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Summary

We are EAs who have done or are about to do the Schwarzman Scholars program; Saad just graduated in 2022 and Kevin is an incoming Schwarzman Scholar starting the program in fall 2022. While we feel that this post likely gives a good sense of what one could gain from the program, individuals' experiences have varied widely. In particular, the experience and potential value of doing this program might look very different if you are from China. 

We have written this post with input and feedback from a range of Schwarzman alumni. Special thanks to Jason Zhou, Deborah Tien, Miro Pluckebaum, and John Petrie for comments on earlier drafts. Any errors that remain are ours. 

  • Schwarzman Scholars is a fully-funded, 1-year Master’s in Global Affairs and Leadership at Tsinghua University in Beijing that aims to bring together potential future global leaders and improve their knowledge of and ability to work across different cultures.
  • 80,000 Hours lists the program as part of its “China Specialist” career review and has an article that lays out why Schwarzman might be a promising program for EAs interested in China.
  • The aim of this post is to give the community a more detailed sense of what kinds of career capital the Schwarzman program can help one develop, how it might compare to other related programs, and what you can do if you’re interested in applying.
  • In terms of career capital, Schwarzman Scholars could help one with:
    • Immersion in China via on-the-ground experience living in China, some Mandarin language learning, honing China-focused research skills, and gaining some exposure to the intersection of China and technology.
    • Developing networks with potentially influential people through the program’s mentor and alumni network within China and internationally.
    • Investing time in personal and professional development by providing space for individuals to engage in leadership and personal development workshops and leaving space for people to pursue individual interests.
    • Unique post-program fellowship opportunities that allow one to work on pressing issues at some of the world’s top think-tanks.
  • People often apply to Schwarzman when also applying to some of these other programs, which reflect the different motivations and goals scholars often come to the program with:
    • Masters of Business Administration: for networking in international business circles and developing an understanding of the Chinese market.
    • Masters of Public Policy/International Affairs: to gain some exposure to ‘policy’ broadly, or to international relations specifically.
    • China Studies and immersion programs: to deepen their understanding of China and develop relevant research skills.
  • If you want to apply for the Schwarzman program, several alumni are open to speaking to you about their experience in the program. Email Saad (muhammadsaad1997@hotmail.com) and Kevin (hi@kevinlwei.com) to get this set up. We’ve also included some application tips at the end of the post.
  • If you have thought about applying in the past but held back, we’d love to hear what stopped you from applying. Feel free to email or leave a comment.
  • Applications for the Class of 2024 (starting Fall 2023), are open until September 20th.

Overview of the Schwarzman Scholars Program

Program Overview: the Schwarzman Scholarship is a one-year Master’s in Global Affairs program at Tsinghua University in Beijing. The program is fully-funded, so tuition, room & board, and travel to China and back to your home country are covered; in other words, there is no financial cost to attend for all admitted Scholars. The program is taught in English.

The program positions itself as the “Rhodes Scholarship of China” with a focus on increasing future, global leaders’ understanding of China:

Schwarzman Scholars is the first scholarship created to respond to the geopolitical landscape of the 21st century. As China’s role in global trends continues to grow, the success of future leaders in any sector depends upon an immersive understanding of the country and its culture. A one-year, fully-funded master’s program at Tsinghua University in Beijing, Schwarzman Scholars is designed to build a global community of future leaders who will serve to deepen understanding between China and the rest of the world.

Program History: the program was announced in 2013, and the first cohort of Schwarzman Scholars graduated in 2017. The 7th cohort (2022-2023) will matriculate this fall, and applications for the 8th cohort (2023-2024) are now open.

Program Location: Beijing, China

Program Cost: the program is fully-funded for all admitted Scholars, so there is no financial cost to attend.

Cohort Composition:[1]

  • Size: the 7th cohort is ~150 students. The program plans to gradually expand to 200 students per cohort in the coming years.
  • Geography: each year, 20% of the cohort comes from China, 40% from the U.S., and 40% from the rest of the world.
  • Age / Work Experience: Scholars range from 18 (the minimum age) to 28 (the maximum age). Historically, a sizable plurality of Scholars come to the program right out of undergrad. The program is, however, very interested in applications from those with several years of working experience, as they generally receive fewer applications from early career professionals than from recent graduates.
  • Academic background: there is no restriction on undergraduate field of study to apply. As undergraduates, 48% of the Schwarzman class of 2020 studied social sciences, 26% studied STEM fields, and 26% studied business & economics.

Eligibility: you are eligible for the program if you will have earned an undergraduate degree by the time you begin the program, will be 28 or younger by August 1st of the year you begin the program, and are a fluent English speaker (the program is taught in English).

Timelines: the program runs every August through June. There are four modules (“semesters”) with a 1-week break between Modules 1 and 2 in October, a 6-week break between Modules 2 and 3 for Chinese New Year from Jan-Feb. Because the program is one-year, there is no overlap between cohorts. The application process occurs on two different timelines based on your citizenship:

  • Applicants with citizenship from the PRC, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau: applications are open January - May the calendar year before you would begin the program. Interviews are conducted in June - July.
  • All other applicants (U.S., E.U., etc.): applications are open April - September the calendar year before you would begin the program. Interviews are conducted in October - November.

Curriculum: the program places significant emphasis on learning about China and gaining leadership skills. The degree you eventually graduate with is called a “Masters of Management Science in Global Affairs and Leadership.” All Scholars are required to take:

  • One course on modern Chinese history
  • One global affairs course
  • One Mandarin language course
  • 2-3 leadership courses
  • Practical leadership lectures and a “deep dive” externship
  • A capstone project or thesis (can be individual or group)
  • Electives (many of which are China-oriented)

What kinds of career capital can I gain through the program? 

The Schwarzman program can provide career capital through a few mechanisms: immersion in China, networking as well as space for personal and professional exploration. Alumni are also able to access a range of unique opportunities after the program.

Immersion in China

  • Experience “on the ground” in China, with low(er) risk to security clearance. This can go beyond the one year you spend doing the program:
    • Alumni are eligible to apply for residential advisor roles at Schwarzman College (“Senior Scholars”). In exchange for part-time work supporting the cohort in residence, these alumni are provided with room and board for the academic year (August-June), as well as a stipend; individuals with more advanced Mandarin language abilities are preferred for these positions. Senior scholars have worked on PhDs remotely, worked full-time at think-tanks, or done language intensives. This is an opportunity open to all alumni, regardless of the year you graduated.
  • (Some) language study & immersion: Schwarzman Scholars are required to take at least one semester of Chinese language courses and can choose to continue language study throughout the program. The program also provides language and cultural immersion through interactions with Chinese organizations/leaders, externship/internship programs, and more. However, overall, scholars only have two 1-hour Chinese classes per week and are in a largely English-speaking environment as all classes are in English.
  • Gain China-focused research skills: the main way to do this would be via your thesis and would require a lot of self-directed work and independent study, as there are no dedicated classes focused on methodology or research rigor. One can also develop these skills by forming relationships with and attending office hours of the China studies professors, who are leading figures in the field.[2] We estimate that <5% of a given cohort dedicates time to developing these skills seriously, although a more significant proportion of the cohort does develop domain-specific knowledge and skills.
  • China-Tech intersection knowledge/experience: Schwarzman College is located in Haidian District, which is also home to Zhongguancun. Zhongguancun is a technology innovation hub that has been referred to as China’s ‘Silicon Valley’, and is also home to two of China’s largest internet companies, Sina and Baidu. Tsinghua University owns a nearby science and technology park, and both Schwarzman College and Tsinghua have a range of classes that allow students to visit the offices of companies. Schwarzman College also has a partnership with Plug and Play China, a VC and incubator, and together they run an internship program that matches Schwarzman students with Plug and Play startups.

Networking 

Networking happens both in and outside of China, both on and off campus, and both during and after the program:

  • Networks within Schwarzman Scholars & Alumni: being part of the Schwarzman Scholars network gives you access to both potential mentors and collaborators from a variety of industries across the world. A range of organizations—e.g., Bytedance, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank—have hired Schwarzman alumni, and Schwarzman Scholars have also worked together to set up companies and nonprofits after the program.
  • Networks within Tsinghua: Schwarzman Scholars are Tsinghua graduate students and will have opportunities to meet other students on campus. Tsinghua is China’s leading science and technology university, and houses the Institute of International AI Governance, a think-tank headed by the Dean of Schwarzman College, Xue Lan.[3]
  • Networks within China: the program routinely involves high-level government and business leaders in China. For instance, students are offered chances to shadow party officials during “Deep Dives,” and luminaries such as a former CEO of Sinopec (one of the largest oil companies in the world) have been brought in to teach leadership practicums.
  • Networks within the U.S. and around the world: alumni are typically very responsive, and quite a few alumni are in entry- and mid-level positions across several governments; it stands to reason that at least some of them will be in high-level positions as time progresses. Geographically, alumni are concentrated in hubs including Washington D.C., New York, Beijing, and Singapore. The program appoints alumni “hub captains” and provides them with budgets to organize alumni events.

Personal and Professional Development

Classes at Schwarzman are taught at a level accessible to those from a wide variety of backgrounds, so they are usually introductory in nature. The program places limits on how much reading professors can assign, and assignments are usually graded with an introductory audience in mind. 

As a result, Scholars have significant latitude to pursue independent professional and personal development:

  • Professional development: it is fairly easy to maintain a 10-hour side project for most of the year. Some students even pursue 3-day/week internships alongside much of the program. Moreover, the final module of the program (May-June), is typically set aside for students to do internships. All of this is essentially time that one could use to test their fit across a range of different areas. Finally, each student is paired with a professional mentor from the Schwarzman mentor pool.
  • Personal development: part of the leadership component of the program includes a range of activities that push es students to reflect on their leadership style and personal work style. This includes workshops, coaching sessions from executive coaches, and personality assessment questionnaires. Students find these of varying usefulness, but for some these programs can be useful in helping identify bad work habits and improving interpersonal skills.

Unique Post-Program Opportunities

  • Policy fellowships: Schwarzman Scholars also funds year-long fellowships across four of the world’s leading think-tanks - the Wilson Center (D.C.), Chatham House (London), the Asia Society Policy Institute (N.Y.), and the National Committee on U.S-China Relations (N.Y.) Students are only eligible to apply for these while they are in the Schwarzman Scholars program, and if awarded the fellowship, they typically have great latitude to shape the direction of their research. Some Schwarzman alumni who have been awarded these fellowships have worked on EA priority areas during their time at these think-tanks, e.g. AI standards-setting and metagenomic sequencing policies.
  • Ad-hoc alumni opportunities: these include opportunities to attend the One Young World Summit as a Schwarzman Admissions Ambassador and various seminars organized by think-tanks, such as the National Committee on US-China Relations.

What have alumni found most useful about the program?

We asked EA-aligned Schwarzman Scholars alumni what they found most useful about the program, with the following prompts:

  • What did you find most useful about the program?
  • Do you think doing the program helped you improve your ability (skills, career capital, path clarity) to maximize impact in your career? If so, how?
  • What is one thing about your experience in the program that surprised you?

Jason Zhou, 6th cohort Scholar (2021-2022) 

Context: Jason is a scholar from America who speaks Mandarin mostly fluently, which partially accounts for his ability to connect with Chinese professors and interface with experts. 

 I found two experiences most useful from the program. The first was exposure to top tier Chinese intellectuals and thinkers. Tsinghua is full of high-powered intellectuals, who are generally quite willing to exchange ideas with students. Those scholars are also sometimes able to connect you – or you can connect via the Schwarzman name and/or connections – to other scholars based in Beijing. I learned a lot from chatting with these scholars, even and especially when I disagreed strongly with their views. The second experience was meeting and befriending people in the program itself. Due to the diversity of views and backgrounds of Schwarzman Scholars, and since the career paths each person is on is fairly eclectic, I was exposed to a lot of different career ideas and paths, as well as life philosophies–such as EA–that have influenced me greatly. 

The program has helped me somewhat in my skills for researching China, greatly in terms of my China-based policy network, enhanced (fairly significantly, I think, but I won’t know for several years) my career capital through experience living in China, and helped me moderately in clarifying my career path. Most of this came through interfacing with Chinese experts at Tsinghua, getting to know fellow classmates, and pursuing my thesis project very actively. 

I was surprised by how much time I still spent on classes despite the lack of emphasis on academics, as well as by how hard it was to find time to meet and get to know other Tsinghua students. On the latter, there are so many competing priorities in Schwarzman, and it is so easy to access the Schwarzman Chinese classmates that I, despite having sufficiently good Chinese, barely got to know any Tsinghua students. Some did better than me, but even so I think everyone finds it difficult.

Anonymous, Scholar who was part of an in-person cohort

I was struck by two things during the program: the level of self-direction and the caliber of my peers.

Self-direction: This is a 'make your own adventure' type of program. There are a LOT of events and opportunities within Schwarzman, Tsinghua, Beijing, and China in general. The Schwarzman program's network is indeed impressive, but the relationships are not offered on a silver platter. Even getting the dream introductions can take a lot of effort, let alone building the relationships. I personally think one leverages this program more when one has stronger ideas of which particular topics to take a deep dive and is willing to take individual initiative.

Peers: Building community is a huge component of the Schwarzman Scholars program. Because I am more of a generalist, learning more about my peers' ultra diverse interests and pathways felt useful both in the short- and long-term; however, others who are more focused in one particular arena may see this type of experience as a distracting waste of time and emotional energy in the short-term, especially without clear long-term outcomes. This group is amongst the most confident, socially-skilled, and genuinely curious people I've ever had the fortune of living with. I personally think people gain more from the program if they're ready to dedicate a substantial chunk of time to relationship building with peers (amongst plenty of other speakers, visitors, Tsinghua students, etc.).

What other programs do those applying for Schwarzman Scholars consider? 

The programs people consider at the same time as Schwarzman, compared below, reflect different motivations people have for doing the Schwarzman Scholars program. This diversity of motivation reflects the fact that in doing Schwarzman, you will get exposure to a little bit of business, policy, international relations, and China studies, and that if you just want to specialize in one of these things, it’s potentially better to do a more specialized program. 

  • Masters of Business Administration (MBA): some people do Schwarzman in lieu of an MBA, because it can help a person cultivate a network of contacts in Chinese and American business circles, and gain some understanding of the Chinese market. There are also elective classes focused on business and finance that are offered. Doing Schwarzman in place of an MBA is a step some have taken after 3-5 years in a corporate career like management consulting.
  • Masters of Public Policy/international relations: some do Schwarzman for reasons similar to doing a MPP, to gain some exposure to ‘policy’ broadly, or to international relations. There are classes focused on global affairs and topical global issues like the energy transition that are offered.
  • China Studies: some do Schwarzman to deepen their understanding of China. This can be used to either figure out if you should or to actually make a pivot to a China focus in your career.
  • For non-Chinese people who just want to get on-the-ground experience in China: other options include Luce Scholars (Americans only), Princeton in Asia, and Yenching Scholars.

Particularly for Americans, there are also a range of funded Mandarin language study options which alumni have sometimes opted to do before or after Schwarzman. These include: 

Here’s a link to a document that lays out some potential options for language study. Information for programs changes frequently, so please only take this as a starting point for understanding what programs might be out there. The document may also contain some old or broken links.  

Caveat: We have only done Schwarzman and not the other programs, so these are impressions based on conversations with people who have done other programs, as well as information available online. 

Program

Similarities

Dissimilarities

Business School (MBA)
  • Student culture: the primary value-add of the program is not academics but networks
  • Comparable alumni outcomes in consulting, finance, and tech industries[4]
  • Schwarzman is somewhat policy-focused, whereas MBAs programs are not
  • Schwarzman has more international networks: 63% of the HBS class of 2023 was American v.s. ~40% American in a typical Schwarzman cohort.
  • Schwarzman sends more alumni to government/NGO roles[4]
  • Schwarzman sends more Schwarzman alumni to further education after graduation[4]
  • Schwarzman has smaller cohort sizes: there are 150-200 Schwarzman Scholars per cohort vs. 300-1000 students per class for top MBA programs. Note that since the Schwarzman program is 1-year vs 2-year MBA programs, these class sizes mean there are 150-200 Schwarzman Scholars in residence at any given point in time vs. 600-2000 students at top MBA programs.
Policy Masters (MPP, SSP, SAIS)
  • Somewhat comparable focus on international affairs and public policy
  • Schwarzman sends fewer alumni in government/NGO roles[5]
  • Schwarzman sends more alumni to further education after graduation[5]
  • Schwarzman has smaller cohort sizes: there are 150-200 Schwarzman Scholars per cohort vs. 225 students per class for HKS MPP and ~200 (est) per class for Georgetown SSP. Note that since the Schwarzman program is 1-year vs 2-year MPP programs, these class sizes means there are 150-200 Schwarzman Scholars in residence at any given point in time vs. 550 students in the HKS MPP program and 400+ students at Georgetown SSP. Note that HKS has 1,100 students in residency across all programs).

China studies programs in China


Examples: Yenching Academy, Hopkins-Nanjing

  • Similar cohort sizes: there are 150-200 Schwarzman Scholars per cohort vs. 120 Yenching Scholars per cohort. Note that since the Schwarzman program is 1-year vs 2-year MPP programs, these class sizes means there are 150-200 Schwarzman Scholars in residence at any given point in time vs. ~240 Yenching Scholars in residence.


 

  • Schwarzman is less academic. For example, Yenching requires the submission of research proposals as part of the application process; Schwarzman instead requires a personal statement and a leadership essay.
  • Differing focii of parent universities: Tsinghua is primarily a STEM university while Peking University, where Yenching Academy is based, has a greater international relations focus.
  • Length: the Schwarzman program is 1-year vs. 2-years for the Yenching and Hopkins-Nanjing.
  • Language requirements: Yenching and Schwarzman don’t require prior Chinese language exposure; Hopkins-Nanjing requires HSK 6, which is near native fluency.

China studies programs that are partially in China, partially outside China

Examples: LSE-Fudan, SciencesPo -Peking

We didn’t really have access to people/didn’t have sufficiently certain ideas about comparison for these programs, but we still felt it was worth including these categories for people to think about and investigate on their own.

Some general points to consider: 

  • These China studies programs are probably more methodologically rigorous and give you much more China-focused knowledge/research skills than Schwarzman.
  • Dual degree programs likely give you both a disciplinary focus (e.g. international relations) and a China studies background, which can be useful if you want to go into academia.

China studies programs outside China 

Examples: University of Oxford

What are some reasons I might not want to apply for the Schwarzman Scholars program?

We’ve discussed many reasons you may want to apply for the Schwarzman Scholars program. However, we also recognize that the program may not be for everyone. You may not want to apply for the Schwarzman Scholars program if: 

  • You do not plan on studying China or on pursuing a China-focused career
  • You do not plan on studying in China, e.g. for reasons related to security clearance, privacy, or personal health
  • You have little to no interest in studying the Mandarin language
  • You are interested in a more academically- or theoretically-focused degree, or you are not interested in a more practically- or leadership-focused degree
  • You are interested in gaining specific, deep skills in a particular topic or cause area, and you believe you can better gain these skills through other programs (see above)
  • You are not eligible to apply for the program

How should I go about the application process? 

In general, you should err on the side of applying if you think there is a chance Schwarzman might be useful for you and if the opportunity cost of submitting the application is not too high for you. There is no application fee, and the application cycle is earlier than most other graduate school applications. The application process for the Schwarzman Scholarship is also relatively short when compared with similar programs, many of which require 5+ essays and 3+ letters of recommendation (e.g. Rhodes, Marshall, Fulbright, etc.). 

The Schwarzman application consists of:

  • 750-word leadership essay
  • 500-word personal statement
  • 100-word “Why Schwarzman” short response
  • 100-word “tell us something we didn’t know” short response
  • Resume + short description of your extracurriculars, professional history, awards, etc.
  • Three letters of recommendation:
    • 1 academic recommendation
    • 1 professional/“leadership” recommendation
    • 1 recommendation of your choice (i.e., can be either academic or professional)

Roughly around 3000-4000 people apply each year and ~10% are selected for interviews. Of those offered interviews, ~30-40% are offered a spot. The interview round, at least in the online format that has been adopted the past 2 years, consists of a 25-min interview with 5-8 panelists who are leaders in various fields ranging from military generals to business leaders to artists. Previously, when interviews were in-person, candidates were flown to interview centers such as London, where they participated in some networking events, group assessments, and an in-person interview. 

The program is especially interested in applications from those with several years of working experience, as they generally receive fewer applications from early-career professionals than they do from individuals who have just finished their undergraduate studies. That said, about 40% of the cohort is composed of undergraduates, so you are not significantly disadvantaged if you apply for the program while finishing your final year of undergrad. 

Some general thoughts and application advice: 

  • Start early: you want to give yourself enough time to go through at least ~3 edits of your essays + a round of copy edits
  • Get feedback: make sure you send your essay to people who can give you feedback on whether your work is clear, compelling and relevant to the mission of Schwarzman Scholars
  • Think about some of these questions as you write your application:
    • What pressing problem am I really passionate about? Why is this problem pressing?
    • What have I done to work on this problem?
    • How can I effectively communicate or quantify the work that I’ve done / the impact I’ve had so far?
    • How might Schwarzman Scholars help me improve my ability to make an impact in that space?
      • Why Schwarzman in particular, and why Schwarzman at this point in my career?
      • How is China relevant to the problem area that I am interested in? How will being in China / learning about China help me make an impact?
    • What can I add to the experience of others in my cohort?
    • What is my vision for the next 5-10 years?
  • Bear in mind that the people reading your application are not going to be experts in your field, and that you’ll be writing/interviewing for a general audience.
  • Speak to several Schwarzman alumni about their experience doing the program; particularly if they’ve gone on to do things that you’re interested in doing.

Other resources on application advice:

More Resources / Recommended Reading

Contact Information

If you are interested in applying, have questions about the program, want to learn more about EA-related activities at Schwarzman, or have other questions/comments, please reach out to Saad Siddiqui (Schwarzman ‘22) at muhammadsaad1997@hotmail.com or Kevin Wei (Schwarzman ‘23) at hi@kevinlwei.com.

  1. ^

    A directory of past and present Schwarzman Scholars may be found here.

  2. ^

     The core mandatory China-focused class is led by Barry Naughton, one of the leading economists on China and other professors who teach at Schwarzman include Victor Shih, Karl Eikenberry, Molly Roberts, Andrew Walder, Wang Hui and Wang Shaoguang. 

  3. ^

    Xue Lan is also the Chair of the National Expert Committee on AI Governance, which is an advisory committee convened under the Ministry of Science and Technology.

  4. ^

    According to internal program data. Alumni outcomes were compared with publicly-available data from the MBA programs at the Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

  5. ^

    According to internal program data. Alumni outcomes were compared with publicly-available data from the MPP program at the Harvard Kennedy School and the programs in the Georgetown Walsh School of Foreign Service / Security Studies Program.

Comments15
Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 12:29 PM

Could you also mention some of the negatives? It is very Chinese to write a review that only mentions the positive aspects.

I have a few suspicions of negative aspects of the Schwarzman program, but these are from my friends/contacts rather than from my own personal experience. Rather than repeating what I've heard from my own network, I'd like to ask what you think the downsides and the bad parts of this program are.

Thanks for the comment Joseph! I'm really curious what the downsides or bad parts you've heard of are (if you're open to sharing them ). Would be happy to share my takes on whether those reported downsides resonate with my own experience and those of my friends.

Like Kevin outlined, I think categorising some of the features (e.g. lack of academic rigour) of the programme as strengths or weaknesses is tough because it very much depends on how someone sees the programme fitting into their larger career trajectory. 

One plausible downside that we tried to capture in the post is that Schwarzman can be used for a variety of purposes, so there are ceilings on how far you can optimise for any one element. "...you will get exposure to a little bit of business, policy, international relations, and China studies, and that if you just want to specialize in one of these things, it’s potentially better to do a more specialized program." (What other programs do those applying for Schwarzman Scholars consider?)

But in my personal experience, this wasn't really a downside. I wasn't really sure if I wanted to fully optimise for community-building, something related to alternative proteins or China studies, and during Schwarzman I had the flexibility to test my fit across these domains in different ways.

Another plausible downside (if language immersion is your goal) is that language study is not a huge (enforced) part of the programme. You are only required to take language classes for the first module. And while you can take language classes throughout the year, they are only offered twice a week. That said, some of my friends took class at one level and audited classes at a one level higher, while also supplementing that with extra classes outside of Schwarzman. Chinese teachers are also available pretty much everyday over lunch for you to chat and practice your Chinese. So, by default language immersion is not a strength of the programme but if learning the language is a priority for you, it's possible to make decent progress (e.g. a friend went from knowing no Chinese at the start of the programme, to somewhere between HSK 4 and 5 a year later, which I think is something like upper intermediate level). If language learning is your only goal though, then Schwarzman is likely not the right programme. We've attached a spreadsheet with some potential language intensives that might be a better fit for someone with a pure language learning goal. 

Finally, would echo Kevin's point about logistics of getting into the country being tough, but would  add that my sense is that logistics of getting into the country are decently challenging for any foreigner at this point. 

Sure, I'll share what I've heard and what I suspect. Each of these this is  either second-hand or conjecture about how the Schwarzman program functions.  I don't have any personal experience of the program. I also think that as an American I am probably setting American universities as my default of comparison.

  • General China stuff
    • My first thought is broad and general, applying to all academic programs in China: academic programs in China are often poorly managed (at the administrative/management level) and of low quality. Does the Schwarzman program fall into this trend?
    • There are also general risks of being in China. COVID has been scary and challenging, most foreign students have left, and my impression is that most of them had their scholarship stopped. Many Chinese universities locked students on campus  (or booted them off campus) at various times during 2020 or 2021. I haven't heard how Schwarzman handled the various waves of COVID lockdowns that Beijing has gone through.
    • Programs for foreign students in China often tend to be very insular and disconnected from the rest of the campus. It is common for 4 or 6 or 8 Chinese students share a dormitory room, while foreign students often are perceived as getting special treatment when they have only 1 or 2 students in a room. A lot of foreign students in China mainly interact with other foreign students, with occasional cultural excursions. My guess is that the Schwarzman program is a bit more integrated within the program, but that there is relatively little interaction with people outside Schwarzman.
    • Are foreign students at Schwarzman able to open a bank account and use WeChat Pay, Alipay, and similar apps in China? I imagine that life in China would be quite a bit harder if you aren't able to use all the conveniences that come with mobile payments. Are foreign students able to get a Health Kit?
    • Learning Chinese language at universities in China tends to follow a very "traditional" model of language learning, in which a group of students works their way through a textbook with plenty of not-very-useful words, and in which a lot of class time is spent on the teacher speaking a sentence and the students all repeating it slowly. How were the Chinese language classes?
  • Academic freedom 
    • Academic freedom is an issue at pretty much every institution in China. There are simply some topics which are considered sensitive in China that you can't talk about, study, or discuss.
    • Students at Schwarzman didn't like Donald Trump, but Stephen A. Schwarzman liked Donald Trump a lot, and the staff ask students to not voice anti-Trump opinions while they were part of the Schwarzman program. I understand that it is kind of rude to accept someone's money and then insult their politics, but the institutional response (of just telling students they shouldn't express opinions that run counter to the funder) strikes me as fairly poor.

Thanks for sharing these impressions Joseph! 

  • General China stuff
    • On poor quality of academic management: I think most people don't go to Schwarzman to focus on academics, but that said some people like Jason (whose quote is in the post) can get a fair bit out of the academics. I don't have experience in American unis or in non-Schwarzman Chinese unis, but my impression is that academic management is better than average Chinese unis and maybe slightly worse than at American unis. This largely comes from the programme having to fulfil somewhat onerous university requirements but Schwarzman students are shielded from a lot of it.
    • On Schwarzman's handling of the lockdowns: we were subject to city and uni-level restrictions like everyone else, and there were about two months where we weren't allowed to leave campus earlier this year. Tsinghua campus is pretty huge though, so we had access to multiple convenience stores, a host of canteens and bunch of sports fields. The lockdown was difficult for those who had medical emergencies because once you left campus you could not return, this led to some friends leaving the programme early. Schwarzman admin was fairly accommodating in helping folks leave campus earlier for personal or health reasons. 
    • On Schwarzman-Tsinghua interaction: by default you'll interact with Tsinghua students less because classes, meals and many events are within Schwarzman College itself. There is a perception that Schwarzman is a bit of a bubble. All that said, it's possible to get plugged into broader Tsinghua life; some friends audited Tsinghua classes, and joined Tsinghua clubs.
    • On foreigners getting bank accounts and relevant apps: programme helps you set up a bank account and you can get all the relevant apps. 
    • On quality of language instruction: doesn't sound like the language instruction you describe. Focuses a fair bit on speaking practice - you are tasked with watching videos and completing homework before class, and during class you essentially review the vocab and sentence structures from the video. Generally classes are small enough that you can get some speaking practice in but you need to put in a lot of extra effort to improve your language skills seriously during the year, the classes are far from enough. 
  • Academic freedom
    • Academic freedom: within classes and in college I think pretty much anything goes. Whether your friends want to discuss certain topics because they find them sensitive is another matter but people talked about all sorts of things the past year. For thesis titles, yes, there is some censorship I've heard of, where students were told to change wording of their theses. That said, I know of friends who did fairly controversial topics for their theses (e.g. stuff on Xinjiang). I'm not super sure where exactly the lines are. 
    • What you can and can't say vis-a-vis Schwarzman's politics: the programme isn't a huge fan of having to deal with blowback in the media, and in that vein they are against people leaking confidential communications or writing anything very controversial in the press whilst associating themselves with the programme. People have still done it though, so it's more a matter of how much one weighs the risk of souring relations with programme administration.

Thanks for taking the time to type all that out. I really appreciate that you gave thoughtful responses. :)

I'm not really sure how to answer this question because I think it's rather difficult to identify unequivocally "positive" and "negative" aspects of this program (or of any program in particular, really). My take is that there are only aspects of the program that may be more or less suitable for EAs who are considering the program, and that we've done our best to articulate some of the reasons why any particular EA may or may not want to pursue the Schwarzman vs. other educational opportunities (see the What other programs do those applying for Schwarzman Scholars consider? and What are some reasons I might not want to apply for the Schwarzman Scholars program? sections).

For example, we write in the Personal and Professional Development section that classes are rather introductory in nature, and that this leaves time for independent development opportunities. Some people may not be attracted by this aspect of the program (e.g. if they've studied China or international relations extensively as an undergraduate, or if they appreciate more guidance and less independent exploration in a graduate program), but others may find that these are precisely the aspects of the program that they find appealing (e.g. if you did not study these topics as an undergraduate and want an introduction to them, or if want to conduct a lot of independent research).

The only truly bad aspect of the program that I can point to off the top of my head (@Saad may have more to add since I'm still relatively new to the program) is that logistics of getting to China have been a nightmare and highly stressful. I'm a U.S. citizen, and dealing with the visa application process, Chinese quarantine requirements, and flight shortages have not been fun—though this does not seem specific to the program in particular.

Hey folks--I wrote a similar review/advice article particularly aimed at the Yenching Scholarship you might find interesting.

https://jorschneider.com/2020/11/16/thoughts-on-yenching-academy/

 

Yenching Academy and the Schwarzman Scholars program comprise China’s attempt to set up a Rhodes/Marshall-style master’s degree. Both programs are fully-funded masters degrees comprised mostly of non-Chinese students. I was a Yenching Scholar in its third cohort from 2017-2019. What follows are some of my reflections on the experience and advice for applicants considering these programs.

Application process (from 2016…there have been two deans since I applied)

  • There was a big emphasis on the essay on ‘why China,’ so be sure to explain what role you expect China to have in your future professional life and why Yenching will help you achieve those goals.
  • Of late I hear more emphasis has gone on demonstrated interest in China through language study and past academic work. That said, there are generally a few people from each cohort who haven’t studied Mandarin (though this is easier to pull off if you’re from a region where Chinese instruction is less accessible like South Asia or Africa).

Academics

  • My classes at Yenching were significantly less demanding than advanced undergrad courses at top schools in the US, with many not going much deeper than what you’d learn in a lecture or seminar aimed at Freshmen. Yenching suffers from a ‘principal contradiction’ of on the one hand wanting to have students that have diverse academic interests and having to teach in English at a Chinese university. There are only so many courses they can offer to a program with just 120 students (most of whom don’t have Chinese strong enough to take graduate school courses in PKU’s other schools), so the courses for any discipline have to remain accessible to students who didn’t take courses in that discipline in undergrad. For example, a Yenching class in economics needs to not assume enough background to leave a philosophy or international relations major overwhelmed. This means that while you’re unlikely to learn new methodologies in disciplines you’re familiar with outside of self-study. However, it was certainly a lot of fun as someone with a history and economics background to get to take courses in Chinese literature and art history.
  • Your teachers will all be full-time PKU professors from other schools, 85% of them mainland Chinese and many with western PhD (there were a few white guys who teach at PKU’s business school that also taught Yenching courses). They vary in quality (some are quite good) but are limited in what they can teach by the central contradiction.
  • Non-native English speakers who haven’t written long papers in English or had to manage 50+ page English reading assignments may find the coursework slightly more challenging, but squeezing out passing grades should not be challenging for anyone Yenching admits.
  • Chinese language courses are still hidebound by many of the issues that plague Mandarin instruction more broadly, including dated material and an undue emphasis on reading. I eventually convinced my teachers to let me opt out of learning how to handwrite characters after finally convincing them that I didn’t care even if they gave me Ds. If you come to Yenching speaking no Chinese, and don’t do anything outside of the Yenching language requirements, you will maaaybe pass HSK3 after a year of instruction.
  • You are required to write a thesis but you have an entire year of funding to do so. Any PKU professor can be your thesis advisor, and the level of attention
  • In terms of academic freedom, I had no problem saying whatever I wanted on my class papers, but theses are another story as your advisor’s name will be forever attached to your paper so they’ll be somewhat responsible for your work. I had to make significant revisions to some pretty non-controversial stuff about tech regulations, and another classmate was forbidden entirely from writing a thesis relating to Islam in China.

Student Body and Campus Life

  • Far and away the best part of Yenching was the diversity and quality of human being in the student body. For starters, it’s maybe 30% American, not a high enough percentage for the Yankees to set the rules of the road. Nearly every student went to undergrad in their country of origin. While Americans likely encountered international students in undergrad, the type of Russian who went to an international school in Moscow before studying in the US is very different than a kid who went to a public high school and studied at St Petersburg University. Then you’ve got 20% Chinese and that final 50% encompassed 50+ countries in a 120-person student body.
  • In my year, every mainlander went to school in a Chinese university, meaning almost none of them went to international feeder high schools that lead their students to take the SAT and study abroad. While some foreigners complained that the Chinese students were too insular, my sense is that if you as a non-Chinese weren’t able to make friends with the Chinese students in Yenching, then it was your fault not theirs. The cohort of Chinese students who sign up to Yenching have fluent English and have opted into spending two years at a weird program without much of a domestic reputation whose entire draw is the exposure it provides to international classmates. If you can’t get chummy with these people, you probably weren’t ever going to make any Chinese friends anyways…
  • I’ve worked at the UN and can say with confidence this was easily as diverse a pool as you see in NY. Everyone’s shared interest in China and English fluency gave folks a starting point to engage on
    • In my year there really wasn’t a lot of drinking and in particular binge drinking (it’s not part of campus culture in China and most students outside America just drink to excess a lot less) compared to what you’d see at an MBA program in the west.
  • Yenching’s structure makes it much more straightforward to integrate with the broader campus. Two years allows you time to really invest in regular PKU campus clubs. The most fun I had was playing with the badminton club, painting with the landscape painting club, and spending every weekend for six months rehearsing for a production of Hamilton with the musical club. Yenching has no dedicated cafeteria so you’ll eat all your meals mixing broadly with the student body.

Yenching vs Schwarzman (Dorms, Career Services)

  • Perhaps the important difference is the length of the program. Schwarzman is a one year program, which really only gives you nine months on campus, too short a period of time for many to make real progress on Mandarin or uncover a job offer required to stay in China after graduation.
  • Schwarzman has a higher percentage of Americans (40% in 2021) and far more internationals who have exposure to the US, making its social culture much more westernized. For example, of the mainland Chinese students in the class of 2021, only five of twenty-four Chinese nationals did their undergrad on the mainland, with most of the others having gone to school in the US or the UK. This led many Schwarzman scholars in my era to lament (/celebrate) that school is just like home.
  • The bar for ‘interest in China’ is much lower in Schwarzman (it’s more oriented to produce ‘leaders’ who ‘understand’ Asia), as a far higher percentage of students come into the program having never studied Chinese. Many of its faculty are flown in for a year or two from the west and don’t really have much of a China background (this may have changed by the looks of their faculty page it seems they now have more Tsinghua profs).
  • Schwarzman in general keeps you much busier than Yenching, with more mandatory lectures, career development sessions etc. They also import western profs to stay for a few years, many of whom have zero China background.
  • Schwarzman’s campus is the nicest building I ever visited in China, and even puts Yale’s residential colleges to shame. It has centrally filtered air and water, something even the nicest banks in China can’t boast of. Its gym is Equinox-level and their campus features its own cafeteria that’s mostly western food. It also is literally a castle, with some pretty professional security that checks everyone who enters. This whole setup leads Schwarzman students to spend a lot less time interacting with other Tsinghua students (at one point there was a contest for who could not leave campus for the longest period of time…) and breeds more low-level resentment in the broader campus that these westerners have way better amenities than their Chinese counterparts. Yenching’s dorm setup, in contrast, partially takes over some floors of a rough-around-the-edges campus hotel but we had to deal with random middle-aged Chinese folks who were often smoking in their rooms…
  • In terms of career services, Schwarzman is on par with top western grad schools. They hired a senior career services professional with decades of experience at Booth and Yale’s SOM to stand up the program and that investment has paid off for students looking, in particular, to go into traditional corporate routes in the west. Schwarzman has structured on-campus recruiting for the big banks and consulting firms. Big backers of the institution like Ray Dalio (Bridgewater) and of course Stephen Schwarzman (Blackstone) wregularly hire out of the program.
  • Yenching’s career services, in contrast, is bare-bones. The only people in my year who ended up in bulge bracket banks or top consulting firms had offers going into the program. In general, Yenching’s student body has a more academic bent, with more students ending up in PhD programs or law school.
  • Neither program is particularly good at finding placements for students in Chinese firms. Bytedance is far and away the most common domestic firm that picks up internationals from Schwarzman and Yenching.

Why Go To Yenching?

  • If you want a way to get into China, not have to teach English, and have two years of funding where you can pretty much choose your own adventure
  • If you want to make an incredible group of friends who share your interest in China

Why Not Go To Yenching?

  • If you don’t really care about China (you’ll have to put up with a fair amount of BS that will be off-putting to anyone who doesn’t appreciate that it comes with the territory with anything official on the mainland)
  • If you want to be taught things in grad school (which isn’t to say you can’t learn things, you just need to be more proactive than at a western program)

Other Notes

  • From Wikipedia: “While Tsinghua Schwarzman expects to raise about US$550 million (originally 300 million) from mostly foreign donors for its endowment, it is understood that the Peking Yenching endowment is even better funded through significant donations from Chinese philanthropists and special grants from the Chinese Central Government.” Schwarzman College has lots of rooms named after westerners and a big plaque in front showcasing all of its major donors (a real who’s who of billionaires and multinationals). Aside from Robin Li (Baidu’s CEO), I don’t know of any other particular funders for Yenching and to be honest, would be pretty shocked if it had a larger endowment than Schwarzman. For both programs, the whole idea of spending hundreds of millions of dollars funding mostly foreigners to spend a year or two in China when there’s so much that needs better funding in the broader Chinese educational system is more than a little off-putting…

We linked this in the application advice section :)

lol sry that was buried deep on my personal site i had no idea anyone could find it!

also this might be a useful thing to throw into the relevant links section

https://www.chinatalk.media/p/china-policy-an-early-career-guide

I just added this to the additional reading / links section. Thanks Jordan!

Thanks for this post! Schwarzman seems especially promising for folks interested in policy, where a grad degree is often needed and where China expertise is valued.

I think it's worth emphasizing that these degrees only take one year. This is a BIG advantage relative to e.g. law school, an MBA, and even many/most MPP programs. If you think education  (particularly non-STEM grad school) is mostly about signaling rather than learning, then the opportunity cost of an extra one or two years of schooling is really significant. Schwarzman looks like a great way to get a shiny grad credential in a very reasonable amount of time. 

I agree that the length of the program should be a medium to substantial consideration for folks; it definitely was for me (although/especially because I might go on to do more/other grad school after this)

Huh, I'm surprised you're planning to do further degrees after the Schwarzman: that undercuts my point above. If the Schwarzman isn't viewed by employers as a terminal degree, then I'd view that as a major downside of the program. The opportunity cost of a year of full-time work is high.

To clarify, the Schwarzman is a terminal degree and AFAIK is viewed by employers as such. From what I've seen in internal program data the vast majority of Schwarzman Scholars do not go onto further education; I think my case / specific niche is unusual for the program.

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