Founder & CEO, PrepWorks
Text by Zunaira Saieed
All eyes were on PrepWorks, an education centre when news broke that the highest number of Malaysian students gained entry in the world’s prestigious Harvard University for the class of 2026.
Checks by The Peak showed that one of the six students that made it into Harvard was a student of PrepWorks, which equips students with the necessary skills to enter top universities.
“ You might be the 15th person who asked me which student was ours that recently made it into Harvard. I am glad to announce that from the six, one was our student that enrolled with us back in 2019,” explains PrepWorks founder Tamara Lim.
She confirms it was Lee Ee Jenn from Kuala Lumpur that took tutoring services from the education centre for English and English literature subjects to improve her language skills.
Tamara points out that students must be proficient in the English level to qualify for universities in the US such as Harvard. The admission process can be daunting, but a strong application essay can boost a student’s chance of being admitted into the world’s most respected universities.
Tamara says the most important part of the application is the quality extracurricular activities, followed by outstanding essays, grades, letters of recommendations and interviews. “It is crucial to have English literacy skills to enter into universities in the US like Harvard as one part of the applications to the US universities involve writing essays.
“Writing essays account for 25% of one’s overall application, which is less than 30% for extracurricular activities of the application for top universities. Meanwhile, good grades account for 20% of the application while recommendations and interviews account for 10% of the student’s application,” she explains.
Overall, PrepWorks offer tutoring services applicable to students from primary school up to pre-University level with a mix of online and face-to-face classes.
The education firm that employs over 100 tutors with over two decades of experience are from the world’s top universities. PrepWork’s tutor services provides an array of subjects including Maths, Science, English, Business, Economics among others.
“ You name the subject that you want to master in and we will provide it for you ,” says Tamara, who graduated from Oxford University which has retained the top spot in the world’s ranking in 2022. But Kuala Lumpur’s Lee is just one of the many students PrepWorks has coached and trained to enter into these top universities. Preparation is key for admissions in these highly-competitive universities, points out Tamara.
Another student of PrepWorks that made news headlines was Jarell Cheong, who was under a two- years training with the education consultant firm and received offers from the top universities. Each year, Tamara reveals that one in three of students that helms from PrepWorks receives an offer from the world’s most respected universities.
But she described 2019 to be the “best year’ for the education consultant firm because the students’ success rate to gain entry into top universities improved significantly.
“ In 2019, two in three of our students gained entry in the top universities,” she notes. No doubt, PrepWorks provides admission services for students that are vying for top university spots by coaching, developing students’ critical thinking, enhancing studying skills, mindfulness as well as public speaking.
For this year, Tamara has also upped her targets to double the number of students to 400 from 200 currently for the tutoring services with an introduction of a new Oxbridge and Ivy League online preparation programmes for 14 to 17 year olds to be launched in September.
That upcoming service is group learning sessions for students. That said, she shares that every child is different and requires a different mode of being coached and encouraged to handle difficult interview questions.
Nothing has stopped Tamara from running her business during the pandemic as online classes started to become a norm. “The online class ensured that students were still on track with their studies. “It was business as usual for us. Our students had access to other tutors that were not based in Malaysia and the good part was it eliminated all the logistics issues of the face to face classes,” adds Tamara.
But for the mum of three, the key challenge for her was juggling family and running a business from the same location amid the pandemic, she concedes. Tamara says family was through “self-care” that enhances one’s well- being and promotes healthy functioning.
“My self-care was taking time to do outdoor cycling, feel the breeze, enjoy nature and let go of my thoughts. “If you don’t look after yourself, you can’t be the best parent. And if your cup is not full, you don’t have much to give in being the best parent, best working mother and business owner.” she confides.
She learnt about self-care through her journey of managing a mum’s life and startup life, back in 2015 when PrepWorks was formed. “ I have learnt that you need to find your fulfillment and joy. You are doing a service to all those depending on you, if you take care of yourself first – like the airplane emergency mask, yourself then your child.
“Other ways will work in the short term but burns you out in the long run” adds Tamara The rationale behind creating PrepWorks was she did not feel she added as much value to a company she was working for, because you are just one of a few thousand in the corporate outfit.
“I felt I needed to make a difffference and that I was blessed to be in a position to do that more than most. “Hence I started PrepWorks, using my boarding school and university experiences and raising a team of tutors through my background to be able to do it,” explains Tamara.
The former engineer says the yearning of fulfilment in her professional life pushed her to start her own start- up outfit for education consultancy. “I felt that there was a market for an education consulting firm in Malaysia as Hong Kong and Singapore are five to ten years ahead of us. “It was important for me to feel fulfilled in my career because it gave me the energy to come back to my kids and be the best parent,” adds Tamara.
To be a successful woman entrepreneur, she opines that one needs resilience, creative problem solving skills, a trait of treating problems as a fun challenge and most importantly doing what you love the most. “Women also need to have an unwavering belief that they can do it, even when all the odds are against you.
“They must also have the ability to spot opportunity and the courage to go after it. If you have got some skills, and at the same time you love what you do, you will reach success in your business. “ Because you can’t just love your work and not be good at it and you can’t just be good at it and not love your job.
“The key for a successful entrepreneur is that they must love what they do. Financial success comes when you truly understand the value you are delivering. Encouraging women to be successful entrepreneurs, Tamara suggests women to have mentors as well as friends and family by your side that are always offffering you support or encouragement.
Tamara confesses that she has male mentors in her life which are her father and husband.Building a business with a spouse has been rewarding and productive during the lockdown periods of the pandemic as they were in one location.
Tamara and her husband have a secret formula that has worked for them to succeed as business partners. “And that is to listen to one another.“I know very clearly what he is good at. And he knows very clearly what I’m good at. So we listen to each other in those respective areas.
Though married couples who run their businesses together face trials and triumphs, Tamara says the challenges for them are more in “grey areas”. “The grey areas where we are not sure who is better, ‘’ she laughs.
Asked if behind a successful woman stands a man, she opines “ it is a huge team of caregivers, family, friends, school teachers, cleaners.” “ There are so many things that need to be done to enable a woman to be able to carry out her role in the business world.” says Tamara.