CUSPEA (China-U.S. Physics Examination and Application) was an examination and admission system used by the physics departments of some American and Canadian universities for graduate school admission from People's Republic of China between 1979 and 1989.
It was created by the Chinese-American physicist Tsung-Dao Lee and Chinese physics community as an alternative graduate school admission procedure. At that time in China, higher education was still recovering from the Cultural Revolution; school transcripts and recommendation letters were difficult to evaluate. Furthermore, standardized tests such as the Graduate Record Examination were unavailable in China.
The CUSPEA exam is in English and has a similar scope to that of Ph.D. written qualifying exams in major American universities. The questions were prepared by physics professors from participating North American universities -- starting with Columbia University where Lee worked, and eventually expanded to 97 universities. Committees of physicists in China administer and grade the exams. The examinees are usually senior physics majors from top-ranking Chinese universities. Those who passed the exam are followed up by an interview by a small American delegation. The final admission depends on mutual agreement between the applicant and participating physics departments.
About 100 Chinese students went to the US every year through the CUSPEA exams, and the total number is 915. Over the years, the three universities with the most students passed the exam are (numbers in the parentheses indicate the numbers of students) University of Science and Technology of China (218), Peking University (206) and Fudan University (127).
CUSPEA was so successful that other similar exams soon were created, such as CUSBEA for biochemistry and "Shiing-Shen Chern Project" (陈省身项目) for mathematics. All were stopped in the late 80s in favor of more standard exams.
Continuation as Mini-CUSPEA and Re-Expansion
In the early 1990s, several years after the suspension of the CUSPEA exam, a new program called Mini-CUSPEA was created. The new program name referred to the fact that only one Chinese university, namely Fudan University, was now involved. Likewise, in the U.S., the number of target universities had been shrunk to three - Columbia University, New York University, and the City University of New York.
Mini-CUSPEA applicants sit written exams and attend interviews, similar in style to the old CUSPEA admission tests. Around 6-10 students are admitted annually. The usual requirements (TOEFL and GRE) for Chinese students studying in the U.S are waived for successful Mini-CUSPEA applicants.
Since 2007, the Mini-CUSPEA program has started to expand. The Chinese universities involved now include Peking University, Tsinghua University and other top universities. Expansion is also planned on the U.S. side.