Allan Wu is a self-professed Tiger Dad who pushed his kids athletically — he made them run laps with him in the hot sun when they were younger and enthusiastically encourages every sporty endeavour. And now, the Singapore-based Chinese-American actor-host is Tiger Dad-ding his teenage daughter Sage Wu, who turns 17 in September, into an Ivy League School, or Stanford, or at least University of California, Berkeley, which is Allan’s alma mater.
Sage is currently in the first year of the International Baccalaureate program at SJI International School in Singapore, which she has attended, together with her 15-year-old brother Jonas, since she was in pre-school. According to Allan, she doesn’t just do well academically, but excels in sports and art too. Which all puts her in good stead to catapult into the very best universities in the world.
Except that getting into Stanford, or Harvard, or Oxford, isn’t exactly a piece of cake. You don’t just get straight As and enter an Ivy League school. Apparently, you may not get into those hallowed halls even if you get top grades, are the captain of your school basketball team, a talented swimmer and sprinter, and have channelled your artistic talent towards raising money to support victims of the Yemen Humanitarian Crisis. Which, incidentally, are all part of Sage’s many achievements.
Yes, to get into these top schools, you need to basically have impeccable credentials, and then get a little extra push from folks who know how it all works; professionals who can help you close the gap and seal the deal, so to speak.
Allan tells 8days.sg in a phone interview: “It's way more complicated than say, here in Singapore. I think America has the most complicated, the most demanding and the most difficult college application process. I went through it myself though, too. I would like to say it's probably because the market is so big there and the population so diverse, with so many different ethnicities, social backgrounds, and people from different parts of America. I mean, I'm totally biased, but these are the most prestigious universities in the world — schools that everyone has heard of. And it’s even harder now. Before, if you had a really good SAT score, then that would pretty much be all you need. But it's just so much more competitive now, with people from all around the world — from China, India, and Singapore — applying for these US universities.”
“So every kid's score is way up there. Let's say you have one space open, and 10 kids that all have the same test score and a ridiculous, astronomical GPA, or grade point average. How does one kid stand out from the rest? What has this kid done with his life, beyond just the grades, that makes him unique or more attractive, you know, to MIT, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, or even Berkeley? That's where we're trying to find that edge.”
That edge would, Allan hopes, come from a university admissions consultancy and mentoring company called Crimson Education, which has a Singapore office. They would provide highly-individualised support in every aspect of the application process — from university selection strategy, test prep, personal statement support, to extracurricular mentoring and interview practice — and help pave the way for Sage, when she graduates from SJI International in 2022, to gain admission to the university of her dreams.
Which Allan thinks is Stanford, at this point in time. “I was trying to brainwash her to go to Berkeley, my alma mater,” he laughs. “But now she wants to go to Stanford. It’s one of those schools that if you go to, everyone will see you differently. She has an interest in aerospace, rocket science and computer science, and just really wants to, you know, use her brain. As opposed to me wanting her to be a basketball player or do something in entertainment. At this stage, based on her academic results and her background, personality and profile, I’d say she maybe has an 80%, possibly 90% chance, of getting into a top tier school by herself.
And so Allan is working with Crimson Education to give her that extra 10% or 20% she needs. “If I can increase her chances, then why not make that sacrifice and make that investment; make that choice as a parent. If we didn’t do this programme and Sage got into a lower tier school, I will always wonder to myself, what if we had done it?” The “sacrifice” and “investment” we’re talking about can go up to $50K for Crimson’s full comprehensive package, though Allan says he got the $20K one. And yes, he did pay for it, though he got a nice little discount ’cos he’s, well, Allan Wu. In return, he will help promote their services and extol the advantages of shelling out for a university admissions consultancy.
Even though Allan has complained in previous 8days interviews that he’s had to pay through his nose for Sage and Jonas’ private school fees over the years — his ex-wife Lilin (they divorced six years ago) insisted on private schools — he concedes that the kids’ expensive private school education has put them in good stead. “I think local schools and international schools have their own pros and cons, you know, in terms of the development of the child beyond the classroom and beyond studying,” Allan tells us. “I think Sage would have thrived in a local school setting, and academically, local and international schools are on par, but it's the other things, like being able to articulate their thoughts well, being creative and having good social skills, being confident, those other kinds of skills that aren't necessarily on paper, that I can see a bigger disparity.”
“Honestly, international schools are not cheap. It's at least $2,000 a month per child now, and that doesn’t include school supplies, trips and all that other stuff. But if I'm going to invest in something in my life, I want to invest in my children. I want to make sure I do whatever I can to help them, to clear a path to a very fulfilling, happy and productive life for the future. Yeah, I’ve been paying for their education myself — my ex-wife pays for the, you know, living expenses and food and rent and all that, but I handle pretty much all the big ticket items, like school fees, and I’ve been paying these exorbitant fees since like, before they were in kindergarten.”
So is Allan worried about these school bills, along with the moolah he’d have to fork out when Sage does get into a prestigious (and probably expensive) college? “Honestly, I've been really, really blessed with work,” Allan says. I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to travel and see the world, and to work in China. I think that's a testament to my own college education, you know, having that confidence ’cos I went to a good school, and being able to work in a very diverse and unpredictable type of environment. There are times when it has been challenging, but, overall, I've been really lucky where I have been able to meet these very, very high living costs and educational costs. The China projects are really helping to pay the bills and all that.”
“I'm busting my ass and I'll do whatever I can, to ensure I can meet these fees, to make sure my kids go to a good school and very good university. I realised along the way what is important, through the divorce and through life, you know, and I think for me, the most important thing has always been being a father to these children. I can just eat rice and live in a cardboard box, as long as they're taken care of.”
“I mean I don’t see them as much as I want — honestly, I barely see them now. I see them maybe once a week or twice sometimes, on weekends. They're older now too, and they're so busy. They have homework, their own friends, video games — they’d rather just do other stuff. They do a lot of their own thing with their mum too, and I don’t live with them, you know. It’s not always easy for me. They're also very independent kids — it’s good and it’s bad. I kind of wish they relied on me more, but I'm also happy that they can do their own thing. And when I do see them, they're all up on their phones, talking to their friends or reading, stuff like that. It’s not the kind of quality time I used to have when the kids were younger, when you were the center of the universe. It’s so sad, it sucks!”
“And if the kids don't wanna hang out with me, that's fine. I'm always bugging them and messaging them, and they're always ghosting me. But at least they know that I've always wanted to be a part of their lives. I don't want to be that parent that was always off chasing skirts or drinking or partying. As much as they want to blow me off, that's fine. But for myself, at least I know that as a father, I've always been here. I just want to do what I can and help them. And if they need me for anything, like for education and all, I’m not too far.”
To find out more about Crimson Education Singapore and Allan’s views on university education, join him on Facebook Live on Jan 31 at 3pm. Link here.