Chen Xueyang is a senior in high school, but unlike her counterparts in public schools, her life doesn't involve endless examinations and homework late into the night.
The 18-year-old, who studies at Beijing World Youth Academy (BWYA) in the Wangjing area, is among the burgeoning number of Chinese students at international schools across the city.
"What I like the most about the international school is that there are only about 20 students in a class compared to 60 in a local school," said Chen, who before spent a year at Beijing Ritan Middle School, a top public school. "I learn better in a smaller class."
"I can approach teachers and ask question whenever I need to. In contrast, when I was at Ritan I didn't get many chances to talk with teachers."
Chen, who aims to pursue her higher education in the United States next year, has now sent application letters to 10 universities.
As more and more families can afford the high tuition fees at an international school, a trend is emerging in Beijing - study at an international school before heading overseas for a degree. One year of tuition at BWYA costs 110,000 yuan (S$22,374)
Xia Juan, an assistant to the school's president, told METRO that there has been a significant increase in the number of local students.
In 2003, fewer than 10 Chinese students out of 400 were enrolled in the school, Xia said. The number rose to about 60 in 2008 and jumped to 100 last year. BWYA now plans to open two more 20-student classes for Grade 9 and Grade 10 respectively, due to the increasing number of Chinese students.
"This year, we are going to take 130 Chinese students at most, which will be one-third of the all students here," she said. "We have to keep an international environment."
Applicants to the school have to take evaluation tests including entrance exams in English, Chinese and mathematics and do interviews both in English and Chinese, as well as transcript reviews, Xia said.
Other international schools are also expanding enrollment of Chinese students, according to Xia.
There are about 20 international schools in Beijing. Some can accept Chinese nationals and some cannot. Those like BWYA are owned by Chinese companies and allowed to recruit both Chinese and foreign students. Others, such as Canadian International School of Beijing (CISB), are foreign funded by companies or governments and only admit students with foreign passports as stipulated by China's Ministry of Education.
Laurianne Gidrol, CISB press officer, told METRO that the school receives many phone calls every day from Chinese parents inquiring about admission.
"Our recruitment officer has to explain to them all the time that we don't accept students with a Chinese passport," Gidrol said.
Chen's father, Chen Bin, made the decision to send his daughter to an international school so she is better prepared for her years at an American university.
"I wanted my daughter to receive higher education in a foreign country," he explained. "In an international school, she can get accustomed to the foreign educational system."
"The quality education and the educational evaluation system are more advanced abroad. Although the tuition fees are high, I regard it as a good investment for my daughter."
Xia said other benefits of international schools include credits for advanced courses such as mathematics or economics that can be transferred to top schools overseas and a much better chance of acceptance in foreign universities.
She said about 90 percent of BWYA graduates are admitted to top foreign universities. The rest are mostly expat students who like to further stay in China.
International schools also have a "creative and flexible curriculum", she noted, that offer instruction apart from core subjects like English and math. Chen's class schedule includes design, arts and sports.
In addition, almost all teachers at international schools are foreigners and the language of instruction is English, enabling a graduate to become fluent in speaking, reading and writing.
Chen Bin agrees.
"My daughter's English has been improved drastically. Her daily language is English and she writes papers in English as well," he said.