The Stanford grad helping international students get into top US and UK unis

top universities
Fangzhou Jiang holds two bachelor’s degrees from Australian National University and a Master in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford University. Born in Shaanxi, China, Jiang moved to New Zealand at 16 where he became the first international student to be named a Premier Scholar, the country’s highest academic honour. Source: Fangzhou Jiang

Applying to top universities in the US and UK can be hard, especially if you are an international student. 

Fangzhou Jiang, one of three co-founders of Crimson Education (CE), knows this well. Jiang received a full scholarship from the Australian National University and obtained dual bachelor’s degrees in Science and Commerce.

He then continued his education in the US, earning an MS in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford University. 

“During this transition, I realised the immense value of having a trusted mentor to help me navigate the complex world of college applications, essay writing, extracurricular activities, standardised testing and various deadlines,” he told Study International in an interview.

Inspired by this realisation, he co-founded Crimson Education (CE) in 2013. Together with two friends, they set off to help students around the world get into their dream universities.

Today, CE is the US’s leading college admissions consultancy, helping students gain admission to the Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, Duke, UC Berkeley, UCLA and other top universities and colleges in the US and UK.

CE helps applicants gain admission at a rate that is 4.5 times higher than the general applicant rate.

We caught up with the co-founder to learn more about his background as an international student, his role as CE’s Chief Product Officer, and the ed-tech platform’s new data-driven app designed to help students, college counsellors, and parents with the college admission process:

Could you tell us about the journey that led you to co-founding CE? 

Being an international student gave me a unique perspective on the challenges of the university application process.

During this transition, I realised the immense value of having a trusted mentor to help me navigate the complex world of college applications, essay writing, extracurricular activities, standardised testing and various deadlines. 

Inspired by this realisation, in 2013, I co-founded Crimson Education with two of my friends, with a shared vision of helping students around the world achieve their academic dreams by gaining access to high-quality education at their dream universities.

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Applying to top universities and colleges is a demanding and time-consuming process, spanning from the initial research phase to the final application submission. Source: AFP

In your opinion, what are the main challenges international students face when it comes to applying to top universities in the US and UK? 

Applying to college is a demanding and time-consuming process, spanning from the initial research phase to the final application submission.

Students often grapple with balancing it alongside their school commitments and personal lives. With numerous colleges and courses available, they often struggle to research the necessary information to identify best-fit colleges. 

This challenge can be more pronounced for international students, who may be unable to visit campuses and attend in-person open days, although the availability of virtual tours and open days has partially eased this problem. 

Beyond research, students must prepare for standardised tests like the SAT, ACT, UCAT, and others, as these scores heavily influence their college admissions decisions. Finding the best study resources and dedicating ample time to preparation can be a formidable task. 

Plus, the significance of extracurricular activities, especially to US universities, presents a unique challenge for students from Singapore. As most schools have similar extracurricular offerings, many students struggle to stand out and showcase their distinct strengths through their activities. 

The demanding application process is further compounded by the heightened competition for admission to top universities in the US and UK, with acceptance rates reaching all-time lows, even as low as 3% to 4% for prestigious Ivy League institutions. 

What support or services does CE provide to overcome these challenges?

To help navigate the demanding and hyper-competitive university application process, CE provides personalised consulting services for students, aiming to maximise every aspect of their application and set them apart from tens of thousands of other applicants. 

Our dedicated team of expert tutors, mentors, and strategists offer holistic guidance based on years of admissions data.

The team includes former Ivy League, Oxford and Cambridge admissions officers and graduates who are highly experienced and knowledgeable; they have admissions in their DNA. 

They assist students in creating standout essays, enhancing their extracurricular profiles, fostering confidence during interviews, improving standardised test scores, and working with an organised, personalised timeline to reduce stress.

CE students receive support at every stage of the college application process, helping them navigate it, reduce stress, and increase their chances of gaining admission to their dream college.

We have also launched the Crimson App to help streamline the college admissions process while connecting all stakeholders, including students, school counsellors, and parents.

Our app encourages students to apply smartly by providing valuable resources and guidance — based on over 100,00 data points collected from successful profiles — to increase their chances of attending top universities. 

As CE’s Chief Product Officer, what goes through your mind when creating a product or service to solve a problem?

I value three pillars — putting students at the centre, utilising data-driven insights, and nurturing a global student community — as my fundamental considerations when designing products and services for our students globally. 

  • Student-centric design approach: A good edtech product should place students at the core of every aspect of its design. I envision a system that is not just a solution but a constant companion throughout their CE journey. This approach involves foreseeing how each feature or service can add value at different stages of a CE student’s pathway, from college preparation to academic excellence and holistic skill development. 
  • Data-driven solutions through AI and proprietary insights: Leveraging years of accumulated admissions data and harnessing the power of AI is crucial in creating effective ed-tech solutions in our space. This involves mining and analysing extensive datasets to derive meaningful insights into student engagement during high school, university preferences, and broader admissions trends. 
  • Building an engaging global student community: Developing an interactive and vibrant online community for ambitious students worldwide is essential for our team. We call our community “LaunchPad,” a platform for collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and mutual encouragement. 
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The Crimson App helps streamline the college admissions process while connecting all stakeholders, including students, school counsellors, and parents. Source: Crimson Education

Walk us through the proprietary, data-driven app aimed at helping students, college counsellors, and parents with the college admission process. What are the main challenges you are looking to solve with this app?

The Crimson app serves as a comprehensive solution that addresses two significant challenges in the education space: the competitiveness of college admissions and the laborious application process. To date, our app has assisted over 10,000 students in gaining admission to their dream schools. 

It is designed to benefit schools in multiple ways, including enhancing students’ matriculation outcomes at top universities, collecting and maintaining student performance data, optimising the work of college counsellors, and improving student and family satisfaction with university counselling services at school.

For students, the app offers standardised test practice and a roadmap to manage their application deadlines effectively.

It also leverages over 100,000 data points from successful Crimson alumni to provide tailored recommendations for extracurricular activities and competitions that can enhance a student’s chances of admission.

Within the app, Pathfinder is an exclusive, first-of-its-kind feature that provides students with a comprehensive list of 280 high school goals that cover academics, standardised test scores, and extracurriculars. 

Each goal is assigned a point value based on its significance in the college admissions process, enabling students to monitor and enhance their competitiveness for admission to top US universities.

Students also gain access to an extensive resource centre within the app, replete with valuable insights on successful university applications, essay writing, extracurricular activities, summer programmes, internships, career options, and more.

Plus, the app shares student performance data with school counsellors, facilitating more effective student advising.

The school and counsellor dashboard provides educators with roadmaps for monitoring student progress, keeping tabs on important deadlines, assigning student tasks, and delivering personalised support.

Additionally, parents can access real-time information about their child’s university application journey through the app.

What feedback have you gathered from the end users? How are you using the learnings gained here to further improve your app?

The technology R&D department at CE includes dedicated product managers with very strong ed-tech experience.

As a team, we also place immense value on user feedback. Regularly conducting comprehensive user interviews with our diverse user base — students, parents, and internal service delivery staff members —allows us to gather invaluable insights.

Their feedback serves as a compass guiding our continual improvements across various facets of the Crimson App.

An example of how user feedback directly steered our actions is the incorporation of a heatmap detailing the most popular US universities based on the number of Early Action or Early Decision applications. 

Early decision is a binding commitment, meaning those who apply in this round must attend the selected college if they are accepted.

Early action – which has either a November or December deadline – is similar to an early decision without a binding agreement.

Students and strategists expressed their desire for more information in this area to avoid universities that are overly subscribed or too competitive, highlighting a need within our user community.

Taking this feedback into account, we swiftly responded by developing and implementing the heatmap feature.

This addition catered to the specific request and enhanced the app’s usability, providing valuable information to our users.

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With the rise of generative AI tech like ChatGPT and Google Bard, Jiang recognises the value of these tools and encourages their ethical use. Source: AFP

With the rise of AI-based tech, what does the future of college admissions look like? How is CE coping with change on this front?

With the rise of AI-based technology, the future of college admissions is evolving.

More students are using generative AI for tasks such as essay writing and proofreading, as well as generating interview questions and preparing for standardised tests.

As a prominent figure in the edtech sector, CE recognises the value of AI tools and encourages their ethical use.

Our new generative AI policy represents a commitment among all community members to prioritise transparency, accountability, and academic integrity as we strive to help students on their college admissions journey.

In addition to benefiting students, AI could also help college admissions officers streamline the initial screening of applications by completing tasks such as reviewing transcripts, calculating GPAs, and identifying students’ extracurricular activities. 

This could free up admissions officers’ time to focus on more complex aspects of an application, including recommendation letters and essays.

AI can also contribute to the development of more holistic and equitable admissions criteria, reducing hidden biases in the admissions process.