Category Archives: College

Sticky Situations

Today I went to NJC in high spirits for the Cambridge interview. Then I tried to get in by entering via the RGPS exit (hitherto unknown to me) where I got stuck. Then I tried calling NJC General Office. Skype got stuck, refused to connect. So I headed over to the covered walkway where the pleasant security guard told me to take a detour via Hillcrest. To cut to the chase, I reached NJC sweaty and in no mood for an interview.

I grabbed a milk tea with honey pearls and on the way up to the library and met 2 pretty RJC girls. Smiles were exchanged and I sat rather impatiently fiddling with my iPhone. I entered the Buzz when called upon.

The interview started out promptly with a few introductory pleasantries and questions. When it came to the math problem, I was stuck. Really bad. So bad that I half reckoned my interviewer’s last remark that “I made some progress” was more obligatory than anything else.

Grah >_< I feel like tearing my hair out now. Of course, another day, another step, let's ace that TSA this Saturday. F yeah. (=

Cambridge Interview Tomorrow

Here’s a stpry from to soothe the nerves >< Heh.

Clive, Computer Science at Robinson College, Cambridge: I stayed overnight the night before my interview so that I didn’t have to wake up at 4am that morning to get there in time. The first thing that struck me when I got there was how nervous I was – I wasn’t particularly nervous before I’d actually got there. I collected my room key and meal vouchers and went to my room where I attempted a bit more interview preparation. This attempt having failed, I went to the JCR with the hope of mingling with other people. The reality of this attempt at mingling was that I felt like I was intruding and interrupting people’s conversations, so I just went back up to my room until dinner. Then, at dinner, I was approached by a few other applicants, and we ended up forming a huddle of four terrified 17 year olds in a sea of… other people. There’s safety in numbers, though, and once we’d been at the bar for a while our nerves soon calmed down! The big bit was the next day, though. After a sleepless night, I made my way down to breakfast, and then on to the JCR as instructed where I would wait for my TSA exam at 9:30am. While I was waiting, I met a few other people from my course… I’ll admit to secretly trying to weigh up my chances as to whether I stood a chance against any of them: as far as I was concerned, I was doomed for failure! I was surprised by the relative ease of the TSA exam, and fortunately the exam managed to take my mind off the imminent interviews. After the exam, I went back to wait in the JCR, and that’s when the nerves really set in. When I was finally called to my interview and was sat outside the room, I was actually trembling in fear. I, of course, blamed the cold. Interestingly, though, after a few deep breaths, I managed to pull myself together before I entered the room… I recommend this to anyone and everyone going for an interview: it really helps! When I went into my first interview, I shook the hands of the two people interviewing me, and then sat down ready for the interrogation. Prior to the interview, I had been sent an extract from a book to read which had a task at the end of it which I thought I had to prepare for at the interview. They asked me if I’d done it, and if I’d enjoyed it, but never actually asked me what I did! Their first question was “why computer science?” which was relatively easy to answer, since it was the most anticipated question I could have thought up. After another 5-10 minutes of asking me about things on my personal statement (although in no great detail), I was set the task of finding the complexity of an algorithm. I had to ask for help several times throughout the problem and stopped and started all the way through, but I reached the correct answer eventually, which was quite satisfying! My second interview was entirely mathematical, and I thought it went terribly. The mathematical knowledge required to do the questions they asked was at AS level at the very most, and I was stopping and starting all the way through what are, looking back on them, very easy questions. Then came the long wait until 3rd January for the result… to my surprise, I got in! My GCSE/AS grades were hardly impressive, and I didn’t think my interviews went that well, but I have a genuine passion for Computer Science which I think shone through in the interview. For example, I wasn’t afraid to ask for help and I didn’t pretend to know things that I didn’t know… like, when they asked me about what programming languages I had used, I immediately disclaimed that I was no expert and just played round with them for fun. The nature of the interviews was very informal compared to what I thought it would be like, too! It was one surprise after another.

Class of 2016 Admit Rates

This is bad…

IVIES Overall Early Round Estimated Regular Decision
2016 Admit Applied % Admit Applied % Admit Applied %
Brown 2,760 28,742 9.60 556 2,919 19.05 2,204 25,823 8.54
Columbia 2,363 31,851 7.42 605 3,088 19.59 1,758 28,763 6.11
Cornell 6,123 37,812 16.19 1,171 3,609 32.45 4,952 34,203 14.48
Dartmouth 2,180 23,110 9.43 465 1,800 25.83 1,715 21,310 8.05
Harvard 2,032 34,302 5.92 772 4,245 18.19 1,260 30,057 4.19
Penn 3,846 31,217 12.32 1,148 4,526 25.36 2,698 26,691 10.11
Princeton 2,095 26,664 7.86 726 3,476 20.89 1,369 23,188 5.90
Yale 1,975 28,974 6.82 675 4,304 15.68 1,300 24,670 5.27
Total Ivies 23,374 242,672 9.63 6,118 27,967 21.88 17,256 214,705 8.04


MIT + Stanford Overall Early Round Estimated Regular Decision
2016 Admit Applied % Admit Applied % Admit Applied %
Stanford 2,427 36,631 6.63 755 5,880 12.84 1,672 30,751 5.44
MIT 1,620 18,109 8.95 680 6,008 11.32 940 12,101 7.77
Total 4,047 54,740 7.39 1,435 11,888 12.07 2,612 42,852 6.10


Universities 2016 2015 2014
Admit Applied % Admit Applied % Admit Applied %
Carnegie Mellon 4,694 17,300 27.13 5,030 16,527 30.44 5,135 15,459 33.22
Chicago 3,344 26,277 12.73 3,539 21,762 16.26 3,639 19,340 18.82
Duke 3,751 31,600 11.87 3,938 28,145 13.99 4,207 26,784 15.71
Emory 4,539 17,502 25.93 4,548 17,027 26.71 4,488 15,550 28.86
Georgetown 3,316 20,100 16.50 3,480 19,254 18.07 3,619 18,077 20.02
Johns Hopkins 3,636 20,496 17.74 3,576 19,391 18.44 3,787 18,459 20.52
Northwestern 4,895 32,065 15.27 5,575 30,926 18.03 6,379 27,615 23.10
Notre Dame 3,850 16,952 22.71 4,019 16,548 24.29 4,009 14,510 27.63
Tufts 3,500 16,378 21.37 3,743 17,104 21.88 3,757 15,433 24.34
UC Berkeley 13,038 61,702 21.13 13,523 52,953 25.54 12,914 50,372 25.64
UC Davis 22,538 49,416 45.61 21,074 45,825 45.99 19,460 43,315 44.93
UC San Diego 22,939 60,838 37.71 18,212 53,461 34.07 18,307 48,112 38.05
UC Santa Barbara 23,803 54,831 43.41 22,386 49,033 45.65 19,741 46,721 42.25
UCLA 15,455 72,657 21.27 15,689 61,528 25.50 13,013 57,648 22.57
UNC Chapel Hill 7,596 28,491 26.66 7,469 22,652 32.97 7,559 23,271 32.48
USC 8,381 46,030 18.21 8,566 37,210 23.02 8,715 35,794 24.35
Vanderbilt 3,757 28,335 13.26 4,078 24,837 16.42 3,906 21,827 17.90
Virginia 7,759 27,200 28.53 7,750 24,010 32.28 7,212 22,512 32.04
WUSTL 4,873 27,265 17.87 4,763 28,823 16.52 5,285 24,939 21.19

The Price of Admission

I’m expecting to blow over $1000 on college admissions for the 2013 term. Here’s a breakdown:


UCAS App – 21 quid

COPA – 30 quid

Cambridge Interview – 110 quid

Total for UK: 161 quid – SGD 318 approx.

Gosh. But it gets worse across the Atlantic.


SAT – $71 then ($26 intl fee) – it’s $81 2 years later; inflation of 14%

SAT Subject – $73 iirc

SAT Score Reports – $11 x 12 = $132

2010 Applications – $300 est.

2011 Application – $70

2012 Applications – $700 est.

Total for US: $1340 – SGD 1643 approx.


Congratulations, Brian. You just blew 2000 Singapore dollars over several electronic forms. Not to downplay its importance to my future but…


I blew so much money, and this fact blew my mind.



Going Private

Wow. Seems like I’m using this blog as a dumping ground of sorts for all my college admission ideas and factoids, all of which were posted privately. I could use Google Docs for all these stuff bouncing around in my head but I find it just too convenient to fire up WordPress and shoot off a private post. One day, I shall un-private my posts πŸ™‚

I shall continue doing so. And this post marks the start of 2012’s whirlwind UK + US college admissions tour.

Download BMAT and UKCAT Preparatory Materials

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PSC Scholarship Q&As

Prepping for the PSC Scholarship? This will hopefully answer some questions… πŸ˜€

What is the career path like for PSC scholars? Both while serving their bond and after. Thanks (:

This question was especially tricky because you didnt state if you were a guy or girl and what tier of PSC scholarship you meant. i guess i couldve just assumed you’re a girl and asking about OMS, but i went around sourcing for information instead (which is why this answer took so long! & i really need to stop being a perfectionist with fs answers). so here goes:

1) OMS (Open)
For girls and guys, this tier of scholarship is pretty much the same. the guys get to defer army and study first. OMS scholars are put on the Management Associate Programme (MAP) and most of them will end up as Admin Officers (AO). On your 2nd year of studies, like other scholars, you fly back for a mid-course preparatory programme. The difference for OMS scholars start when the work starts (If im not wrong). Part of the MAP involves a 9week long Foundation Course and Forums&seminars and you get a senior mentor as well. During your 6 years bond, you are typically rotated to 3 ministries to get the breadth of exposure and experience. (Scholars who choose to MFA will lag behind their rotation by 1.5yrs but it’s not a big deal)

2) OMS (Tied)
Same as above but you don’t get rotated. you serve in the ministry you are tied to.

3) SGS (Open)
For girls, SGS is the same as OMS except that you are not automatically put into the MAP. However, if you do perform well in university and after completing your studies, you can still join MAP thereafter.

For guys, imma be lazy and just copy&paste what one of my scholar friend described about SGS for guys as a favor to help me unds it better before sharing it with juniors: (thanks david!)

“The SGS (Open) Scholarship is actually very similar to the OMS (Open), with just two distinctions: (1) You are not automatically on the Management Associates Program (MAP) and (2) you cannot disrupt Army. The other aspects of the scholarship, so for instance the allowance, tuition maintenance and opportunities, remain pretty much the same as OMS (Open).

The SGS (Open) Scholarship will allow the scholar to study at any respectable university overseas or locally. It’s actually meant more for people who want to keep their career flexible and open, for either absorption specialist paths (eg. Economics Service). Therefore, for a normal guy who did not apply for university in JC (and therefore in the first year of army is unable to secure a university), the SGS scholarship actually allows you to have a scholarship and still apply for your choice of university eventually.

You continue to go through army, doing almost the same as every Singaporean son of your age, but once you ORD, you can look forward to prep course and university. At prep course, despite everyone being younger than you, your maturity through Army and experience will definitely benefit you. After prep course, everything is the same as an OMS Scholar, until the moment you arrive back in Singapore. While the OMS Scholar is automatically on MAP given a second upper, a SGS is not, an will have to go through an interview that will determine his/her placement on the MAP. If not on the MAP, your bond will be six years at a ministry. If you are on MAP, you will serve 2 postings, two years on the first ministry and 4 on the second posting. Either way, both career routes will still allow for absorption into the Admin Service eventually.”

4) SGS Tied
Same as above just that you are tied to your track/ministry.

let me know if you’re looking into SAFOS or SPFOS (i was guessing you arent). i’ll ask the SAFOS/SPFOS scholars for more info if you need them πŸ™‚

i hope this answer serves to answer all future psc related qns πŸ˜€


HI (: Could you shed some light on the path for an OMS scholar? When do you join MAP and when do you embark on a gap year programme?

Hello πŸ™‚

(just a sidenote: for the rest of the qn I need more time to think in order to give a more informed answer so I might take more time esp w PSC stuffs but if u need it urgently do lemme know)

As an OMS (Open) scholar you will generally be rotated thrice to 3 different ministries with each rotation lasting 2 years plus minus. With some exception like MFA who require scholars to stay for 3.5yrs due to the nature of its work and overseas missions etc.

OMS scholars are in MAP (as long as they maintain a good record I think!). You are technically in MAP when u accept the scholarship but the programme itself starts proper in the summer of your 2nd year where u come back for a midcourse programme πŸ™‚

Thereafter there are programs all the way through to train u even when work starts and most end up as Admin Officers (AO) πŸ˜‰

The Gap year programme is an optional programme where u request to take one year off to join a private sector firm and gain experience of the private sector before you serve in the civil service πŸ™‚

Yup! Hope this helps πŸ™‚ dyou have any more specific questions? Perhaps that’d serve to deepen your understanding of the PSC scholarship a bit more effectively because PSC is pretty flexible and has a whole range of programs and tracks for their scholars in order to tap on both your interest and potential πŸ™‚


Thanks for shedding light on the OMS programme; I never knew it was so flexible! Really interested in it now πŸ™‚ Would you know of any specific charateristics that PSC is looking out for in potential OMS scholars? As opposed to SGS scholars?

hello, you’re most welcome- this is what fs is for afterall right! πŸ™‚

And yes, I’m guilty for that too, the thing is there are actually so many programmes PSC has in place to groom people- scholars and not alike because they really do believe in needing to create an attractive job environment that goes beyond remuneration. So development is one of the core beliefs I feel.

PSC did mention that their scholars get a balanced share of say in their track but yknow we always choose to remain a bit cynical. It was only thereafter that I realized it actually is true to a certain extent!

As for OMS- SGS difference no one knows actually! I asked around and no one seems to know for sure what got them OMS or sgs. So I guess only the PSC board has enough of distinction radar in their lenses to tell apart who should be given OMS and who are more suited for sgs πŸ™‚


No PSC Scholars from TJ? πŸ™ Sigh, I’m from TJ and I’m working towards PSC. Do you think the school you come from matters?

hey! oh gosh, please don’t feel that way :/

there may have been but i just didn’t know cause to be honest, i don’t know the JCs of at least 20 or 30 out of the 74 of us i think!

im positive that if you work hard, get decent grades (don’t even need straight As) you’ll make the first cut. thereafter, just work towards personal development in terms of leadership. think consistently about what kind of leader do you aspire to be in the civil service, what steps are you taking to reach that goal. what other activities have you dabbled in to help develop you as a person. do you have a heart for the people? do you yearn to serve them? are there any steps you took to confirm this passion and calling? etc.

i don’t think the school you come from define your chances but it does play a role in terms of the opportunities you may get, your belief system as well as your own confidence level. thankfully, all three are all within your own control as well. for the first, opportunities can be created on your own, for the second, you can consciously keep in check your values and for the third, belief in yourself!

it’s not too late to start thinking seriously if you are going for PSC for the money, for the prestige, for the networking or for serving Singapore or Singaporeans. If you have the right mindset, you will become my future colleague regardless of your school. Besides, TJ is a good school in its own right πŸ™‚

all the best! and feel free to ask questions here (if you’re comfortable) and i’ll try to help πŸ˜€ i know how much my seniors helped me in my process of applying and giving me a clearer, firmer idea of what im aiming for so i only hope to do the same πŸ™‚


Scholars have so amazing grades..

hello πŸ™‚ you just proved that you’re nice and kind too by saying such sweet stuffs when i did something so little πŸ˜€ am glad that u’re interested in the civil service!

okay firstly, i seriously dont think grades are a big issue. they are important and PSC does emphasize that we need to keep them decent but they don’t expect us to all be straight-As students. for a start, they warned us that we will be frowned upon if we graduated from college with straight As or first class honors but without any other activities and we were told to go travelling, explore, network πŸ˜€

secondly, when you are offered the scholarship, the criteria was to have “good” grades for the A levels. i know of scholars past and present who got Cs among their A level grades but still had the confirmation of their provisional scholarship offers πŸ™‚

lastly, i think PSC is well-informed enough to know that school grades may not be completely reflective of your ability and aptitude in academics because different schools have differing standards in examination and assessment. so it’s not a definitive factor on its own on your chances. besides, they also have their own psychometric test to have a better gauge (and possibly more accurate as well) of your aptitude in language and numerical aspects πŸ˜€ that MAY help to make up for your grades :))

as for now, do not lose hope and just study hard. work towards improving your grades. i’d think it is equally, if not more, impressive to showcase your drive and perseverance through jumps in grades because in the civil service, that never say die attitude and resilience matters alot in my humble opinion!

lastly, just to clarify, not all scholars have amazing grades! besides, grades do not entirely determine nor reflect your intelligence and ability.

im sincerely wishing you all the best πŸ˜€ and hope to see you at next year’s prep course πŸ˜‰ or at work if you’re intending to apply for ministry or stat boards scholarships (cause they have their own pre-dep courses separate from PSC) πŸ˜€

Raffles Institution UCAS Buzzword

For those applying to UK this year, the RJC UCAS buzzword is raffles2012. Strangely, the briefing slides have been taken off the RI website. A suggestion to the college counselors would be to create a one-stop higher education portal (I’d be willing to help too!), something like Hwa Chong’s. Trawling through RI’s website just to find info is daunting enough.

Back to mulling over my essays. ><

Mulling over overseas again

It is approaching that time of the year again.

After a frenzied day rushing local university applications, the focus has invariably shifted offshore, in the greener pastures of America/Europe/Britain. Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s newer that it’s greener, not because it’s better that it’s greener, if you get my drift. And somehow after getting an overseas scholarship, I feel it is a God-bestowed right for me to study overseas. While I was not suicidal at not getting admitted into Stanford, I was not too thrilled at being offered places to study computer science + business at NUS, law + business in SMU and Renaissance Engineering at NTU. I eventually took up NTU’s offer, even though I lament the fact that UCB’s seal isn’t on the degree scroll. I don’t quite get it. Does ‘difficult to get in‘ equate to ‘great‘? You bet my Singaporean mindset it is.

Before prepping for A levels prelims, I spent a considerable amount of time researching different colleges (henceforth referring to overseas universities). As an aside, I did hesitate at the notion of sending in an application to Deep Springs, which prides itself on ‘a non-traditional curriculum with a core structure of composition, public speaking, labor, and self-governance’. Yep. Labor. But really, I found my cursor hovering near the admit rates column. The lower the percentage, the more exclusive, the better. But heck that means my chances of getting in are lower. Never mind the latter.

And so I sent in applications to Stanford with Cornell as my safety. The former with 8% and the latter, 16% admit rates. Of course, I was yearning to be disappointed.

Fast forward 2.5 months after the last of the admission decisions and obstinate me has just spent the whole of today (started at 8am, ended at 9pm) researching every last bit about UK unis and computer science. The current shortlist: Oxford (college not decided), Imperial, UCL. I’ll prolly just randomly pick the other 2 unis to fill up the rest.

Watch this space.



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“I truly respect the people who stay strong, even when they have every right to break down.”

US College Admission Statistics for 2011

This table includes the Ivy League + 2 and other competitive universities in the United States for applicants in the 2010-2011 pool.

Ivy+2	Admits	Applic	Rate
Brown	2,692	30,946	8.70%
Columb	2,419	34,929	6.93%
Cornell	6,534	36,392	17.95%
Dartmo	2,178	22,385	9.73%
Harvar	2,158	34,950	6.17%
MIT	1,715	17,909	9.58%
Penn	3,880	31,659	12.26%
Princet	2,282	27,189	8.39%
Stanfor	2,427	34,348	7.07%
Yale 	2,006	27,282	7.35%

Select	Admits	Applic	Rate
Chicago	3,446	21,773	15.83%
Duke	3,739	29,689	12.59%
JHU 	3,550	19,388	18.31%
NorthWe	5,575	30,975	18.00%
NotDam	3,995	16,543	24.15%
Tufts	3,735	17,130	21.80%
WUSTL	4,440	28,826	15.40%

LACs	Admits	Applic	Rate
Barnard	1,284	5,154	24.91%
Bates	1,396	5,195	26.87%
Bowdoin	1,022	6,554	15.59%
Buckne	2,161	7,937	27.23%
Carlet	1,474	4,977	29.62%
CMC	619	4,481	13.81%
Colby	1,505	5,175	29.08%
Dickins	2,531	6,061	41.76%
Grinne	1,315	2,966	44.34%
Swart	977	6,547	14.92%

Public	Admits	Applic	Rate
UCLA	15,551	61,513	25.28%
UNC	6,965	23,726	29.36%
UVA	7,750	24,010	32.28%