Like many Filipinos lucky enough to get a college education in the United States, Virgil Prieto considers his time at the University of Hawai’i, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1991, a major turning point in his life.
“The experience is life changing. It ultimately widened my horizon and it made me a better person,” says Prieto who passed the Hawaii bar exams in 1994 and practiced in the state for five years. The lawyer eventually moved to the Philippines to spend more time with his family in the late 1990s, and took charge of the family’s manpower business for more than a decade.
But these days, Prieto is dabbling into new territory.
In 2014, he founded CLiQ or College Link Quest, a company that helps Philippine high school students keen on a US tertiary education to get into an American college of their choice through coaching and Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT) tutorials.
Unlike education agents who get paid a commission by foreign schools for referring Philippine applicants, usually high school graduates, CLiQ’s business model is to charge students (or their parents) in exchange for a diverse menu of services designed to improve their chances of being accepted by a US college or university. These range from assessment, advising, research and matching, SAT or ACT (American College Testing) preparation and application.
Prieto founded CliQ to help prepare students who want to go to American schools, colleges or universities
“We’re very different since we take everyone in, regardless of their educational background," Prieto said. "We also don’t just recruit students and bring them abroad. We assist them from admissions down to their college applications.”
Prieto developed a specialized computer program which incorporated all the guidelines for admission, courses offered and best features of American colleges and universities, which number over 4,000 in all. The system recommends the best school for a college applicant based on his or her scores for intelligence quotient (IQ), emotional traits, personality, course choice and even environmental preference.
“The usual first step that applicants take when they come to us is the assessment part. We ask them to answer a psychoanalysis exam, which tests their IQ, EQ, aptitude,” Prieto explained. “It basically reveals the character of the student, which is an indicator of their success [in college application].”
The CLiQ founder said the system can match the student with as many as 200 schools, but they only give the top five choices to the student. As each institution requires different SAT passing scores, the refinement helps both CLiQ and the student to have achievable goals. This way, the student would know the best score to aim for by the time they take their SATs. Moreover, it also helps them develop an awareness on what subjects to focus in, in high school.
Though they need to be Grade 12 students to take the SAT or ACT examinations, CLiQ accepts students still in Grade 9, to help them improve their academic performance especially in subjects that are needed to be accepted not only to their school of choice but also their preferred courses of study.
“Some schools not only require stellar grades but also a great resume. So as early as Grade 9, we can coach them on what extra-curricular activities to pursue or what specialization to focus in. Should they be focusing on their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects? Stuff like that,” Prieto said.
But a chunk of the program focuses on SAT preparation. CLiQ requires those in Grade 10 to 12 to at least attend weekly tutorials throughout the year. These sessions usually involve taking mock SAT exams repeatedly so by the time they get to the real test, students wouldn’t be intimidated.
“I got this strategy from the former licensed guidance counsellor of Brent International School, Arnold Mckenzie. He single-handedly helped students from their school get to Ivy League universities like Yale and Harvard,” Prieto said.
But CLiQ’s services don’t come cheap. A stand-alone program costs Php25,000 but each additional programs cost only Php10,000.
Since it started in 2014, around 60 students have taken part in various CLiQ programs as of May 2017. These include the current roster of 25 pupils still reviewing for their SATs. So far, CLiQ’s acceptance rate has been 100 percent, which Prieto credits to the students’ diligence and the company’s student-school matching program.
Some of the schools that have accepted CLiQ’s pupils include Boston University, Fordham University, Hofstra University, Notre Dame University and Rochester Institute of Technology. While the list doesn’t include any Ivy League universities such as Harvard, Yale or Princeton, Prieto is hopeful that it would happen in a few years.
The company has yet to make money but Prieto derives a sense of fulfillment from the impact CLiQ can make on the lives of the students who make it to US schools and the potential good they could do when they come back to work in the Philippines.
“I admit, the company is still bleeding,” he says. “I probably need a hundred students to at least make some money, but that’s why this is part advocacy. If these students can bring back everything they learned overseas and apply it here back home, then I believe, we can have a better future.”
Elyssa Christine Lopez is a staff writer of Entrepreneur PH. Follow her on Twitter @elyssalopz