Jamie Beaton, founder of Crimson Consulting, talks to JUDE BARBACK about removing the roadblocks between New Zealand and the world’s top universities.

Harvard, Cambridge, Stanford, Oxford, Princeton – the names of the world’s most prestigious universities will be familiar to most bright young students at New Zealand secondary schools. Yet, such institutions are typically dismissed by Kiwis as they consider their next step after completing year 13. Many students instinctively assume they’re either not clever enough, or talented enough, or rich enough. Even those who look beyond their doubts are often discouraged by the admissions process. There simply isn’t a service that helps students to convert their niggling inner ambitions to placements at the world’s greatest universities.

Or at least there wasn’t, until Jamie Beaton established Crimson Consulting, a business that essentially aims to help students achieve their educational and career goals. Beaton spotted an information gap around international university admissions and set up Crimson Consulting to help students in this area.

The former King’s College student is something of an expert on the university admissions process. During his secondary school years he became fixated on the idea of attending one of the best universities in the world. He applied for a place at no less than 25 world-class universities around the globe, including the big names like Cambridge, Harvard and Princeton. He was offered a place at every institution. In the end he chose Harvard, where he is now working towards his MSc in applied mathematics.

Some light background research on Beaton reveals that he is more than just a bright cookie, and an interview with the fast-talking, fast-thinking, Boston-based Kiwi confirms that he is smarter than the average 20-year-old. However, he is adamant there is more to getting a place in one of the top schools than IQ alone.

He stresses the importance of extracurricular activities, leadership skills, and most importantly, the right attitude. Many US universities require an essay as part of the admissions process; this is essentially a piece of creative writing that gives an indication of the true character of the applicant. In Beaton’s view, getting the essay right is critical to success.

The sort of client they’re after already has drive and determination to succeed; Crimson Consulting essentially aims to channel their ambition and help them achieve their goals.
He says they will sometimes work with parents to help “tweak the focus in the home”. Often Asian families will be reminded of the importance of building extracurricular activities alongside a student’s study, while European parents will be encouraged to support a stricter approach to academic studies.

Crimson Consulting breaks down some of the perceptions about the difficulty of getting into a world-class university. Most institutions aim to admit a large number of international students from all corners of the globe. Harvard, for example, has very little variation in terms of the proportion of international students it accepts year on year.

There is much misconception around the costs of attending an elite university. While international student fees can soar to over US$60,000 a year in some instances, many institutions have a large pot of money set aside to financially support students. Harvard, according to Beaton, has around $200 million in financial aid. Sixty per cent of its students are on a financial aid package of some sort.

“They want the best talent globally, and they’ll pay for it,” he says.

Once a student gets accepted, a rigorous means testing process begins and students will ultimately pay what they can.

There are scholarships available, too, particularly sporting scholarships for the US universities. Crimson Consulting also has a whole team dedicated to the area of postgraduate scholarships. They are experienced in helping clients gain Rhodes and Fulbright scholarships and other high-profile awards.

But why is there a need for a company like Crimson Consulting? In this globalised, connected day and age, surely Harvard and Hamilton are not so far apart anymore? However, there are subtle yet crucial differences in the systems and psyche of New Zealand education that prevent a clear path to a top overseas university.

Beaton points out that the US high school GPA (grade point average) system spans the whole four years of secondary school. This means that students will typically begin to focus their sights on a university place much earlier than New Zealand students, who tend to leave their run until year 13, where everything hinges on the crucial last year of secondary school assessment.

Beaton’s personal opinion is that International Baccalaureate and Cambridge International Examinations assessment systems are more intellectually rigorous and challenging than NCEA. However, he is quick to point out that many students have successfully been admitted to top universities all around the world on the back of their NCEA results.

But it’s more than that. It’s an attitude thing. Broadly speaking, New Zealand students don’t take their studies as seriously as they could. The ‘tall poppy syndrome’ prevents high-flyers from flying as high as they might. New Zealand students are ambitious, Beaton believes, but their ambition is kept in check – perhaps in an effort to conform to Kiwi societal expectations.

Beaton believes education planning should be a customised, personalised process. An education and career pathway should be tailored to the talents and ambitions of each individual. The fact that a person is born in New Zealand shouldn’t preclude them from taking whatever academic and career route they dream of, given they have the right aptitude and attitude.

As such, Crimson Consulting has 400 contractors from high-profile firms (such as Google and Goldman Sachs) that typically recruit from the world’s top universities. These contractors, some of whom were previous Crimson clients, will act as mentors for new clients who have their sights set on ultimately landing a top job at a top company.

At this point, Crimson Consulting is focused mainly on the New Zealand and Australian markets; however, Beaton says the company is working on expanding into China and India and capitalising on the enormous potential that exists in those markets.

It really does feel like the sky is the limit for Beaton and his Crimson team, which isn’t really surprising given that’s basically their mantra.

Crimson kids

From New Zealand to New York: JENNIFER WRIGHT shares her story

Growing up in New Zealand, I thought I’d never leave. However, upon graduating from high school, I found myself lost. I realised I was still unsure of what I wanted to do, as well as what, and where to study. So, I did what many Kiwis do: I took a gap year.

During my gap year, I signed up with Crimson Consulting. I hoped to improve my prospects of acceptance into highly competitive university programmes abroad, and also grow as an individual. I embarked on an intensive leadership mentoring programme, led by Crimson’s Sharndre Kushor. At high school, I had achieved highly in my academics but I didn’t have any experience with driving my own initiatives. Sharndre and the Crimson team guided me through the process of running my first leadership event – a large-scale charity dinner to raise funds for children overseas. The dinner was attended by 250 guests and raised more than $6,000 for UNICEF New Zealand. The success of this project led to me becoming one of six UNICEF

New Zealand Youth Ambassadors. This, in turn, was an integral part of my application to my target university, New York University (NYU).

Other factors contributed to this application process, too. I was selected as the head delegate from New Zealand to the Harvard and the Yale Model United Nations. I also worked with a Crimson tutor to reach my goal of scoring in the 85th percentile for the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) Reasoning test, and with a Harvard-based mentor, who helped me understand the university application process.

My application to NYU was accepted and I gained entrance to the university’s esteemed economics programme, taught by Nobel Prize winner, Thomas Sargent.

After gaining admission into NYU, I was on cloud nine. I was so motivated to keep going and to continue making positive changes to the wider community. I soon started UNICEF

Youth For Change, a UNICEF youth club network which originally aimed to connect the existing five clubs. Now, only a few months later, we have over 20 clubs and hundreds of motivated young members. I also helped create UNICEF’s shadow report to the United Nations.

I’ve been at NYU for less than a month now. When I first arrived, the extremeness of it all was a shock; the buildings, the people, the workload. However, despite the scale and challenges, I feel ready. I know that this environment will push me to achieve more than I would anywhere else.

DUNCAN PARSONS’ journey to Duke University

In April of last year I spent a month mainly on the east coast of the United States playing soccer with my school, Lindisfarne College, and then visiting my American family in NYC, Boston and Chicago. I had an incredible time and I decided that I definitely wanted to return.

Once I got home from the soccer trip I eagerly began the application process but very soon its difficulty and the cost of studying here became apparent. I lost interest and Canterbury’s engineering programme looked increasingly appealing.

Later in the year as I was studying for my exams I stumbled across a YouTube video about NCEA from Crimson Consulting. I can still vividly remember the exact classroom I was in and what I was working on when I found it. The company intrigued me because I didn’t know that there was any help out there for people like me to do what I wanted to do.

It all seemed too good to be true when I received a reply to my email within a couple of hours and was Skyping a senior tutor – now a good friend – within 24 hours. For a kid who had thrown away the dream months ago, it felt wonderfully absurd to be considering having another crack.

At this point, it was November and my biggest barrier was that I was way too late. I would have to sign up for SAT exams within the week and sit two new sets of exams within a couple of months. I would have to figure out the Common Application and write the essays, upload my achievements and extracurriculars, get references, financial aid information – the list goes on. For a kid leading what was essentially a run-of-the-mill life and had everything sorted, it was going to be a leap of faith.

I committed an hour before the first of many deadlines: signing up for the SAT subject tests. I knew that I couldn’t afford the US$70,000 annual fees of the private schools, so I also made the decision to apply to the very best (and richest) universities in the United States. I took confidence in the fact that I had achieved a lot and that coming from New Zealand gave me a huge advantage in terms of the differentiation I have from other students.

From there I was on a whirlwind journey. My decision to apply for university in the United States was a huge undertaking. I can honestly say it was the biggest concentrated learning experience of my life. I was awarded a Robertson Scholarship to study at Duke University, as well as being accepted to Harvard and Stanford. In the end, I chose Duke because of the extensive Robertson network and the rigour of the school’s engineering programme.

Since I’ve been here, my decision to come has been validated over and over. Duke University has everything from ground-breaking research to frat parties, a national champion basketball team to Duke math. And that is what makes it so special and so worthwhile. Nowhere else in the world could I do all of those things in one day.

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