Last year, Liu Zitong shelved her plan to study abroad due to COVID-19 and other safety concerns, and instead prepared for the national postgraduate entrance exam to enroll in a Chinese university.
However, after the 22-year-old senior undergraduate student performed poorly in the exam, she decided to sign up for tutoring courses at Beijing-based overseas education consultancy EIC Education.
"I have always longed to study abroad to experience a different lifestyle and broaden my horizons. English was my preferred subject in school, so it is easy for me to pass the language threshold for overseas study," she said.
Liu is looking at options in Singapore and Hong Kong because her parents are worried about her safety in other countries and regions where Chinese students have been discriminated against.
Like Liu, many Chinese students, who found it unsafe to go to study abroad in the past three years, are reconsidering their decision.
The number of Chinese students studying abroad this year is likely to reach or even exceed the level before COVID-19 hit in 2019, with a strong recovery already seen in the sector after travel restrictions were lifted, according to several overseas education consultancies.
Liu Wei, vice-president of New Channel International Education Group, said the number of online, in-person and phone call inquiries for overseas study increased by 45 percent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2023.
"The overseas study market is highly likely to return to its pre-pandemic levels this year and the number of students pursuing their studies abroad will increase steadily in the future," he said.
This is mainly due to the fact that the demand for international education has not decreased. The tough competition in getting into good schools and finding decent jobs in China has also prompted students to look for high-quality education opportunities abroad, he said.
The pandemic had dealt a major blow to enrollment in foreign universities, so now it is a good time for Chinese students to study abroad, he added.
Wang Ting, deputy general manager of EIC Education Beijing Branch, said their number of applications for overseas study grew by 46 percent in the first quarter of 2023 compared with the same period last year.
Applications for Australia and New Zealand grew by 129 percent year-on-year in the first quarter, for the United Kingdom 44 percent and for Canada 95 percent, she said.
While the United States is still the most popular overseas destination among Chinese students, given the quality of its higher education, the growth rate is decreasing due to incidents of discrimination, visa restrictions and safety concerns, Wang said.
With more countries implementing favorable policies to attract international candidates, Chinese students have diversified their interests in overseas study destinations.
Zhang Chaowei, a third-year undergraduate student at Beijing Foreign Studies University, was thrilled when China optimized its epidemic control measures, making it easier for him to study abroad.
As an avid fan of Manchester United soccer club, he said he wants to go to the UK for his postgraduate studies, but admits that Hong Kong and Singapore are also good options. "The pressure of getting into a good university in China is too high, so studying overseas is a always a good option," he said.
Living in a foreign country is different than traveling for a short period, as one gets to have a better experience of the country's culture, Zhang added.
Bai Yuqian, 20, wants to study finance at a US university. Her ideal schools are Columbia University, the University of Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania.
"I just want to go see the world. By studying in the US, I can get more internship opportunities at financial companies and also practice my English," she said.
As her parents are worried about her safety in the US, she is not ruling out schools in the UK, Singapore and Hong Kong.
"Even if I go abroad to study, I will return to China for work after graduation to be closer to my parents and use what I have learned to contribute to my country's development," she said.