Smoothing the way to a higher degree

Updated: 2012-09-23 09:48

By Zhao Xu (China Daily)

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Marvin Mao and his group of mentor-consultants are eager to share personal experiences with would-be scholars. Zhao Xu reports.

Asked whether his company provides personal statements and recommendation letters for clients hoping to study abroad, Marvin Mao answers with an emphatic "No".

"The proliferation of agencies in the past decade to capitalize on this fad for studying abroad has made the industry ethically twisted. We want to do things differently," the founder of the online-based educational consultancy firm SWU (Share With You) says.

Smoothing the way to a higher degree

Marvin Mao, founder of SWU (third from left) poses with fellow Chinese students from the Wharton School upon graduation in 2011. Photo provided to China Daily

Smoothing the way to a higher degree

Mao shares coffee and his experience with clients at a chat session. Photo Provided to China Daily

Today, SWU boasts about 200 consultants, half of whom are based on the mainland. But distance is not a problem since communicating is all done via the Internet.

"We do have an office in Beijing where potential clients can meet up with our senior in-house staff, to go through all the profiles of our consultants. It's a two-way choice, with consultants taking on people they have confidence in helping," Mao says.

This arrangement has proved popular among university graduates applying for post-graduate degrees abroad, he adds.

Often, for high school students hoping to enter foreign universities, at least one offline meeting with their chosen consultant is needed, due to "their young age and the concern of their parents".

Nearly all the consultants work part-time, another fact that separates SWU from its competitors.

"If you knew what their day-jobs were, you wouldn't be surprised," Mao says. "One of our consultants works for Morgan Stanley, with an annual salary exceeding $150,000. So, the only way we, and our clients, can afford their services is for them to work part-time."

Among SWU's contracted consultants, nearly all have successfully applied and finished top master's degrees or MBA programs abroad, most often in the United States.

"They are by no means armchair generals. The fact that they have once been through all this - this often confounding, occasionally maddening process called application - has given them the insight to take a client by the hand and guide him or her all along," Mao says.

"We help, not by telling lies, but by experience-sharing and role-modeling."

Mao previously studied at the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, one of the top business schools in the US. It was during his studies there in 2009 that he mooted the idea of creating an online educational business.

"As a Wharton alumnus, I have access to a vast human resources pool composed mainly of Chinese graduates of top American universities, especially business schools," says Mao, who sits on the board of the Wharton Club Beijing.

"This has given us a unique edge and guaranteed the quality of our service."

Today, eight of Mao's fellow Wharton graduates are involved with SWU, with seven serving as part-time consultants.

SWU claims to have helped nearly a third of all the successful applicants from the Chinese mainland to get into the top 20 MBA programs in the States over the past three years.

"About 400 of our clients have entered the top 30 American universities," Mao says. "That number accounts for 80 percent of all our successful MA [master] program applications. And 250 of them have been granted scholarship."

But commerce is not the whole point, SWU is also building a culture, according to Liu Fei, SWU's senior manager of business development.

"Our online community is open to all and has 700,000 registered users. Postings have reached 50,000," she says. "For anyone who has made the decision to apply, the road is both longer and shorter than he or she might have expected. The most important thing is: You are not alone."

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