When it comes to identifying potential candidates who are likely to score a place in a coveted US university, Arun Ponnusamy has seen them all.
He’s a college counselor and admissions expert who’s read about 20,000 college essays, evaluated the files of over 7,500 high school seniors, and has worked at the University of Chicago, California Institute of Technology and the University of California.
So you have to believe him when he says that Singapore candidates have an edge over others in Asia especially since universities in the United States themselves have matured in the way they assess international candidates from this part of the world.
He told Business Insider in an interview on Dec 1: “US universities no longer just say ‘we need students from Asia’. For about 10 years, it was all about China and getting full paid students from there.”
“They were forgetting this whole other group of students from other Asian countries that are so different culturally. Not all Asian students are the same.”
He said that Singapore candidates have stood out above the rest because they didn’t just hang out with their own countrymen at US colleges and already know how to interact with people, which is highly valued in the US and Canada.
Mr Ponnusamy who is American, is currently the chief academic officer for Collegewise, which is a major college counselling company in the US.
He is in town to speak at the inaugural Collegewise symposium and share tips on how students can differentiate themselves from thousands of Singapore-based applicants.
He said: “Singapore candidates are ones who, yes, live on an island, but that’s not where their mind lives.
“They have a clearer sense of Singapore with respect to the world. They have a broader vision of going to a university and it’s not just to get a degree for the prestige, but for a transformative experience.”
He attributes a large part of this mindset to the Singapore education system which provides real-life opportunities for students even before they apply for a university.
He said: “A Singapore kid from a polytechnic can say they’ve interned at this media production company or spent last summer shooting a bunch of shorts. That isn’t something you will find in the States.”
New York University for instance, has the highest number of Singapore students in the US and it’s “no coincidence”, he said.
“They also have the finest arts courses there,” he added.
One drawback with US university applicants from Singapore which he highlighted was that many are not aware of what the American education system is like.
For instance, while there are some 2,000 universities, Singapore families are really only aware of about 50 or so.
He offered one big tip to prospective candidates: “There are many great schools in the US and you’re likely to get into the ones that don’t have a lot of Singapore kids.”