Widely seen as one of the toughest university interviews there is, Oxford University graduate Tamara Lim admits that getting into the elite institution was no easy feat.
‘I had a very stressful interview at Oxford,” the former materials engineer lets out a chuckle, reminiscing the admission test she did many years ago.
“That was the first time in my life where I didn’t know where to find the correct help. So, I actually sought a company in London to give me interview preparation,” says Lim. “But my expectations were misaligned, and the questions that I prepared for didn’t come up during the interview.”
Lim did ace the admission test, and graduated with Honours in Materials Science. She went on to further her research studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
What I want to do with the service is to prepare kids well enough so that they are not caught unawares
Yet, the Oxford experience made her realise that there are many students, like herself, who needed guidance and insights, for a better shot at getting into top institutions.
With that intention in mind, Lim founded Prepworks, an education company aimed at guiding and preparing students into applying to the cream of the crop boarding schools and universities, namely the Oxbridge and and Ivy League institutions.
The idea, she says, started out as hobby (“I was helping my parents’ friends kids with their personal statement - what you write about yourself when applying to a university.” ), before she quit her job as an oil and gas engineer to start Prepworks three years ago.
“What I want to do with the service is to prepare kids well enough so that they are not caught unawares, so that they are prepared to answer the questions and know what to expect.”
'Unexpected' Oxford Admission Interview Experience
Admissions into top-league universities are becoming more competitive, says Lim.
In the United States, MIT, Stanford, and every member of the Ivy League, with the exception of Yale, there was record-low rates for admission to the Class of 2022. Stanford was the most selective, with an admissions rate of only 4.3 percent.
What we offer is guidance from a tutor who has done the course in that particular university, and knows that course like the back of his hand
“It’s getting more competitive. People being able to afford to spend on their kids’ education, especially from the growing population in China,” says the mother of three. “We need to up our game and one way to do it is just to prepare.”
Lim’s lineup of tutors have an extensive range of expertise to guide students through admission courses and admission counselling. Most of them are Malaysians. “I like to believe that we have our own local talent.”
“They’ve gone through the same experiences. In fact, they might even be better because they understand as they can put themselves in their (Malaysian students) shoes more than someone who’s from another country.”
Since starting Prepworks, Lim and her team have trained close to 40 students; about 30 percent successfully applied into the Oxford and Cambridge universities, while admittance into top boarding schools ranges around 80 percent, says Lim.
A growing number of interests are coming from Malaysians residing in the UK. Prepworks also partners with a tutoring company in London that offers a breadth of expertise, including in niche courses ranging from oriental studies, experimental psychology to the sciences.
“What we offer is guidance from a tutor who has done the course in that particular university, and knows that course like the back of his hand, as well as the career opportunities available to the student,” she adds.
So, just what are the key criterion that elite universities look for in candidates?
While academic excellence is a prerequisite for admittance, student with strong communication and critical thinking skills will stand out.
“The ability to speak and write well. In a way, how you market yourself ,” says Lim. Universities also tend to look for students who have interests and are active beyond the classroom.
Life is more than just getting your As
“For example, if you want to be an engineer who loves creating your own robot just in your free time - these sort of extracurricular pursuits to demonstrate that you actually love the subject you are applying for,” says Lim. “Other criteria include leadership skills, and being proactive and wanting to contribute to the community. That’s also probably another quality I’d say they look out for.”
“Life is more than just getting your As,” Lim says succinctly. “It’s also about your own interests what gets you out of bed every morning what motivates you. And so extracurricular activities gives you all that.”
As for Ivy League universities in the United States, the admission interviews tend to look for someone with an unique personal statement. “Someone has a very original story,” says Lim. “I think all of us do, it’s just a matter of how to find it. That’s where we also come in to help you find that story.”
What It Really Takes to Get Into A Prestigious University
Students, and their parents, who seek help from Prepworks ranges from as young as four to 18-years-old.
“They would like the child to eventually get into top universities eventually. So, they want to know what kindergarten, primary or secondary schools the child should attend to prepare them for university.”
You just have to be creative and a have a go getter attitude to find out the available opportunities to make it possible
At the moment, Prepworks’ clientele comprise of students from international and private schools. Lim is looking to expand her services, including widening access to students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.
“Universities do offer financial aid to students to at least get through a few years of studies. There’s also student loans.”
“So, it’s not out of your reach. You just have to be creative and a have a go getter attitude to find out the available opportunities to make it possible,” says Lim.
“I’m happy with our current success rate but we do need more tutors to handle increasing volume; to get more kids into these top institutions and for more kids to achieve their dream,” she adds. “That will be Prepworks’ ambition.”
We Want To Help Kids Achieve Their Dreams