for in Suzhou and they have a couple of positions available, one is for translating into English and they only want native speakers, the other is for Spanish and it seems they are looking for Chinese people. Great…

        It is true though that many young people feel lost. Are we too soft? Or too demanding? Or is it just that now we are teenagers until we are 35? haha!

        1. teach English in china they’re are hundreds of positions and they’ll pay for everything. If you don’t have kids and are bored with your life its perfect.

  2. Very interesting. Thank you for sharing. I’d like to go to China and maybe this is a way to learn Chinese without the stress of working. Then again, maybe I can get lucky like you and be offered a sweet job. Ha! Anyway, I’d like to keep this in my back pocket.Cheers!

    1. I knew a lot of people on the Chinese language program that were there to just take a 6 month life break in China (I think the oldest guy was in his late 40’s? We even had lady in her early 50s!). Sometimes life gets frustrating (no matter where you are) and you just want a break, so yeah–keep this in mind! Wouldn’t hurt to study in China for free for 6 months 😉

      Still, I bet Thailand is nice. Many expats that go there never leave!

  3. So I don’t think that the CSC is the only thing that’s disorganized in China. It’s pretty much emblematic of China in general. I, too, did the CSC thing in 2008. =) Had a blast, too! It was such a pain to get it though, and same like you, Chinese-Forums saved my butt. I don’t know that I’d’ve even made it to China without their assistance.

    For what it’s worth, I think studying in China is awesome if you aren’t going for an actual degree. The degree programs are kinda… yeah… even the good ones. I think it’s really only worth it if you’re going there to study Chinese history (from the Chinese perspective), the Chinese language, Traditional Chinese medicine… otherwise, you’re probably better off going elsewhere.

    Kind of want to go to Japan to study Japanese though. =X Maybe after I’ve paid off all my insane student loans, and maybe if I get a scholarship to go there to study or something.

    1. Hey sorry for the late reply!

      That’s one reason I wrote this post: Getting CSC is easy!!! At least, compared to some scholarship in the U.S. The only mafan part of it is just figuring out how the hell to apply. The search for what, and how to turn it in cost me 20 hours on Google, at least. Chinese-Forums was the only page with reliable information.

      I agree with you 100% when it comes to Chinese universities. Even if you can get a degree for free in China, your wasted time definitely won’t be worth it. Learning Chinese in China, however, is a great opportunity and I think everyone should cash in on the government’s handout.

      I think having all those hanzi under your belt will help with Japanese study bigtime! Try to get the MEXT scholarship, unlike the CSC one it’s actually laid out quite clearly and it’s easy to apply, but the competition is a lot more fierce and the slots far fewer in number.

      Good luck!!!

  4. Hey. Thanks for sharing your experience! Very interesting! I’m from Kazakhstan and thinking about to get my Masters in China. I’m 30 as well))), and have my bachelor in engineering with 7 years experience in industry. I have no idea what my chances are in getting scholarship by CSC, but I am really curious since I had applied before to Korean one(KGSP) in 2013 and failed from its second selection, although I received a personal scholarship after that from one of the three universities being chosen independently(but it doesn’t count, as that wasn’t my target). The whole that thing was a big challenge for me for that moment in my life. I’ve always dreamed about getting Masters in Finance or Economy in neighbor countries like China.

    So far I’ve been doing a lot of research, especially on CSC selection process for the last year and came up with some funny numbers based on results for applicants from all countries. So, what I noted is that CSC tend to pick up more students from Asia and Africa rather than EU or US, or studying in China might be not that popular overseas so few were took my precised attention in scholarship reports. So, I looked through some CSC official reports for scholarship recipients that normally some universities are tend to announce in their page and saw that the biggest portion granted to Pakistani, Asian and African applicants so I was surprised.

    1. Good job on doing research for CSC! I also think doing a masters in finance or economy would be good in China, but again, be warned that Chinese schools operate very differently from the west (although I’m not sure how education works in Kazakhstan…). Anyway, if you want to live in Asia and need financial help doing so, I think CSC would be a great opportunity for you to do so (just don’t expect too much from the education).

      I was offered a scholarship without an interview and, really, I didn’t think it was that hard to get. I also had a British and Romanian friend get the scholarship quite easily as well. Again, the process differs by school and there’s no real official way to fill out the form, so make sure you check out CSC forums online for how to apply.

      I think most US/EU students would not want to study in China because the schools are not as good as their home country. I was attracted to China because I wanted to be an interpreter and I thought there was no place better to learn advanced Mandarin than China (right?). For MBAs and finance degrees, I think studying in US and UK have more merit, since they are more advanced economies and fiscal policy is a bit more developed here. Although I have to say, learning finance in China would be interesting.. I wonder if what they teach is legit? Haha…

      China and Africa are really tightening relationships now, so that may be one reason why more Africans are venturing to China for study abroad.

      I would love to visit Kazakhstan by the way! I hope I can make it out there someday. Very interested in that region of the world.

  5. Hi Ruby,

    My name is Min from Korea but currently reside in Australia. Im a 27 year old who recently travelled to Beijing with my family and just fell in love with the culture and the people. I stumbled upon your “become fluent in mandarin in 6 months” then the full ride scholarship blog. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    Im currently taking beginners chinese classes here in Australia but im not seeing much progress. You were right about the fact that you have to travel to the country and immerse yourself which i dreamed of doing but just like you, im currently lacking in the financial department to travel and study there. Yes, if given the chance, i would go all out with my studies in China and do whatever it takes to become fluent (at least proficient) in 6 months as im extremely motivated individual in general.

    Im interested in applying for the upcoming fall semester 2017 at Tsinghua University Chinese Language Program. Good news is, my parents are willing to provide some loan on top of my work money for my travel and study in China but would definitely be better with the scholarship. I am currently applying through online but what im getting confused is that its asking what degree and discipline i should be applying for. In my case, i already have masters with medical science here in Australia and im only interested in going to China to learn Chinese, not take up on additional uni courses. So how do i go about in answering the study plan and what major i should be taking up??? It only has limited options, like im not able to manually write what i want. I have to sort out before end of May 31st since thats the deadline for Fall Semester application.

    Would be very appreciated if you got back to me and help with my situation. Im heading down to China embassy in Sydney next week so if there is any paper applications or anything i can sort out with them in regards to my current situation, would be grateful. Hope you and your blog continues to grow.

    Kind Regards,


    1. Hi Min!

      YAY! I’m so excited for you! I think you’re going to love China and Tsinghua is a great place to study Chinese!

      First of all: are you applying for the Confucius scholarship? I just looked online and Confucius scholarship offers a wide variety of programs, and I think you would want to go for the 6 month or 12 month study program. It’s asking for HSK scores (?) but maybe you can ask the embassy if those are absolutely necessary. From what I can tell these HSK scores are pretty low. Anyway, apply for the Confucius Scholarship and NOT for the general CSC scholarship.

      Also, the Chinese scholarship websites are just.. a mess. I would really recommend looking at that Chinese message board I mention in my blog post. It’s truly up to date and gives a lot of great info from people who have gotten the scholarship before.

      Best of luck to you! Let me know if you have any further questions.

  6. Sorry just minor adjustment to my previous post, i got past the study plan section which i selected general scholar and literature for discipline, which then showed chinese language as major. Also, the chinese-forum indicate that pre-admission letter is required for you to end up in your chosen university, which mine is Tsinghua. So, i assume that you get the pre-admission letter from Tsinghua once you complete their application? Sorry about my previous post, some of the issues i addressed i wasnt do my research enough.


    1. Yeah, it might be even better for you to contact Tsinghua, tell them you’re applying and ask them for the letter or other things you need.

      China is insanely disorganized so I do highly recommend you do some research on that message board I mention in the blog post. I didn’t apply for Confucius scholarship specifically so I don’t know the details, but for my CSC masters application I did have to get the ‘OK’ from SISU before applying. Hope that helps!

  7. Hi Ruby,

    It is Min here again. Oops, i accidentally posted this same reply on
    your “learn mandarin in 6 months” rather than this one so please ignore
    the other post.

    Thank you so much for your recommendations.
    I looked into the Confucius Institute Scholarship and have gone through
    the applications. However, since im nearing the deadline for Tsinghua
    University upcoming fall semester, i don’t think i can take the HSK test
    in time since the next one is taking place at May 8th (takes 2 weeks for results to arrive) so ill be rushing everything to submit. The CSC scholarship all i need is my academic transcript, graduation certificate, passport and study plan without any HSK/HSKK. Since im up to the final stages of the online application for CSC, i should go with that. I just have couple more questions. Do i complete the fall semester application first in order to receive the pre-admission letter? Its asking for payment before obtaining the admission letter to complete the application, how do i apply the scholarship if i have to pay for the application? Does the money get reimbursed? Thank you again for all the help you are providing.

    Kind regards,


  8. Sorry, i always forget to address your updated post. You mentioned you done your application through paper and submitted straight to consulate so would be bit different to online application. When you said you got the “ok” from SISU, what did you mean by that? I googled SISU abbreviation but wasnt much help, still dont understand what it means. I havent completed my online application yet so its not too late for me to find out who i have to get the “ok” from.


  9. I just found your blog and have been happily browsing for a good half hour now! I’m looking forward to going further back in your archives and reading up on your experiences studying in China.
    I’m moving to Taiwan this winter on the Huayu Enrichment Scholarship. I considered several scholarship opportunities in China before deciding to apply for the Taiwanese HES program. HES seems a little more intensive (I had a Skype interview and an in-person orientation) and considerably more organized than the CSK. I think they gave you more money than I’m getting, though! The HES scholarship gives you a stipend for 850 USD per month, which is intended to cover food, housing, and tuition. We’ll see how that works out in the long run.

  10. Hello Ruby,

    I am 31 considering taking that 1 year scholarship route with the Confucius Institute Scholarship. However, I dont know Chinese at all and I believe the HSK is Chinese proficiency test. How can I still apply without knowing the language? I am interested in learning Mandarin and taking advantage of this opportunity ! I am american btw. Im very grateful for your blog because I was actually thinking of getting a masters im china but i knew it would not be a good idea. something told me so! your blog confirmed it! I want to go to china for this learning opportunity . then head to europe for my Masters . Oh and I ddidn’t have a good GPA in college. SO PLEASE advise <3

    1. Hello! There are many different types of scholarships that the Confucius Institute hosts, may of which include 4 week, 6 month and 12 month language learning programs. When I was studying in China, many of my friends there were from other programs. I made a ton of Japanese and Russian friends who spoke zero Chinese and were there on the scholarship.

      I know COVID seriously threw a wrench into the Confucius programs, but if you want to go to China you can see what programs are offered to Americans. This page at Columbia has some good resources.

      Unfortunately, it looks like HSK is highly desired… Maybe you can try to apply without HSK and see how it goes?

      Good luck!

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