More than 1,700 students descended on Peking University for interviews yesterday that were part of independent enrolment tests.
They were the lucky ones who had already passed Peking University's written exam and were assured of at least five extra points in their university entrance exam, which they will sit in June.
After two days of interviews that started yesterday, those who impressed the professors the most will be able to snag as many as 30 extra points.
Given the huge number of students who will sit the university entrance exam, every extra point can distance a candidate from the pack.
Such scenes will play out at most of the city's top universities.
In the past, qualified universities could pick a maximum of five percent of their students through the tests. The Ministry of Education has since scrapped the quota, meaning more people could qualify that way this year.
Parents were keen not to let the opportunity slip away.
Ma Teng, a student from Heilongjiang province, looked confident and happy after yesterday's interview.
"The professors were really nice and created a good atmosphere for the interview," he said. "They asked me what I thought about national soft power. I think I answered well."
In contrast, his dad appeared tired and worried. He said it was hard to buy train tickets to Beijing, so the family arrived three days early because tickets for that day were the only ones available.
He had spent a lot on hotels too and the family was still worrying about how they would get tickets home during Spring Festival.
The sudden influx of people has been a boon for businesses near the campus where the cost of rooms in hotels has skyrocketed.
A receptionist at Peking Ziyuan Hotel said most rooms were occupied and most guests were students and parents. The Crown Plaza near the campus only has one standard room left, costing 772 yuan (S$149) a night.
Many schools have also made money from the independent enrolment tests, charging students for extra cramming and preparation classes.
Xiong Bingqi, a professor from the Shanghai Jiao Tong University, said the independent enrolment tests could add mental pressure for students who are also busy preparing for the national exam.
"It seems like they have to attend two college entrance exams now," Xiong was quoted as saying by the Beijing Youth Daily.
Up to 80 Chinese universities have the right to hold independent enrolment tests this year.