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Masters Study in China - A Guide for 2018

As one of the world’s financial powers, a Masters Degree in China offers the chance to study at the heart of a booming economy.

China is keen to put itself forward as an option for foreign postgraduates. Several important projects have been initiated by the Chinese government to improve its higher education system and increasing numbers of colleges and universities are becoming accredited to admit international students.

This guide will answer your questions about postgraduate study in China, with information on universities, tuition fees, funding opportunities and student visas.

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Postgraduate opportunities in China – what's on offer for 2018?

China’s diverse landscape, thriving economy and heavy state investment in higher education make it a fantastic place to study a Masters.

Whether you’re interested in pursuing a Science and Technology discipline or one of the Humanities, you’ll find plenty of postgraduate options to suit your career goals.

Here are just a few of the reasons to study a Masters in China:

  • World-class universities – Sustained financial backing for China’s universities has seen a number of Chinese institutions ranked among the very best in the world. For more information, see our guide to Chinese postgraduate rankings.
  • Travel opportunities – You’ll never be stuck for places to visit during your time in China: climates in different regions vary greatly, from the cold in the Himalayas, to the subtropical in southern China. China is also home to 56 ethnic groups, each with their own customs and traditions. . . and food!
  • Affordable tuition fees and living costs – The cost of living in China is lower than many Western nations, and tuition fees are similarly affordable.
  • Employment prospects – China’s booming economy means that any graduates with relevant Chinese and international experience will be sought-after, both at home and in China.

Masters Study in China - Key Details
Universities Around 1,200
Oldest University Peking University (1898)
International Students 137,527
Course Length 2-3 years
Average Fees 20,000-60,000 RMB (USD $3,150-9,450)
Academic Year March to January

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Chinese universities

Chinese universities are renowned for their excellence in science, technology engineering and mathematics (it’s estimated that around 40% of Chinese graduates are in these STEM subjects).

Types of Chinese university

China is home to around 1,200 universities. They can be broadly divided into two types: public universities and private universities.

  • Public universities are funded by governmental agencies and the Chinese state. These institutions are typically among the oldest and most prestigious in China. Scholarships for public universities are usually more readily available than their private counterparts, so you should check out which funding opportunities you may be eligible for.
  • Private universities (also known as non-state universities) aren’t funded or administered by the Chinese state. Instead, they’re managed by non-governmental organisations. Private universities don’t rely on public funding, and most of their funding comes from tuition fees.

Chinese university rankings

China is not committed to a standard domestic ranking system, instead using its ‘Double First Class University Plan’ to identify 43 outstanding universities for government funding to achieve world-class status.

As a general rule, the country’s top universities are located in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.

China's universities are featured in several global university rankings, including the Times Higher Education and QS World University Rankings as well as the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), based in Shanghai.

The table below provides a comparison of these rankings for the top five Chinese universities, but you can find a more in-depth look at these on our guide to Chinese postgraduate rankings.


Top 10 Chinese Universities in 2018
University THE 2018 QS 2018 ARWU 2017
Peking University =27 =38 71
Tsinghua University 30 25 48
Fudan University 116 40 101-150
University of Science and Technology of China 132 97 101-150
Nanjing University =169 =114 201-300
Zheijiang University =177 87 101-150
Shanghai Jiao Tong University =188 62 101-150
Sun Yat-sen University 351-400 =319 151-200
Huazhong University of Science and Technology 401-500 471-480 201-300
Tongji University 401-500 =316 301-400
Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.

Do rankings matter for Masters degrees?

International rankings use all sorts of metrics to assess universities and they aren't all equally relevant to postgraduate study. That's why we've put together a guide to university rankings for Masters students.

Course types

Degrees in Science and Technology disciplines are generally more popular at prestigious Chinese institutions. Less emphasis is placed on subjects in the Arts and Humanities, but the American liberal arts educational model is being embraced at increasing numbers of colleges in China.

Both research and taught Masters are available for a variety of qualifications, including MA, MSc, MRes, and MBA degrees.

The Chinese government has signed mutual recognition agreements for higher education qualifications with many countries, including the UK, America, France, Japan and over 50 other nations. However, you should still check with the university or higher education institution where you’re hoping to study to see if their qualification is internationally-recognised.

The academic year usually begins in March and finishes in January. Courses are organised into individual semesters, with summer study leave generally lasting between four and eight weeks, depending on the institution and the course you are studying. The Chinese New Year is also a factor in determining semester dates.

Two years is the minimum length for most Masters in China, and some programmes are three years long.

Are any Masters Degrees in China taught in English?

Yes, but these courses are mainly related to medicine, business, engineering, computer science and technology.

If English is your first language, you won’t need to pass a language test to study these courses. However, if you are an international student whose first language is not English, and you have not studied at an English institution for three years or more, you’ll need to provide evidence of your proficiency.

Masters fees and funding

The cost of studying and living in China is relatively low. In fact, most of your everyday essentials may be much cheaper than in your home country.

Tuition fees vary depending on the institution and subject, so comparing different programmes is always a good idea. You can get started by searching the Chinese Masters degrees in our course listings.

Tuition fees

Typical tuition fees for a Chinese Masters degree will be 20,000-60,000 RMB (USD $3,150-9,450), but exact costs can vary by course and institution. MBA programmes and other specialised qualifications will be at the upper range of this scale.

Other fees

Tuition fees are not the only the only cost you'll have to cover when applying to study in China. You may also need to pay for the following:

  • Application fees – Using CUCAS (the official international application service for Chinese universities) is free, but individual universities generally require a fee of around USD $90-150.
  • Visa fees – These vary for each country, but will cost somewhere in the region of USD $140 for a year’s study.
  • Medical examination fee – This varies depending on where it is undertaken, but is usually in the region of USD $100.
  • Health insurance – This is approximately USD $130 a year, depending on your needs and provider.

Accommodation costs

Larger and more modern Chinese universities may have dedicated housing for international students, but private lettings will also be available. Average prices can vary a lot depending on the type of accommodation you require and the prices in your area. Expect to pay between 2,480-3,100 RMB per month (USD $390-490) per month, but be sure to research actual costs in advance.

Scholarships and other Masters funding

A variety of scholarship programs have been established to help overseas students study in China, including several which are run by CUCAS. Other opportunities include:

  • Confucius Institute Scholarship – The purpose of this scholarship is to help students settle into studying in China. It is also open to scholars and language teachers, so would be an ideal opportunity for mature students (up to the age of 35). You need to have acquired a good level of Chinese, and be able to prove this. There are six possible categories to choose from, so you should be able to find funding that suits your needs.
  • Chinese Local Government Scholarships – These scholarships aim to attract students to certain areas within China to study Chinese language and culture.
  • Chinese Government Scholarships – The Chinese Ministry of Education offers scholarships for students to undertake studies and research at Chinese universities. Areas of study and research are much more open. Ideal if you don’t want to study in Chinese.
  • The British Council – The British Council runs scholarship programmes open to anyone with a British passport (or Irish passport for students of Northern Ireland). All you need to pay for is return flights, visa costs and medical insurance. Most of these scholarships are designed for students currently in higher education, but could be a great opportunity as a bridge between undergraduate and Masters study.

You may also be able to receive funding directly from your university. Many will have scholarships available, some of which will be designed to help attract and support international students.

Applying for a Masters in China

Most universities in China run on a two-semester year, but some have three semesters. Check with your university to ensure you can apply early.

Applications for autumn semesters

The autumn semester usually starts in September or October.

Applications to begin a Masters in this semester usually open in late February / early March. Official application deadlines are usually in late July, but this can vary depending on the institution. Do note that early applications look more favourable.

If accepted, your admission letter should arrive in late May / early June. It is best to apply early as letters for later applications (i.e. July) can be delivered as late as four weeks before your start date. This would leave you with limited time to apply for a visa.

Applications for spring semesters

The spring semester usually starts in late February or early March.

As mentioned above, the earlier you can apply for your course, the better. Applications for spring semester usually open in late October, with the official deadline for most universities ending in late January. Applying earlier will allow more time to organise your visa and other documentation.

Application process

In most cases, there are several options when applying to study a Masters degree at a Chinese institution. You can either apply directly to your university, or apply using an official support service such as CUCAS. Be aware of unofficial agencies.

The whole process usually takes around two to three months. Applying early and avoiding busy times of year can reduce processing time.

Once you've found a Masters in China there are two main options available for your application:

  • Apply directly to the University

    This is an option at all universities. Applications will be easier if you speak Chinese and are able to make yourself understood when communicating with your desired institution. Universities may not have staff dedicated to helping you with the application process. You should also take into account the difference in time zone. Note that applying directly to your university will not guarantee you student accommodation.

  • Apply through CUCAS

    CUCAS is the official international application portal for Chinese universities. Not all institutions and programmes operate through CUCAS, but their free service will make applications much simpler for those that do.

Application fees

Universities may charge a fee to process applications. This is usually between USD $90 and $150, but can vary between institutions.

Entry requirements

To be admitted onto a Chinese Masters degree you will normally need to:

  • hold a valid passport
  • hold a Bachelors degree (or equivalent undergraduate qualification)
  • provide one/two letters of recommendation (tutors at your undergraduate university may be able to provide these)
  • pass a medical examination
  • meet the language requirements for your course (see below)

Some Chinese universities may also set age limits for postgraduate applications. These can be as low as 40, so it's worth checking your course's requirements if applying as a mature postgraduate.

Language requirements

Some Masters degrees in China are taught in English, but many are not. In order to study a Chinese-language programme, you will need to pass a language test.

The official languages of China include Mandarin, Wu and Cantonese. Your Chinese teacher will certainly speak standard Mandarin (a prerequisite for teaching foreign students).

Standard Mandarin is based on the Beijing dialect, but this doesn't mean that you won't learn to speak “proper” Chinese if you study in another part of the country.

Most Chinese people also speak the local dialect of their hometown, so you may encounter lots of different types of Chinese speech during your stay.

Chinese language tests

If your course is taught in Chinese you will need to provide a Chinese (Mandarin) language test score as part of your application. The standard test is the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi test. You can read more in our guide to Chinese language tests for postgraduate study.

Visa and immigration requirements

Foreign students studying in China are required to hold an ordinary passport and a valid student visa. Visa applications can take up to 4 weeks and can only begin once you have received an offer from a Chinese university. This means you'll need to make sure you leave sufficient time to complete both your Masters application and your visa application before your course start date.

Applying for an X1 visa

You can normally begin your visa application at a Chinese embassy or consulate in your home country. To do so, you’ll need the following documents:

  • Your passport. This should be valid for at least six more months and have a blank page for your visa stamp.
  • A recent passport photograph.
  • Proof of legal residence in your current country (if applying from a country you are not a national of).
  • An original and a copy of the university admission letter issued for your Masters.
  • A completed visa application form. This will be issued to you by your university along with your admission letter. The form will be labelled as JW201 (for students on scholarships) or JW202 (for students supporting their own studies). Your university will send you the correct version.

Other documents may be required, depending on your personal circumstances. The embassy at which you apply should be able to inform you of these.

Upon arrival

Once you have arrived in China, you will need to acquire a Registration Form of Temporary Residence. Who you receive this from will depend on your accommodation arrangements.

If you are living in university halls, you should receive the form from your university. If you are renting privately, you should receive your Temporary Residence Form from the local authorities (your landlord may have to accompany you).

When you have your Registration Form of Temporary residence you can formally enrol with your university and receive a longer term Residence Permit.

Enrolling with your university

Registration processes differ slightly between institutions, but there are certain documents that you should normally have on hand. These include:

  • Your passport (plus extra passport-sized photographs)
  • An admission letter from your university
  • A copy of your health insurance letter
  • Confirmation of your health insurance
  • A receipt for payment of tuition
  • Your Registration Form of Temporary Residence (this will have been provided by your university accommodation or by local authorities, if renting privately)

If you have yet to pay for tuition fees or health insurance you can do so at your university.

Applying for a Residence Permit

The last thing to do before getting stuck into your Masters is to apply for a longer term Residence Permit. Your university can help you with this: you won’t be left to do it by yourself.

If you did not have to undergo a physical examination in order to receive your visa, you may have to undertake one in China in order to receive your residence permit. Again, your university can help you with this.

The procedure for obtaining a residence permit may take up to six weeks. During this time your passport will be with the Public Security Bureau. As such, you cannot make plans to leave the country during this period.

Once you receive a residence permit, this will be pasted into your passport, effectively replacing your visa. This will allow you to exit and re-enter the country.

You must carry your passport (with residency permit) with you at all times, as passport checks are undertaken regularly.

Health insurance and medical requirements

As a Masters student you will normally be staying in China for over a year. As such, you will need to hold adequate health insurance, which covers the duration of your stay. You will also need to undergo a physical examination, preferably before arrival.

Physical examination

Your examination should be performed in a public hospital one month before departure for China. If the examination is performed in a private hospital, you should receive a notarised certificate. A form (PDF) for this is available from CUCAS, the official application support service for international students in China.

In some circumstances, passing a physical examination may be a condition of your visa. If so, this will be made clear during your application.

Buying insurance

International students in China are also required to purchase both medical insurance and personal accidental death and injury insurance. You can do this before or after arrival in China.

If you opt to purchase student health insurance in China, you can do so when registering with your university. One of the most popular policies comes from the Ping An Life Insurance Company, who offer an insurance scheme for foreigners in China with an insurance premium of 800 RMB (USD $130) per year. You may be asked to purchase cover for your full course duration in advance.

China is a big country and rural hospitals may not have the same facilities as urban centres. Make sure your insurance includes transport. Your insurance may also limit the range of hospitals you can be treated at.

Can I work while I study?

Yes – but permissions vary depending on where you study. This is because it is only recently that the Chinese government has allowed international students to undertake part-time work.

As a general rule, students can work on average 12 hours per week, and may possibly take up extra hours in the holidays. However, you must have permission from your academic institution. As such, it is best to contact your university regarding their policy on part-time work for international students.

Next steps

In recent years, China has become the world’s fastest growing economy – a great asset for international students looking for jobs.

The Chinese government is also seeking more graduates to help its economy grow further – so staying on after you graduate could be a fantastic opportunity. Graduates who are bilingual and have experience of working in international contexts are particularly sought after.

There is also high demand for employees in the UK and other countries with work experience in China – and you'll already have taken the first steps towards this. The British Council in particular is running an internship programme for UK students to gain work experience across a range of industries in China. Placements are available in Beijing, Chengdu, Qingdao, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Zhuhai. The internships last for two months and funding is provided to cover accommodation and travel insurance.

Applying for a work visa

If you want to work full-time in China you must apply for a Z visa and need to have an official invitation to the country by an employer. For more information on applying for visas, contact the Chinese embassy in the UK (or the appropriate branch in your own home country). If you're not a UK national, contact the Chinese embassy in the country where you are currently resident for advice.

Where can you work?

Education is highly valued in China and teaching is a well-respected profession. Language teaching is particularly popular. Placements are available in Chinese schools, colleges or universities and last from a few months to a year. Specific opportunities are available through the British Council.

It is also common for graduates to work for foreign-owned companies that are based in China, as opposed to just Chinese businesses.

Around 85% of foreign employees in China work for international companies, with the largest proportion in sales and marketing, followed by banking, financial services, and engineering.

IT is also another large industry employer, with about 5% of international employees working in this sector. Management and HR (human resources) positions are also widely available.

Big employers include Sinopec, China National Petroleum, China Mobile, Bank of China, SAIC Motor, FAW Group and the Sinochem Group. All of these will potentially have opportunities available for international Masters graduates.

Can you study for a PhD in China?

Yes! To see what PhD opportunities might be available to you in China, or elsewhere, you can visit FindAPhD.com.

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Last updated - 04/04/2018

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