My favorite bit was the quote at the end, "You're used to being the cream of the crop in Singapore," he says, "and it's just the same thing at the Ivies."
Then when the cream of the crop goes to the Ivies and finish being the cream of the crop there, they come back to Singapore to be the governing cream of the crop over the rest of the crop in Singapore.
Gateway to the Ivy League
Prestigious Singapore School Sends Droves to Top Colleges; Just $15 a Month in Fees
By CRIS PRYSTAY and ELIZABETH BERNSTEIN
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
May 6, 2004; Page B1
Teh Su Ching began gunning for the Ivy League when she was just 11 years old. To get there, the young Singaporean beefed up her grades to win admission to a feeder school for Singapore's Raffles Junior College, the government school that landed her older brother in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other graduates in a host of top universities abroad.
A few weeks ago, Ms. Teh, now 19, was accepted by Yale. "I screamed when I found out," she says. Then she went down to Raffles and gave her teachers flowers and bottles of wine.
The school has plenty of reason to celebrate. Over 40% of the 820 students who graduated in December have been accepted by top U.S. universities. About half of that group will attend elite, Ivy League schools. Cornell University alone accepted 90 of Ms. Teh's classmates; Duke University accepted another 24. Dozens of others this year have been accepted by Britain's Oxford and Cambridge.
Raffles charges students just $15 a month in fees, but it's no ordinary institution. A product of Singapore's highly competitive approach to education, designed to fuel the national economy, Raffles is the peak of a government-controlled pyramid-style school structure that unabashedly pushes the cream to the top.
Starting with a "primary-school leaving exam" that helps determine what secondary school a child gets into, Singapore's system includes four years of basic secondary school followed by an exam that determines what junior college one attends for two years of preuniversity schooling. By the time they graduate, Raffles students have an extra year of schooling compared with U.S. teens.
Another key to Raffles' extraordinary college-placement success: Money is no object. To groom leaders for its agencies and the companies under its control, the government underwrites the college education of hundreds of top Singaporean junior-college graduates. Students seeking such aid must sign a contract, or a bond, to come back and work for a government agency or corporation for six years. More than half of the Raffles grads who are heading to the U.S. this year are on a government bond, the school says.
"It makes it a little easier for us to accept them," acknowledges Mike Goldberger, director of admission at Brown University, which has a limited financial-aid budget for international students.
Raffles Junior College, established in 1982, has its roots in Raffles Institution, a secondary school for boys established in 1823 by Sir Stamford Raffles, the colonial Briton who founded the city-state of Singapore. Raffles Institution, which still exists, built its reputation as a bastion of meritocracy, accepting gifted children from all socioeconomic classes and producing dozens of leaders over the years -- among them, Lee Kuan Yew, the patriarch of modern Singapore.
Today's Raffles is an Ivy League machine. A recent Wall Street Journal survey of high schools that feed elite U.S. colleges focused on U.S. schools and thus didn't include Raffles. Adding international schools, that list shows that Raffles sent more students to 10 elite colleges than any other international school and topped such prestigious U.S. secondary schools as Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Conn., and Harvard-Westlake, in North Hollywood, Calif.
"It's very satisfying," says Winston James Hodge, the school's principal and a Singaporean like most of the faculty.
To attract top talent to its island economy, Singapore also offers scholarships to bright teens from across Asia. Anand Bhaskar, 18 years old, is one of 100 foreign students at the school. Most are from China, Malaysia and India and attended Raffles on full scholarship. Cornell not only offered Mr. Bhaskar, the only child of a financial consultant and a bank officer in Pune, India, a spot this year, but a partial scholarship, too. "I'm pretty excited," he says.
Cornell is pretty happy about the match, too. "What most of us want is a diverse community, a broad base of international students," says Wendy Schaerer, senior associate director, undergraduate admissions, at Cornell. "We also look at how well they perform here. The students we enroll from Raffles have done very well."
Very, very well. Mr. Bhaskar, for example, offers much more than the 1550 he scored (out of a possible 1600) on his SATs, or the straight A's he earned on his final exams. An active member of the math and computer clubs, he also danced in shows put on by the Indian cultural club at Raffles and tutored children at a day-care center in his free time.
Likewise, Ms. Teh edited a school magazine, played softball for the Raffles team, and performed street music for charity during school holidays.
At Raffles, as at most schools in Singapore, math and science are stressed. Just 8% of Raffles students major in humanities, and almost all of them still take advanced math courses as one of their four subjects.
To make sure students are more than just math machines, the school encourages them to join at least three clubs or teams, ranging from water polo to the economic and current affairs society, and do charity work. Last year, a group of students raised money and went to Cambodia to help refurbish a drop-in center for street kids.
University applications are taken extra-seriously. There are five teachers who serve as applications advisers, two for U.S. universities, two for schools in the United Kingdom and one for Australian schools. Between July and October, there is at least one talk each week by Ivy League alumni or an admissions officer from a U.S. school.
Those talks motivated Ervin Yeo, 20, now a freshman at Yale studying ethics, politics and economics. "When you hear all these success stories and hear about the students before you who go on to Princeton and Harvard, you feel you can be part of this," says Mr. Yeo, who is the first in his immediate family to go to college.
The government is backing Mr. Yeo, whose mother works in a supermarket and father in an electronics shop. He was given a scholarship by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which also allowed him to defer mandatory two-year army service until he finishes college.
Mr. Yeo, who played rugby at Raffles and now does so at Yale, says the transition has been easy. "You're used to being the cream of the crop in Singapore," he says, "and it's just the same thing at the Ivies."