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Daughter of Singaporean citizen caught in US college admissions scandal, with parents donating S$8.86 million ‘to Stanford’

Her parents insist that the US$6.5 million (S$8.86 million) they had given to college admissions consultant William Rick Singer had been donated weeks after their daughter started studying, and that they believed it was a charitable donation to Stanford that would help needy students

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Zhao Yusi made a 90-minute video about how ‘hard work’ got her into one of United States’ most prestigious universities, but in reality she got in because her parents paid millions for her admission to Stanford University.

Ms Zhao’s family is based in China, though her father is a Singaporean citizen. Her parents insist that the US$6.5 million (S$8.86 million) they had given to college admissions consultant William Rick Singer, (the central figure in the recent US college admissions scandal, nicknamed Operation Varsity Blues,) had been donated weeks after their daughter started studying, and that they believed it was a charitable donation to Stanford that would help needy students.

The payment the Zhaos gave to Mr Singer was the highest amount he had received out of all the families he had helped to get into prestigious institutions. The list includes Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. Thirty-three families paid Mr Singer over $25 million between 2011 and 2018 to falsify test scores and admissions applications, as well as bribe college officials. At least 50 individuals are said to be involved in the scam, several of whom have pleaded guilty.

Ms Zhao’s mother has not been charged in the matter, although her daughter, who was a second-year student when news of the scandal broke, has been expelled from the university, according to a report from the New York Times (NYT).

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In a statement issued through a lawyer for the family, Vincent W.C. Law, a Hong Kong attorney, Ms Zhao’s mother said that her daughter’s acceptance at Stanford had been accomplished “through ordinary channels” on March 31, 2017, three weeks before the family made the donation via Mr Singer on April 21.

Furthermore, the statement also said that Mr Singer, who had advised the Zhao family in the matter of their daughter’s college admissions, had been surprised to hear that she had gotten into Stanford, and only asked for the donation, which he said would go to scholarships, athletic teams, staff salaries and programmes that help students who otherwise could not afford to attend Stanford, after Ms Zhao had been admitted.

“This generous act was not only done for the good of the school and its students but also done out of the love and support by a caring mother,” Mr Law said.

“Mrs. Zhao has come to realize she has been misled, her generosity has been taken advantage of, and her daughter has fallen victim to the scam.

The donation is in the same nature as those that many affluent parents have been doing openly to prestigious universities.”

However, according to Stanford University, the donation was never given to them.

The statement also said, “Since the matters concerning Mr. Singer and his foundation have been widely reported, Mrs.Zhao has come to realize she has been misled, her generosity has been taken advantage of, and her daughter has fallen victim to the scam.

Both Mrs. Zhao and Yusi are shocked and deeply disturbed by what has transpired.”

Who is Zhao Yusi?

Ms Zhao is the daughter of the president and co-founder of Shandong Buchang Pharmaceuticals, Zhao Tao. The company specializes in traditional Chinese medicines and supplements. In a profile for Forbes, his net worth is listed as $1.8 billion. It also says that he received his MBA from, Fordham University in New York City and that he holds a Singapore passport.

His daughter was educated in China and the United Kingdom, and at Stanford was part of a programme called Structured Liberal Education, which the NYT wrote is “a yearlong intensive course in Western literature and culture and the history of ideas.”

In her video, which was made in 2017, just before she entered university she said that she rode horses as a hobby, wanted to study Sociology at Stanford and intended to return to China after she graduated.

She told viewers that they need to work hard to achieve what they want. She said she had once been just an average student who did not do particularly well the first time she took the ACT, a standardized test used for college admissions in the United States.

After a year of hard work, she took the exam again and achieved a score of 33 out of 36.

In the video, Ms Zhao said, “A lot of people told me, ‘You still want to get into Stanford, but, look, the entry rate for it is just 4 percent — just forget it.’

Based on my experience of study, I want to tell you that really anyone can do it. I’m not the kind who was born with a very high I.Q. or who can score 33 or 36 in an exam just like that. But I made my way up step by step, through my hard work.”/TISG

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