Singaporeans have made their mark in colleges in the United States with their openness and cultural diversity when it comes to interacting with their peers, said college counselor and admissions expert Mr Arun Ponnusamy.
But when it comes to the actual applications process to get into these universities, they tend to fall short, added Mr Ponnusamy who is the chief academic officer for Collegewise, a major counselling company in the US.
In his time, he has read about 20,000 college essays and evaluated the files of 7,500 high school seniors. He has also worked at the University of Chicago, California Institute of Technology and the University of California.
He has had ample experience dealing with US college applicants from Singapore and has noted three big mistakes they tend to make – whether in interviews or essays.
These are ones to look out for:
Selling only academic achievements
Singapore candidates tend to go on and on explaining why they love subjects like maths, science and engineering in their admissions essays but colleges are also looking for what they like to do for fun.
“If what you like doing is drawing or mountain-biking, that’s okay. Admission to universities in Asia is focused on single tests but in the US, they’re not just looking your grades. They’re also looking at your likeability,” he told Business Insider in an interview recently.
He encouraged prospective candidates stop focusing solely on SAT scores or their GPA and to think about what narrative of themselves they’d like to put across.
He added: “These Singaporean students don’t let their personalities come through in their essays. They’re just thinking ‘I need to impress’. Instead, they should talk about how they can make an impact.”
They tend to be reserved
In their college applications, the instinct of many Singapore candidates is to be very formal, and at the same time, humble – and this only serves to work against them.
Mr Ponnusamy said: “You end up doing this funny thing.”
“If your parents are going to send you halfway across the world, you have to advocate for yourself. If you’re going to make the most of the experience, I hate to say it but a lot of you will need to break out of this cultural humility.”
Then there’s the hanging question of whether these candidates end up being students who only “hang out with other Singaporean kids”.
“I’m not sure we need those. Go in with swagger instead.”
The mindset that a great education is only found at Harvard and Stanford
Mr Ponnusamy said that it is important to learn more about the American education system like what the differences are between say, a private, public and liberal arts college.
He also said that Singapore families tend to only be aware of about 50 colleges while the US has about 2,000 – of which many are not in major cities.
In fact, the lesser-known ones are more likely to take in Singapore students too, he said, because they typically don’t get as many international applicants.
Ultimately it boils down to making the best of your time spent overseas.
He said: “A four-year US uni experience isn’t just about getting a degree. I want them (candidates) to understand what a Friday night is like in the US, which is separate from their homework.”