The present mixed-methods study explored first-year undergraduate students of a highly selective university in Kazakhstan's perceptions of having private tutoring (PT) and how far it had helped them gain a place at this university. The quantitative data were collected through a close-ended questionnaire from 144 participants to understand their socioeconomic backgrounds and PT experiences over the previous two years, in terms of the scope, types, costs and the subjects studied in the PT they had received. The subsequent qualitative data were collected through interviewing 8 participants to capture in detail the perceived impact of PT on their overall achievement. The study found that 86 out of 144 participants (60%) had received PT. Most of them (72%) had sought PT as an enrichment strategy to obtain higher scores in high-stakes examinations and thus secure a place at that university. Some participants explained the disadvantages of PT, including the financial burden on their families and it being a potentially unfair advantage in a competitive context. The findings of the study are instructive for educators and policy makers in Kazakhstan in revealing the limitations of schooling in the public sector. The pedagogical implications and areas for ongoing research are suggested.