20 April 2019
Parents and teachers cheer as they send off kids for the national college entrance exams. Photo: China Daily
Parents and teachers cheer as they send off kids for the national college entrance exams. Photo: China Daily

Why millennials don’t seem to care much about college degrees

A sense of anxiety spread among parents, school officials and even the authorities across mainland China last week as the national college entrance exams took place for three consecutive days from Thursday.

But while parents and school officials were so nervous, most of the students sitting the exams appeared composed and relaxed.

This has been attributed to the “Buddhist mentality” that has become all the rage among young people of China in recent years.

The “Buddhist mentality” refers to a laid-back outlook on life, a kind of “I’m easy” attitude towards basically everything.

This year’s national college entrance exams, or the “Gaokao” (higher examination), saw the debut of millennials.

The “Buddhist mentality” is especially strong among the post-2000 generation, many of whom have referred to themselves as the “Buddhist youth”.

This year, a total of 9.75 million high school graduates took the national exams, up 350,000 from last year and marking an eight-year high.

While having more examinees would mean a more intense competition, and therefore students should have been “on full alert”, the reality is that many of them simply took the exams pretty casually.

Instead of intensely preparing for the exams, many were seen playing their smartphone games while others seemed more concerned about their summer vacation plans than how they would fare in the tests.

Perhaps the findings of a recent survey conducted by mainland media on students’ attitude towards college admission and degrees may help to explain why many millennials were not taking this year’s college entrance exams as seriously as we might have expected.

According to the survey, over half of the respondents who were born either in or after 2000 no longer consider the college entrance exams a big deal because it sets the course of one’s life.

For these millennials, the old-school idea that a person’s future is pretty much determined by his or her grades in college entrance exams is obsolete and out of touch with reality.

To some extent, their attitude toward exams and college degrees may be well-founded.

Compared to previous generations, mainland youngsters nowadays enjoy a lot more choices and opportunities when it comes to seeking further study or deciding on their career paths.

For example, more mainland parents can now afford to send their kids to overseas universities.

And even for young people who can’t afford to study overseas, their chances of getting admitted into universities across the mainland have jumped to over 70 percent, thanks to the government’s all-out efforts to boost college admission rates on a national scale.

Meanwhile, many millennials are convinced that they would still have access to a lot of career opportunities even if they didn’t go to college: there are so many stories of young people with no degrees or college dropouts who have become highly successful entrepreneurs.

In this age of the internet, we hear so many stories of young people who have made big bucks and are now leading comfortable lives by becoming topnotch social media influencers.

Unlike their parents, most mainland youngsters nowadays have been raised in a materially abundant environment, and are therefore much less hungry for success or concerned about how to improve their station in life.

Many of them don’t have to support their families. And as such, many simply feel that the conventional definition of being “successful” embraced by their parents just doesn’t apply to them anymore.

The problem is, while most post-2000 youth no longer regard a college degree as a big deal or a prerequisite for a successful life, their parents and teachers still very much do.

That could probably explain the huge crowds of mainland parents seeing off their kids who were setting out for the exam venues, most of them wearing red clothes for good luck.

Despite the cheerful scenes, the increasingly widening gap in the ways parents and their children view the value of college degrees would inevitably give rise to more and more generational conflicts in the family.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 8

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Hong Kong Economic Journal contributor

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe