Discussing Top Colleges and How to Get in from Ningbo
with Dr. Gordon Tonner


Written by?(作者):?Vincent R. Vinci 魏文深

Photos by?(图片来源):Dr. Gordon Tonner, BigStock


In this day and age, nothing is more rewarding than having the privilege or opportunity to attend college and get a degree. Finding the best school to study at or how to get into such an institution can be a daunting task, though, and that’s where people like Dr. Gordon Tonner, Director of College Counseling at Ningbo Huamao International School, come in. With over 30 years of college counseling experience, Dr. Tonner is an expert in the field. Furthermore, he enjoys helping students with their placement goals and finds time for it amongst his many careers, including teaching and serving as headmaster of two private schools. Still, he feels as if as if he has never worked a day in his life.

It is this joy for what he does that Dr. Tonner seeks to instill in students when talking about college and career goals. “I enjoy what I do; I enjoy not only college guidance and counseling itself, but also the opportunity to open doors and windows on new horizons and opportunities unimagined by the student or his family.” The ultimate reason he got into college counseling was because of his father’s experience going into college. Dr. Tonner’s father grew up and went to high school in a suburb of Cleveland, where he graduated second in his class of 400. Among his friends there were sons and daughters of lawyers, doctors and industrialists who went to the top, most selective and prestigious US universities and colleges. His father, on the other hand, was counseled to attend a local college, because his father’s family was relatively poor and unfamiliar with the other college options available, not telling him that he could have gotten scholarships to go to any of the Ivy League schools or Stanford.

Remembering this injustice, Tonner tells me that in the 1960s, students at a school his wife was teaching at were facing the same problem: they were brilliant and in the top of their class, but were being told to go to small, undistinguished schools or in-state, public universities based on the economic status of their families. This was when Tonner first wrote Tonner’s Shorter College Guide, which radically changed the placement pattern in his wife’s school and another school in the area.

After publishing the Guide, Tonner went on to see various careers revolving around curriculum design, school management, and finally college placement counseling. “What I do changes people’s lives,” he tells me. “I found, comparing my undergraduate students at the University of Michigan at the time, and high school students I was working with, that I could make a greater impact, I could really change the high school students’ lives.”

Tonner began working at Ningbo Huamao in August of 2013. Along with teaching at the school, Tonner knows a lot about the college entrance field in regards to Ningbo and for students who wish to study abroad for their college careers. Tapping into his knowledge of the field, he provided insight on where students want to go and what they need to do in order to get there.

The Top Countries

Currently, the top three countries students from Huamao International School generally wish to go to are: the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Tonner tells me that every once in a while there will be students who show interest in and get accepted into schools in Singapore and Hong Kong among others. “The UK is more popular in Ningbo than it is in say Suzhou or Tianjin, but it still comes in third as a place to go for college. Students who are less ambitious unfortunately sometimes choose a country and university based on the simple fact that it does not require the SAT or ACT. I think that’s a poor decision,” Dr. Tonner says.

Tonner posits the popularity of the U.S. and Canada as stemming from the two countries’ status and popularity around the world. “I think it’s because of technology, international trade, music, movies, dress, style. These are the things that affect the world and this is why” Tonner chuckles, “English is a required language in China.”

As for foreign students who attend Huamao, they generally want to go back to their home countries rather than staying in Ningbo. The University of Nottingham in Ningbo, China is more of a back up, Tonner says, even though the school provides a British education. If not their home country, many students pick the U.S. because it is the only country where private colleges and universities provide need based financial aid and merit scholarships for international students.

This includes, of course, Chinese students. “The sums of money given to these international students by private colleges in the U.S. amazes most parents: between $10, 000 and $50,000 per year for four years. They are a gift, not a loan to be repaid! Why? Because these colleges seek ethnic and national diversity on their campuses and they have large endowments to draw upon to achieve those academic and social aims.”

This certainly bodes well for students who attend Ningbo Huamao International School. This year alone, Tonner proudly revealed that the school raked in just under $1 million in merit scholarships for six students alone. This is due to the fact that all the curriculum taught at Ningbo Huamao is based on the prestigious International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, which is without a doubt the most highly regarded high school diploma for admission to highly selective, elite colleges and universities in the U.S., Canada, and Britain.

Getting into the School You Want

When students first come to Dr. Tonner to meet with him about college entrance, from the 10th grade onwards, the first thing they usually tell him is their desire to go abroad. The first thing Tonner or one of the other counselors asks them is if they are involved in any extracurricular activities at or outside of school.

“This is something the Chinese are not exposed to, and yet the types of colleges and universities to which they want to be admitted require extracurricular activities.” Tonner provided me of an example of a student who came to him and said he wanted to go to Harvard. Tonner asked him jokingly “‘are you a concert-level pianist, do you speak Farsi, and have you been off to Asia someplace and helped to exterminate some rare disease?’ because this is what they’re looking for.” Harvard and the other Ivies admit only 5% of applicants. “That’s a long shot and I’m not a gambler,” Tonner laughs. “There are schools just as good and in some respects better than the Ivies where the odds of admission are much, much more favorable,” he smiles.

Although places like the U.K. and Australia are less keen on extracurricular activities, Tonner tells me that if students carry on with a particular interest, like playing an instrument or dance, this carries on into college and they will often pick up another activity while there. “These people have greater success than those people who always sit in their dormitory and work at the desk.” Students that are involved on campus whether in high school or in college, Tonner explains, turn out to be more successful later on in life.

The path to college isn’t easy, but getting into the right place requires determination and more than just a good grades in school. It isn’t just about getting into the top universities either. Small liberal arts colleges, generally scorned by Chinese parents, are often the best choice. For more on colleges vs. universities and advice for students prior to the application process, tune in next month for more of Dr. Tonner’s wisdom.