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The Guide to: Applying as a Foreign Student in Taiwan


I am graduating soon – from a university in Taiwan. Never in my little philly cheesesteak eating, car-owning, YAH-‘MERICA existence did I think this would happen; as with most great tings in life, it wasn’t really part of the plan. But I am part of what seems to be a growing trend – my mother constantly hauls my reluctant ass to the phone, telling me to tell so-and-so ah yi’s son or daughter how I managed to study as a foreign student in Taiwan, and how they can do it too.

Most people assume that any foreign student in Taipei is studying Chinese at one of the various language centers around the city, but there is a small community of foreigners actually studying for degrees. A large number are from countries with diplomatic ties to Taiwan – so many Latin American countries represented – and subsist on scholarships awarded by the Taiwanese government.

Disclaimer:  I am, like Jaden Smith, not an advocate of the traditional school system, which includes university. I’ll eventually elaborate on this. If I could do life again, I’d probably choose to be Beyonce – but I’d also opt out of attending university. I didn’t learn a single thing there that I currently use in my job as a freelance features writer & content marketer. But hey – to each their own.

I have been a student at National Taiwan University 國立台灣大學 for the past three years as an international student, studying Business Administration. I made a very spontaneous decision to move to Taiwan over spring break, with only one semester of university completed in New York City. I contacted NTU and was told that they do not accept mid-year transfers; thus – I had to find some other university to take me in first; and then apply in the fall, with a credit transfer. The only option turned out to be Ming Chuan University – which, well – read on.

Wait, your parents are Taiwanese – how can you apply as a foreign student? 

If you are actually a foreigner, this question is quite obviously not for you. The key for ABCs wanting to apply as an international student is this: you cannot have ever claimed your Taiwanese citizenship (戶籍); and you cannot have lived in Taiwan over a certain period of time. As my parents had never claimed my citizenship for me and I had only been to Taiwan for a few trips here and there as a child, this was not a problem.

Shit. I claimed my Taiwanese citizenship already. What now?

Well, don’t fret – it just makes the process a lot less ideal. If you have claimed 戶籍, you can no longer apply as an International Student (外籍學生). However, you can still apply as an Overseas Chinese Student (華僑). I am not entirely clear on the details of the process, but from what I hear, prospective students must apply through an Overseas Chinese committee in their home country; which then acts as in intermediary, with all applications and documents being submitted through it.

So your Mandarin must be pretty damn good. 

當然啊!Hell yeah fucking right! While I am fluent in speaking and fairly proficient in listening, my Chinese writing & reading skillz are on par with a third grader – a dumb, lazy third grader. I actually studied an all-English degree program and learned Chinese on the side. My course was the only undergraduate all-English degree program that NTU offered; the program has been discontinued – I think I didn’t have anything to do with that. There are many more Masters programs on offer in English vs. undergraduate, but most universities have at least one or two degree programs with the language of instruction as English.

Okay – so I’ll just find a university that offers a degree program in English and I’m set.

No no no no no no. This is a grave mistake. I have said it before, and I am sticking to it – if you cannot get into the top tier of universities in Taiwan, pack your bags and go home. (Unless, of course, you are interested in some highly specialized program; many of the private schools offer these). I am 100% serious. Go home and start looking for options elsewhere, because it will surely, surely be better than studying at the second or third tier schools in Taiwan.

Why so bitchy?

First, a bit on the history of higher education in Taiwan. Decades ago, there were significantly less universities in Taiwan compared to the astronomical number now. A very select portion of each generation made it through the gates of these universities to study fields like electrical engineering and business; many of their peers opted to attend trade/technical schools (teaching trades like mechanics, secretarial work, etc) instead.

How are things nowadays? Here, a short quote from that reliable, convenient source Wikipedia:

There are over 100 institutions of higher education in Taiwan. Roughly 66.6% of the over 100,000 students taking the national university entrance exams are accepted to a higher educational institution. Since the 1990s many trade schools and junior colleges have been “promoted” to university status, which can account for the high university entrance rates.

What Wikipedia isn’t saying, though, is the effect that all these “trade school to university” promotions have done to the quality of higher education in Taiwan. In short, it’s significantly lowered it, and the fact that many of these schools (not even yet fit to give Taiwanese students a proper education) are scrambling to “globalize” their student body & are
drooling for foreign students like a fat boy and cake–has resulted in some horrible, horrible English-language programs. Out of all my exchange-student friends, I’ve never heard a single one that was satisfied with the quality of their exchange programs; citing crappy classrooms, imcomprehensible teachers (that can barely speak English) and a general lack of a stimulating classroom environment as reasons not to choose Taiwan as an exchange destination if you’re looking for scholarly growth.

(But: If you have an inclination towards partying with scantily-clad Asian girls every Wednesday and hanging out in front of a 7-11, all aboard! That’s really all exchange students do here anyways).

The situation is disturbingly similar for regular degree students, except it’s way more serious, because exchange students party it up & then go back to their countries to study their ass off at their “real schools”–and you? You don’t get to do that. So research your options, and pick carefully.

So, what are my options then?

  • National Taiwan University, NTU 國立台灣大學: Taiwan’s most prestigious university, with the most recognition worldwide. Many distinguished research departments & highly regarded for both the sciences and humanities.
  • National Taiwan Normal University, NTNU 國立臺灣師範大學: Best-known for its education, fine arts, and humanities programs, and a top center for teacher-training.
  • National Tsing-Hua University, NTHU 國立清華大學: Prestigious programs in science & engineering
  • National Chiao-Tung University, NCTU 國立交通大學: Also has highly regarded science & engineering programs
  • National Chengchi University, NCCU 國立政治大學: Great programs (and a competitive, highly-regarded all English-language one included) in business/management, politics and communications, a long history with foreign students as well as a fairly diverse student body
  • National Cheng-Kung University, NCKU 國立成功大學: Engineering, medicine & science

Okay, get into any school on this list and I should be all set to study in Taiwan.

No. Fictional-prospective-student-that-I-totally-made-up-for-the-purpose-of-this-blog-post, you are a dumbass. Consider the location of where your chosen schools are, as that will significantly affect your student life outside of class. NTU, NTNU are located in the heart of Taipei, Taiwan’s capital & biggest city (NCCU & Fu-Jen are also in Taipei, though farther from the city center). If you want to get the “bustling, exciting, Asian city” experience, you need to come to Taipei. You shouldn’t have to look further than two posts in this blog to understand that Taipei is one of the best cities to live in the world.

NTHU & NCTU are located in the smaller city of Hsinchu about 1-2 hours travel from Taipei; so if you’re looking for a way more relaxed atmosphere and don’t care for a big city that much you can enjoy a laid-back life in Hsinchu and come into Taipei on the weekends; there are tons of buses coming to & fro from Hsinchu and nearby city Taichung.

NCKU is located at the southern tip of Taiwan, in Tainan. There’s a big city (Taiwan’s second largest?) about an hour or two away, called Kaohsiung, where I’m sure you can get in for a dose of big city life, but Tainan is both historical and sleepy; and public transportation is shoddy to say the least. I’ve had several friends who have been accepted here (it’s really an excellent school), but have rejected the offer due to the sacrifices they’d have to make in convenience and variety.

• • •

Application: Beyond picking the right school and city, the process is fairly easy – if you are qualified to be an international student, the application is fairly simple; nothing like the rigor of the American college application system. For both 政大 and 台大 I wrote a small half-page “study plan” detailing why I wanted to study there; I wasn’t even required to send resumes, but I sent one in anyway.

Fees: International students will generally pay more than local students – unless you go to some school who is super thirsty for international students, in which case they may even offer you a scholarship. For example, Ming Chuan University offers a fee reduction for international students. However, at 台大, I pay twice the amount as a local student. Here’s the best part: the turns out to be around $1,600 USD per semester; about 10-15 times cheaper than in the United States. Plus, textbooks in Taiwan are extremely cheap – I’ve rarely had to pay for a course book that cost over 1000 NTD (around $33 USD).

Disclaimer: If you didn’t see your school on here and you’re all offended by it, go back and read what I wrote at the beginning. It’s patently obvious that college ranking is not the only ingredient to professional success, and I know so many amazing individuals who have graduated from lower-ranked schools and went on to have a badass career. Of course, success is also a relative concept, so – it ends here.

Want to know what it’s like to be a freelancer in Taiwan? Read all about it here. 

Want to know how much it costs to live in Taiwan? Check out my cost of living guide. 

13 Comments

  1. Claire says

    I’ve been interested in studying in Taiwan for a while now–thank you for posting this!

  2. Santosh says

    Insightful post! I am looking forward to start my PG studies at NTU, beginning early 2016. Reading about the research centers, facilities, researches at the lab and good interaction with Professor regarding the ongoing research projects, partnerships and opportunities have made me feel really confident that I will have a good time. For the time being, I shall follow your posts to understand more about life in Taiwan.

    • Stephanie Hsu says

      Hope that you enjoy Taiwan! Feel free to reach out with any questions.

    • Fantastic! This e-zine is a visual treat and I am so teeptmd to take a vacation now. Taipei, Seoul, Singapore I’m long overdue for a trip to all these places. I especially enjoyed the Shanghai section, since I love that city, and the Taiwan food piece, since I’m always hungry. Great work!

  3. Very well said! If you can’t get in the top tier taiwanese universities, better go home and into your own school. You are right on. Studying a master’s degree in a liberal arts school like SCU, was quite good because of the art program, but If I could have studied in the NTUST it would have a more specialized and technical,innovation oriented which for me was like the programs in America, and I’m not complaining about my education, but a more specialized, it could have been better for me maybe . but your guide is so true though, like when u mentioned about all the exchange students complaining about the poor education and the options too, all true. Good job everyone who’s thinking about going to taipei to study should read this! maybe be you can include a more detailed list of the universities with the best language center programs, that is a question I am aleays asked by people, which language center is better and I always tell people Fu Jen and the School near the shida night market, but I also tell them one is catholic, many religious people would prefer that, and the other one is closer to many clubs and bars so easy to get a dose of the city life and study language and culture

    • Stephanie Hsu says

      Ernesto, – thank you for sharing your own experience! I tried to be honest in writing this and glad to see that someone agrees with me.

  4. Hi Stephanie! This is a great post. As a staff from NTU OIA, I salute you for writing this post! I’m sure many future students will definitely benefit from it 🙂 Also, congratulations are in order for making it thus far! Hope you don’t mind if I share your insights with my colleagues back in the office.

    • Stephanie Hsu says

      Hey Cher –

      Great to hear from you! Yes, please feel free share – would definitely appreciate more readers and hopefully it helps students! I loved my time at NTU – sad that it is coming to an end!

  5. Tammy says

    Hi, my parents are alumni of NTU and they are hoping that I can go there for my undergrad degree after high school and come back to America for graduate school (mostly to save money for grad school). I heard that NTU only accepts SAT scores, is this true? Because I wanted to take the ACT. Or does NTU not accept either one? I’m still a bit confused on what steps I need to take to get in, and so are my parents since they weren’t international students.
    Could you offer some advice to me?
    PS great article 🙂

    • Stephanie Hsu says

      Hey Tammy –

      I’m not too sure about that – I transferred from a US university into a Taiwanese university – so my process was more of a transfer vs. a straightforward application. I would suggest calling the OIA (Office of International Affairs) at NTU or emailing them and asking them directly; since policies are always changing. Best of luck – NTU is a beautiful campus and Taiwan is a great place!

  6. Thu says

    Hi, thank you for this very useful post. I’m applying for a master program in NCCU and I’m required to write a statement of purpose (SoP) which I’m not sure if it needs to be more detailed than your “a small half-page “study plan”. I’m confused because US universities often require high-standard SoP and I don’t know if NCCU or other Taiwan universities would require the same. Can you tell me is it easy to get accepted by NCCU/NTNU or I need a really impressive SoP to get in?

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