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Path to stardom starts with an exam

By Zhang Yuchen and Wang Yan | China Daily | Updated: 2012-02-27 08:31

Applicants take the first step of an arduous trek, report Zhang Yuchen and Wang Yan in Beijing.

To win an Oscar is to reach the pinnacle of the movie world.

As the glitterati hit the red carpet in Los Angeles for Hollywood's 84th Academy Awards on Sunday, about 1 million wannabe stars in China will be preparing for another annual event that could help them emulate their heroes: art college entrance exams.

Path to stardom starts with an exam

Thousands of young people apply to China's art collegeevery year in the hope of learning how to become actors, musicians, dancers and painters. About nine million youngsters take the national college entrance exam - known as the gaokao - every year and an estimated 10 percent apply for places at art college. Pictured is a selection of the faces and scenes spotted outside colleges and during the gruelling entrance exams. [Zheng Tao / for China Daily]

The tough testing process is for high school hopefuls who want to get on a university course that will set them on a path to becoming actors, TV presenters, musicians, dancers and painters.

Competition is fierce and the chances of success are slim, with experts warning that even those who are accepted face a struggle to find regular work after graduation.

An estimated 10 percent of all college candidates apply to art programs, but admission rates can be extremely low.

The Beijing Film Academy, whose alumni include award-winning director Zhang Yimou, received 25,000 applications this year, up 30 percent on 2011.

However, there are only 455 places up for grabs, including 85 for its popular acting school, which has an acceptance rate of just 1.5 percent.

Central Academy of Drama, once attended by actress Gong Li, is currently processing 21,000 applicants, more than 8,400 of whom are competing for 50 places in its acting department.

Meanwhile, the China Academy of Art saw a 50-percent increase in candidates this year, with 89,567 students hoping to claim one of 1,665 places.

The exams, which are designed by individual colleges, began this month shortly after Spring Festival and will run until early March.

Path to stardom starts with an exam

Thousands of young people apply to China's art college every year in the hope of learning how to become actors, musicians, dancers and painters. About nine million youngsters take the national college entrance exam - known as the gaokao - every year and an estimated 10 percent apply for places at art college. Pictured is a selection of the faces and scenes spotted outside colleges and during the gruelling entrance exams. [Zheng Tao / for China Daily]

Training for tests

Like most years, the event is attracting a lot of attention, not least for the array of photographs showing how some students have attempted to get ahead of rivals, such as the women pictured waiting in line dressed in bikinis.

Deng Xianyu, 18, was nicknamed "handsome scarf boy" by Internet users after a picture of him wearing a scarf outside Beijing Film Academy circulated online. Although it won him 43,000 fans on Sina Weibo, the micro-blogging website, college judges were less impressed by his performance, and he was rejected.

With so much competition, candidates feel that they need an edge which is why, according to figures cited by news website Netease, roughly 80 percent choose to enroll in pre-art exam training programs.

An estimated 300 registered centers offer the service in Beijing alone, and business is booming.

Wang Jiechun said she has spent more than 10,000 yuan ($1,580) since January on courses at the capital's Communication University of China for her 19-year-old son. He hopes to study broadcast media at the Central Academy of Drama.

"A 10-day course usually costs 3,000 to 5,000 yuan," she said. "We took one course, then went back home to Panjin in Liaoning province, and then took another one."

A quick search on the Internet produces a list of schools offering training programs, with prices ranging from 10,000 to 60,000 yuan, depending on the number of hours and class sizes. Some even guarantee in advertisements that, after competing their course, students will be able to pass an exam set by top film academies.

As the average student applies to about 10 art colleges across China, the biggest drawback about the warm-up training and the exams is not the expense but the long distances students and their families need to travel.

Tian Lin, a senior at Beijing University of Technology's art and design college, said she moved from her hometown in Central China's Hunan province to the capital in October 2007, giving herself five months to prepare for the entrance examination.

"I immediately joined a painting studio in Chaoyang district and started paying 1,600 yuan a month for a drawing teacher," she recalled.

Tian applied to six art colleges in Beijing, but Tsinghua University and the Central Academy of Art did not allow non-Beijing students to take the test in the capital. Instead, she had to travel to Changsha in Hunan for the Tsinghua exam and Wuhan in Hubei province for the Central Academy of Art test.

"I felt numb, going from city to city," she said, adding that she remembers a female student falling asleep during a painting test due to sheer fatigue.

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