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I’m writing this as a way to thank all my seniors, teachers, friends, parents, siblings,

Recommers, and anyone else who helped me during my applications to US Universities. My

heartfelt thanks to all of you! As you can tell from my tone, I am absolutely exhilarated right
now. I hope that my experience applying can be of some use to you in these last weeks of
application‐writing as well as the months after that.

I like to tell stories, so the following may not be the most concise guide on earth. Be forewarned.

Lastly, before we get on with it, do take all of these with a pinch of salt, yea?

I remember one particularly caffeine‐fueled night in which I sat typing out an attempt at an
essay at 3 in the morning, and one of my seniors at Penn was online chatting to me. It was a
great encouragement and served as a reminder to me of what lay in store at the end of the
frustrating and depressing road of applications. You’ll come to the end of that road soon
enough, so don’t worry, do your best for now!

Some numbers.
I’m reluctant to post these, but I want to get them out of the way as soon as possible, so oh well,
here goes:
SAT 1 – 2370/2400 (800 CR, 800 Math, 770 Writing)
SAT 2 – 800 Math II, 800 Chemistry, 760 Biology‐E, 780 Literature (This was too late to submit)
TOEFL – 112/120
But I have to stress that these scores mean little in the context of your entire application. They
serve to consolidate what is in your transcripts and grades e.g. if your Chemistry teacher says
you’re the next Kornberg or Curie, but you get 500 on the SAT II Chemistry, it casts doubt on
your teacher’s recommendation. I think there’s an increasing trend towards universities placing
less weight on SAT scores than before. It’s probably too late to retake, with only one more
available testing date on January, so don’t stress too much about what’s done.

On to the paperwork.
I had the unusual opportunity of sending in more than usual recommendations; I had two
secondary schools not counting INTEC, so I could send in two Sec School Reports with two
different recommendations by different counselors. For one of the Sec School Reports, I got my
counselor to send in a ‘term report’ which had summaries of the different subjects I took, as
well as notes by my teachers, so in essence I had 7 extra shortrecommendations. (But risky, this
may p**s off grouchy adofficers because extra materials may not be welcome) I was also lucky
that the teacher I asked to be my SMK counselor had worked with me for over 4 years on a
variety of projects – website, robotics etc – so she could write a lot about me.

The two teachers I asked to write my recommendations knew me quite well; one even said that
she was going to write about my weaknesses. Bad? In retrospect, it showed me in a more
realistic light, and perhaps contributed to my getting in. My teachers also asked me what I
wanted them to highlight, so I hinted at different things – one covered my personality, the other
the extra work I used to put in for his class. I had English and Chemistry teachers
recommending me, a nice balance between humanities and sciences.

In summary, find teachers who know you well, give them enough time to write a good one, and
don’t forget to THANK YOUR TEACHERS. You can never thank someone enough.

What I want to stress here is to be yourself and trust your instincts: if what you’re writing
doesn’t feel like you, or you find it difficult to say, it probably is not reflective of your true self.

My Common App essay was started the night before the application deadline, and I finished
ten minutes before the deadline. DO NOT DO THIS! EVER! The only good thing that came out
of it, I suppose, was that I was forced to write in my own voice, not thinking about what other
people would say. Maybe that’s where my personality “came through”. I basically told a story
about my art, how as a toddler I was against the Buncho Rainbow Colouring style, and how I
later confronted that bias, and realized it was because of my penchant for creative freedom and,
according to one of my friends, my “headstrong” nature. Haha. It sounds so deep to me now.
And wow, I don’t know how I got in with that essay. (Sorry, this probably isn’t helping you
much now…)
A better example would be my academic experience essay. I spent a long time on that and had
many people proofread it. Because it was about my favourite class, I had no problem finding
words to write. I wrote about how I was before the class, what I discovered there, how I
changed, and a consequence of me changing. I had to fix certain angles and issues with details
in my initial draft, thanks to acute observations by my proofreaders, and it is this that convinces
me that proofreading is important. Have people proofread your essays. THANK THEM
afterwards too.

To get ideas, talk to your parents and friends, and ask them what stands out about you. My
friends pointed out thing that I had totally overlooked about myself; I was awed by that. You
can then decide how to shape your application to showcase that aspect of your personality.
Also, universities have different overall characteristics, so depending on where you’re applying
to, you might like to highlight different traits. You need to show the university why they are a
good fit for you, why you are a good fit for them, what you can contribute, and what you can
learn from them. When you’re writing your apps, you will know which unis are ‘right’ for you
by the ease with which you answer the “Why X University” questions. For example, Brown
likes self‐starters and looks more at extra‐curriculars than scores. After doing research on my
potential universities, I really felt that Brown would be a great place for me, couldn’t imagine
myself elsewhere - which is why I applied ED ‐ and I guess I was able to articulate that in my
“Why Brown” essay and interview.

Also, you will somehow ‘know’ which topic to write about for the Common App essay –
something which means a lot to you, and you couldn’t bear not to tell the admissions committee
about it. Trying to force yourself to write something you don’t like is a disaster waiting to
happen. A good piece of advice from an admission officer goes like this: find a message you
want to convey. Then think of an anecdote to illustrate that message.

Find a time/place where you write well, and stick to it. This could involve using your favorite
fonts, handwriting the essay first, hiding under the bed, a theme song, sitting at ping pong
tables and so forth. Anything that helps you. ☺
I sent in a ‘resume’, but in hindsight it was rather pompous and pretentious of me to call it a
‘resume’, so I suggest that you call yours ‘activity list’. It was mainly to put in some minor
activities that I didn’t have space for on the Common App, and to elaborate more on some of
my activities. I also put in some big activities from Form 2 that I couldn’t list on the Common
App due to it not being in Grade 9 and above. For this, I will credit Andrew because I followed
the format of his sample resume, which I’m sure most people reading this have seen already.

Check check double check triple check everything before sending in. Take note of the small,
occasionally hidden, but important instructions, such as including your name, birth date, school
name etc on every bit of paper you send in, even the electronic uploaded documents like essays.
Print preview your application a lot and get others, if possible, to proofread it before

I sent in a cover letter explaining my three schools (2 sec, 1 pre‐u) and how ADFP was Grade 12.
I also stated there very clearly that Brown was my absolute first choice. Doesn’t hurt to remind
them of that .

After the paperwork and submission of application.

Oh yeah. If you find a mistake in your application after you submit it, DO NOT HESITATE TO
CALL IN/EMAIL TO CORRECT IT. They’ll see that you are concerned about your application
and that’s a good thing. Stupid me put my graduation date from INTEC wrongly, but I called
the admissions office, and the people were very nice and helped me to correct the information.

My Brown one was done over the phone, and luckily my interviewer was a very understanding
and nice guy; he began by reassuring me that the interview was more on the informational side
and that I shouldn’t be nervous. My response: to babble some nonsense about how many
people applied to Brown from Asia. OOPS! So think before you speak, really. On a more serious
note, I was able to highlight some things that I didn’t address in my application, like how in
INTEC I don’t get to choose my subjects and thus could not take Chemistry and Physics beyond
O‐Levels (SPM). He was very interested in this; I was then able to explain that I self‐studied
those subjects.

I also told him a story about what my classmates (you know who you are!) and I at INTEC do
for fun (sit and talk in the KTM train!) because that really mattered a lot to me and I wasn’t
concerned about appearing intellectual or trying to say only what they wanted me to say. Then
I asked him a lot of questions on the “softer” side: what was your favourite class, what crazy
things did you do at Brown for fun, what do you think about this issue at Brown etc. I think it
made the interview more fun and more personal than dumb questions like “What majors do
you have?” and “How can I do research?”. You get to have your interviewer reminisce about
his/her presumably happy times at the college, and that can only be good for you.

If you’ve done a lot of research about the university, it will show in your interview to your
benefit. Hint: read the university newspapers, great source of information. Talk to current

I also have to mention my fantastic Rice interview and my fantastic Rice interviewer.

courtesy to do so. In your note, maybe you could mention additional thoughts on something the
interviewer had said in the interview – it shows that you were really paying attention, and
thought a lot about what was said.

Results and final words

Rejection doesn’t mean that you’re not good enough. It just means that you are not perceived to
be a ‘fit’ for the school. So what have you got to lose by showing your true personality? If they
like you and think you’ll fit in, then good! If not, at least you won’t wind up feeling that you’ve
doublecrossed yourself by pretending to be someone you aren’t. BE TRUE TO YOURSELF.

Finally, and this is important to me: if you have a religion, well, I can sincerely say that faith
goes a long way in motivating you and supporting you in the whole application process.
And approach the whole thing from a humble perspective. BE GRATEFUL that you are even in
a position to apply to universities in the States; don’t feel as if you’re obligated an education
there. It will show through in the way you answer the questions on the app, and the way you
talk in the interview. Show them what you have to offer, tell them what you are looking for in
their university and why your attendance would benefit them and you, and yes, be rightfully
proud about your accomplishments, but NEVER EVER BRAG. If you are mentioning things for
the sake of mentioning them, and have no real passion or reason for doing so, then it’s likely
that you are bragging. Small things really, really count.

I did question myself at many points along the way, when hearing about the awesome things
that other international students have done (thanks College Confidential for making me
depressed). I'm glad I went ahead and applied, anyway. But I learnt from seniors that you have
to be confident in yourself, and emphasize what you have to offer to the university. You are
unique. Use that.

Good luck with your applications!

Best wishes and bananas,


Addendum – the (Visual) Art Supplement

Okay, I’m not the best person to talk about this since I submitted my art supplement according
to the wrong guidelines but this is what I did anyway:

Burn a CD with 20 images* of my artwork in it. I think it’s better to send paper prints. Ask the
Art Department of the university (or whoever will review your Art Supplement) which they
Make a list of the twenty images*, with dimensions, titles, and medium used.
Send in an ‘art resume’. Follow instructions on the Common App for this one.
Get someone who has experience or qualifications in your field of the arts to write you a
recommendation letter. This is another way in which I got an additional recommendation in for

*Confirm your image limit first. I think I went way beyond my recommended limit. Ack.

Only send the really good artworks/videos etc, though. The office may be swamped and they
sure wouldn’t like to wade through tons of your latest doodles and so on. Put in pieces which
won competitions. Also put in pieces which, artistic quality not compromised, show a bit of
your personality. I sent a photo of a painting I made with (‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐). (Word removed to avoid
unnecessary plagiarism). Suffice to say, it’s not something you would find every day, nor in a