Jay Lin is the embodiment of the American dream -- and what is increasingly a Chinese dream.
Originally from Wenzhou in eastern China, he moved to New York City as a teenager. After earning degrees from Ivy League universities -- Cornell and Columbia -- he secured a comfortable job in a bucolic town in Connecticut.
Now he is helping others in China follow his path, where the desire for elite U.S. education is alive and well.
In the last decade, mainland Chinese have reshaped the international student body at U.S. colleges and universities, notably at Ivy League institutions. In the 2009-2010 academic year, China surpassed traditional "study abroad" heavyweights like Canada, India and South Korea, to lead international enrollment across U.S. higher education, according to the Institute of International Education. The U.S.-based institute's most recent figures reveal that mainland Chinese students increased 23% to more than 723,000 in the 2010-11 academic year.
A rising generation of affluent students
While Chinese students traditionally went abroad when they failed to secure a place at a top-tier local university, the best students are now forgoing elite Chinese universities to study in the United States, according to Lin, now academic director of Ivy Labs Education, an admissions consultancy in Beijing.
Many Chinese are seeking a higher quality of education that will train them to become independent and creative, he said, and they see the world's top-ranked universities are in the United States.
China's economic reforms and "opening-up" that began in 1978 under Deng Xiaoping gave rise to the first major generation of students, who were generally reliant on scholarships to study in the United States, according to Chen Shuangye, an assistant professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong's Department of Educational Administration and Policy.
Coinciding with China's rapid economic growth, a distinctive second generation emerged in the mid-1990s comprising much more affluent students, Chen said. "There is a great increase in the phenomenon because (mainland Chinese) don't rely on scholarships anymore."
Starting early at boarding schools