Hard work got me into Stanford, says Chinese student in $8.9 million scandal
A video shot in 2017 of Zhao Yusi, the Chinese student whose family paid US$6.5 million for her fraudulent admission to Stanford University, has gone viral on social media. In it, she claims she was accepted because of her "hard work".
In the 90-minute video, made when she was 17, Zhao offered viewers advice on getting into prestigious American universities while admitting that her "natural IQ isn't particularly high".
"I want to tell everyone that getting into Stanford isn't just a dream. You just need to have a clear goal and work as hard as you can towards it," she said.
"Some people think, 'Did you get into Stanford because your family is rich?' No, the admissions officers basically do not know who you are."
Zhao, known as "Molly", said she was awarded a full grant scholarship to Stanford, whose last publicised acceptance rate from 2017 at 4.65 per cent was lower than those of Harvard and Yale, at 5.2 per cent and 6.7 per cent respectively. In comparison, the acceptance rate for Oxford and Cambridge universities is about 20 per cent.
Zhao is one of the students caught up in a US college admissions scandal that resulted in 33 parents, including celebrities, investors, lawyers and company executives, facing fraud charges.
The fixer and the main architect of the scam, college consultant William "Rick" Singer, admitted laundering their payments through his charitable foundation to bribe university administrators and sports coaches to place students.
The international scheme was revealed by the US Justice Department in March, in what was called the biggest criminal case involving college admissions yet.
The alleged payment by Zhao's family was by far the largest in the case, but neither Zhao nor her family were charged.
Zhao's mother, identified as "Mrs Zhao", released a statement through her lawyer on Friday saying that she was "misled" into donating to Singer's charity, "which was represented to her as a substantial and legitimate non-profit foundation" funding student scholarships at Stanford.
She said that Singer's college consultancy "did not guarantee admission into any particular school" and that her daughter was also a "victim".
Zhao Tao, Zhao Yusi's father, issued a statement on Friday on the website of his company Shandong Buchang Pharmaceuticals, saying that the financing for his daughter's US university tuition had no relation to the company and would not influence it in any way.
"Matters concerning my daughter studying overseas in the US count as personal and family conduct," the notice said.
Stanford suspended Zhao Yusi, a second-year student, in March. Sherry Guo, another Chinese student caught up in the scandal, was expelled from Yale after it emerged that her family paid US$1.2 million to Singer to get her in. Like the Zhaos, neither Guo nor her family were charged in the case.
Singer tried to recruit Zhao Yusi to the Stanford sailing team, prosecutors claimed, and bribed a football coach at Yale to recruit Guo. The Stanford sailing coach, John Vandemoer, has pleaded guilty in the investigation.
In the video, Zhao Yusi said that her early academic performance was "mediocre" and that teachers underestimated her, but through studying hard and believing in herself she scored well on the US college admissions test and her high school final exams.
She went to school in Beijing before transferring to continue her high school studies at Wellington College in Berkshire, one of England's most exclusive boarding schools, with fees of £13,250 (US$17,300) a term, partly to improve her English.
Zhao Yusi said that getting into Stanford was her "No 1 dream" and that she planned to return to China after graduation.
Now, as a result of the admissions scandal inquiry, her future is not so certain.
This article was first published on South China Morning Post.