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Name: Wong Keng Hoe
University: University of Chicago
Course: Economics

Introduction

Keng Hoe graduated from Dunman High in 2008, and is currently studying economics at the University of Chicago under a police scholarship.

Universities to apply to:

1. What universities do I apply to? How many schools should I apply to?

Ans: Do first figure out the type of course you wish to take before applying to a school-online searches will also reveal much about the school culture and contact alumni who are currently attending the school. This should give you a good sense of whether the school will be a good fit for you. Some factors to consider include reputation of faculty, placement of alumni, student satisfaction, diversity of school, etc.  If money is not a concern, apply to as many schools as you wish to. I applied to four schools as I wanted to spend time writing application essays for specific schools.

2. Should I apply to more financial-aid schools?

Ans: One point to note is that ‘need-blind’ schools tend to attract more applicants, and especially for top schools where you’re really looking at an acceptance rate from 5-15%. So if you’re not adamant about attending only one school, then other top tier schools such as Cornell, Berkeley, Michigan, Northwestern, etc. might be options as well. These schools may not necessarily be need blind but all the top schools offer heavy financial aid if you’re accepted. That said, financial aid for international students is usually very limited, as colleges (receiving funding from governments) do have to justify offering aid to international students over locals. Getting into the schools I despite the ‘handicap of applying for financial aid’ might actually be easier than getting into Harvard, so that’s something you might want to consider. Of course, time is short, and if you really only have time for one good application, then take your pick!

SATs:

1.  What is considered a good SAT score? How should I go about preparing for the SATs?

Ans: A good score would be one above 2150, preferably above 2200. The SATs are only one component of your application; the others being your recommendations and transcripts. That said, it is also a component in which you have the most amount of control over, depending on how you study for it. Do purchase a few SAT practise books and run through the practise test in its entirety at least once before the actual exam. There are also 1000 and 3000 word lists that you can run through.

U.S. Recommendation Letters:

1. Typically when do we ask out teachers to help us write recommendation letters/evaluation forms?

Ans: You can start asking your teachers in August/Sept after you get a rough idea of your prelim results, and where you want to head to. At this juncture, do politely inform them that you will need their assistance to write the letters after your A levels in November/ December.

2. What happens if the teacher mails his/her recommendation to the USA University before we mail our application?

Ans: The teacher recommendations are relatively fast to complete after your A levels, but your personal application on the Common-App takes a bit of time. Do not worry though, once you make a common app account and print the evaluation forms from that account (there is a personal registered number on the bottom of your these letters), all is fine. The letters might reach the college later, but they’ll keep it all in a file under your name. They will look through your entire file once all the documents arrive and it is completed. You might also want to submit your personal Common App form online, and indicate that the teacher letters will arrive separately by mail.

3. How do your teachers send their recommendations? Online through the CommonApp? Because are they supposed to keep their comments confidential, or did you manage to see their comments?

Ans: The teachers I asked for recommendations were Mdm Leong Foong Lin, Ms Pauline Ann Tan, Mr Poon Fook Weng, and Mr Siva. I used paper applications, though things might have changed. So I gave them envelopes and printed the documents out for them, and an instruction sheet with deadlines on mailing, etc. I sent them a text when the deadline was approaching. A general guideline is to make the life of your teacher easier, especially since he/she has plenty of homework to grade, plenty of CCAs to manage. Writing recommendations can be a chore, and you want your teacher to focus his/her letter of recommendation on you instead of worrying about stamps, filling in your name etc. So, put the necessary stamps on the envelope for your teacher, write in the address, fill in all the forms for your teacher except the part of the recommendation, and give them blank paper. Your teacher will place the forms into the envelope and mail them once she/he is done. Needless to say, the recommendations are strictly confidential, this is an integrity issue, and you will not see their comments.

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Name: Chua Meng Shuen
School: California Institute of Technology
Course: Physics

On October 5th, 2011, Caltech received news that the institution was ranked first in the world, according to Times Higher Education. Over the next few weeks, we received top honors in the categories of Physical Sciences and Engineering & Technology. We were elated, of course, but we soon came to a realization that it does not matter if we’re at the top; we already know that Caltech is an excellent place.

Does it inspire you that Caltech is doing ground-breaking research on artificial photosynthesis? President Obama certainly is, when he specifically mentioned this research at Caltech during the 2011 State of the Union address.

Does it inspire you that Nobel laureate David Baltimore is leading a team that has successfully found a technique to prevent HIV infection in mice and is trying to begin a trial on humans?

Does it inspire you that Caltech is building the Thirty Meter Telescope, the largest in the world when completed, to observe the beginnings of the universe?

I certainly am, and that’s why I am here. My field is in physics, and Caltech has long been associated with excellence in physics. Albert Einstein, Paul Dirac, Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg, Hendrik Lorentz and Niels Bohr used to be visiting professors at Caltech. We had Richard Feynman and Murray Gell-mann on our faculty. John Schwarz, one of the fathers of string theory, and Kip Thorne, the leading gravitation physicist, are part of our current faculty. Oh, by the way, Stephen Hawking spends his summer on campus.

This is not unique to Caltech- I am sure that other top universities around the world boast similar credentials. If opportunities arise, I urge you to consider attending one of these schools.

Oh, what about my time here? Good point. If you think you’re smart, Caltech is a place that forces you to think twice. You wonder why your new friend is not taking freshman math. You ask his close friends if he’s sick. Oh it turns out that he’s taking a graduate level class, and he’s also an IMO gold medalist. You have another classmate who just landed an internship with Google HQ despite being a freshman. Day in and day out, you’re surrounded by peers whom you respect deeply.

Despite being an institute of technology, we have active sports teams and social events, like the annual ski trips at the start of winter. Student involvement in school matters is also relatively high, but perhaps this is due to the size of my school. Opportunities abound for those who seek, and I am confident that you’d be satisfied by what’s available here. Did I say that the school has an honor code that encourages take-home quizzes and exams?

Oh, and contrary to popular belief, there are humanities classes to be taken, and those classes are typically excellent. This is the value of an American education- that you’re exposed to different schools of thought throughout human history. Right now, I am taking a course “Knowledge and Reality”, and it really is difficult to come up with a truly satisfying definition of “knowledge”. Then, when you’re taking Special Relativity, you realize that there’s no absolute truth. I find using scientific arguments in philosophy debates very interesting, and yes, that’s when you know you’re at Caltech. Or maybe you don’t.