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Admission accomplished: Cindy Hah, co-founder of Aegis Advisors, finds fulfilment in guiding HK students’ overseas study paths

Published on Saturday, 17 Dec 2016

When Cindy Hah founded Aegis Advisors with business partner Dan Chen in 2008, the company initially focused on offering support for elite US university applications.

The idea for the business was partly inspired by Hah’s own experiences as a student in Hong Kong. “I was a high achiever and looking to get into a really good US university, but there was just one counsellor for 110 graduating students, so I couldn’t get the personalised attention I needed. I had to find the information on my own and it was hard. Part of it was luck that I got into Princeton,” she says.

Fast-forward 10 years and Hah returned to Hong Kong to find that the situation hadn’t improved. “I came back as an admissions advisor for Princeton and met a lot of high-calibre candidates. If they had been a little more prepared, they could have gone from good to great.”

Hah saw an opportunity to assist students with the admissions process. “Even at the best schools, career counsellors deal with 50 students. No matter how good they are, they just can’t give them that much attention. Our counsellors work with around 8 to 12 students, meaning we really get to know each client.”

Aegis Advisors now works alongside families in Asia, the US and the UK to plan their children’s educational futures and help them get into the best schools. It also offers tutoring, family and parent coaching, and mentorship services.

Hah believes this holistic approach helps to differentiate her business. By providing family and parent coaching, for example, she helps to strengthen communication between parents and children – something that she noticed can sometimes be lacking.

“The way parents ‘parent’ affects the way students behave – if they make all the decisions, the kids just end up shutting off. Their résumés may look good, but if you ask them what they want for themselves, they can’t answer as they haven’t had the opportunity. That’s where we come in – just to balance the communication so the child is able to speak up more.”

As a fledgling entrepreneur back in 2008, Hah barely had a minute to herself as she tried to get the business off the ground. “I was travelling around working as a regional marketing manager during the first two years of my start-up life. But then I thought if I could make ‘x’ amount of money then it would be worth concentrating on the business full time. I was able to hit my target within the assigned time frame, so it worked out well.”

With the business now established, the challenge Hah currently faces is effectively growing it. She says that her fear, as like any company, is the risk of losing quality while scaling up. If she feels she can’t deliver on quality, she’d rather do less business. “Word of mouth is what fuels our business so it’s important that we maintain the quality of our services.”

But education remains a big business in Hong Kong, and Hah says company growth has been fuelled by customer demand. Large numbers of Hong Kong students also continue to head overseas to study and are broadening their approach – which is good news for Aegis, but requires more planning. “Students are applying to more universities – not just in the UK or US, but both – so it makes preparation much tougher as both have different systems.”

Hah has also noticed an increasing popularity in sending students to boarding schools or prep schools overseas. “It’s just so competitive that families want to get them into the system earlier. To go from the local Hong Kong system to a top school overseas is hard, so if you can transition earlier, it’s easier.”

With business prospects bright, Hah hopes to grow her team so it can expand its client base. She is also planning to invest in its online tutoring service as demand for it increases. She is even considering adding a concierge service. “Once our clients’ kids have gone overseas they still call us and ask for help,” she says.

Hah’s proudest moment happens every year when she finds out which of her students have been accepted into their dream schools. “Most of our kids get into one of their top three schools, and the gratitude you get from parents and students is something money can’t buy,” she says. “When I worked on big projects [before Aegis], people would say ‘good job,’ which is okay but now I feel like I’m making a difference to people’s lives.”

 


This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Admission accomplished.