bridge of sighs

Choosing your UCAS university

Choosing your university

For those of you applying to the UK for university, you will have to choose 5 universities for your UCAS application. Here’s how you do this.

  1. Find rankings.

Here are a few university ranking guides that you can use to decide on which university you want to apply to. This should be your first step. Decide roughly what type of university you want to apply to: top 10? top 20? top 50? You can decide where you want to aim by looking at your current grades. The grade requirement typically becomes higher as you go higher up the rankings.

Bear in that mind that the first two links below are the more popular UK rankings.

  1. The Guardian:
  2. The Times:!/page/0/length/25
  3. QS:
  4. The Complete University Guide:

Take the guides with a pinch of salt! All the guides base their rankings on slightly differing criteria, such as research quality, student satisfaction, entry standard, completion rate. So I suggest reading up on what criteria each guide uses. But if you’re too lazy to do this, a safe way would probably be to cross-check the rankings across the guides, e.g. top 10 universities across all rankings.

One more tip is that it is normal for people to have a ‘back-up’ choice or a ‘safety-net’. This is really important. You don’t want to have all 5 universities requiring 3A*. So for example, if your first 4 universities require 3As, you would want your 5th choice to require 2As 1B in case you don’t meet your 3A offer.


  1. Research differences in the course in different universities.

I failed to do this for my own UCAS application. Can you believe it? This is very, very important and you mustn’t skip this step. Courses differ hugely across universities and this will literally make or break your academic experience in university. There are several ways that they can differ: the lecturers, the amount of options you get, the exam structure, the day-to-day lecture-tutorial ratio.

For example, I did not know when I applied that Cambridge’s Law course offers more choice of modules than Oxford, and has exams at the end of every year, instead of 100% of your final grade being based on your final year exams.


  1. Is it right for you?
  • Do you want to go to a university that has a campus lifestyle or is in a city?

The universities in London don’t have a campus lifestyle, e.g. UCL, LSE, KCL, Queen Mary, due to the space constraints. That was one of the reasons I chose to apply to Warwick, Durham and Oxford (in addition to LSE and UCL). The university buildings in London are dotted around the city so it feels like you’re not in university, whereas in Oxford you’re in a university town so it feels really cozy and homey. Bear in mind that cost of living in London will also be much higher than outside of it, e.g. accommodation, cost of food, transport.

  • Does the university have all the facilities you require?

This question would most likely apply to science students. You would want really great lab facilities. However, for humanities students this doesn’t hugely apply.

  • Still unsure?

Order a prospectus from the universities!

Go to an Open Day to visit the university and see if it’s right for you! This is probably the best way to see if you’ll enjoy being there. After all, this is 3 or 4 years of your life. I would say visiting it for a day and having a tour is more than worthwhile. Check out the dates for open days on the official university website, or at a combined calendar on

Contact us and we will be most happy to give you advice on what to do and how to choose your university.







golden gate bridge

America (Part I) : The Good.

America (Part I) : The Good.



There is a huge variety in the kinds of people you meet in the States. From East to West, North to South, all sorts of individuals with different values and belief systems. Honestly, the US feels like a continent made up of countries, instead of states. Each state has their own laws, their own politicians, their own personality, and they function almost independently from one another. Because of this, the different states tend to attract different types of people, and hence why each has their own characteristics.



No matter what sort of person you are, be it city or country, working or studying, there is somewhere in America for you. Take California for example, if you like wine, go to Napa Valley; if you enjoy wilderness, Yosemite is just a few hours drive away; if you love the city life with beautiful weather and access to beaches, Los Angeles is the place for you; if you want to go somewhere rich in culture and open to all sorts, San Francisco is a lovely place to be. Expand this scope to the entirety of the States? You have New York, probably the busiest metropolis on the planet, St. Louis for that neighbourhood suburb feel, Atlanta to get your fill of wonderful country music, Boston for the breathtaking architecture. Whatever your taste may be, you can decide where to go accordingly. And of course, since it is all considered domestic, you are able go just about anywhere with your student visa!



Ah shopping, my largest vice. In my opinion, is a godsend. Back when I was still studying in Berkeley I bought almost everything off Amazon. And with a yearly subscription to Amazon Prime (free for the first year if you’re a student!) that offered 2-day free shipping, I was receiving packages to no end. Everything from chia seeds to toilet paper, furniture to high-heeled boots, Halloween costumes to makeup organizers, all paid for and delivered conveniently to my doorstep. Gone were the days of walking 10 minutes to the nearby Target only to stand in the makeup aisle for hours trying to decide which mascara to buy. Instead, I got to cut down on time by reading reviews and within the comforts of my bed. In every apartment I moved into, I was known as the ‘package girl’. Boy do I miss those days… Furthermore, now in certain states, Amazon even offers within 2-hours delivery! Oh what time it is to be alive.



As you could probably gather from above, living in the States can be very convenient. You can get just about anything delivered to your door at almost all hours, even alcohol and groceries. Of course while the more remote areas may not enjoy such luxury, there is a general effort in Big America’s part to make the lives of their consumers easier. Moreover, since Silicon Valley, the home ground of most start-ups, is in the US, you will also get access to a variety of very useful and fun apps.


All in all, there are many pros to living in the America, and these are just the tip of the iceberg. But where there is good, there will also be cons. Watch out for Part 2 of this instalment, The Bad.



rejected ivy league

Best, Brightest and Rejected: Elite Colleges Turn Away Up to 95%

Best, Brightest and Rejected: Elite Colleges Turn Away Up to 95%

rejected ivy league

Stanford University accepted 5 percent of applicants in the latest admissions season, a new low among elite colleges.

Enrollment at American colleges is sliding, but competition for spots at top universities is more cutthroat and anxiety-inducing than ever. In the just-completed admissions season, Stanford University accepted only 5 percent of applicants, a new low among the most prestigious schools, with the odds nearly as bad at its elite rivals.

Deluged by more applications than ever, the most selective colleges are, inevitably, rejecting a vast majority, including legions of students they once would have accepted. Admissions directors at these institutions say that most of the students they turn down are such strong candidates that many are indistinguishable from those who get in.

The college was “declaring war on the whole rigmarole of college admissions,” its president said.
Isaac Madrid applied to 11 colleges, a scattershot approach that he said is fairly typical at his private high school, Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, Calif. Students there are all too aware of the long odds against getting into any particular elite university. “It was a crazy amount of work and stress doing all those essays by the deadline and keeping up my schoolwork, and waiting on the responses, and we had more than $800 in application fees,” he said.

Isaac Madrid, who attends a private high school in San Jose, Calif., applied to 11 colleges and was accepted at Yale.
Mr. Madrid, 18, got a taste of how random the results can seem. He was among the 95 percent turned away by Stanford, but he got into Yale, which he plans to attend, and he admitted having no real insight into the reasons for either decision.

Bruce Poch, a former admissions dean at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., said he saw “the opposite of a virtuous cycle at work” in admissions. “Kids see that the admit rates are brutal and dropping, and it looks more like a crapshoot,” he said. “So they send more apps, which forces the colleges to lower their admit rates, which spurs the kids next year to send even more apps.”

For most of the past six decades, overall enrollment boomed, while the number of seats at elite colleges and universities grew much more slowly, making them steadily more selective. Enrollment peaked in 2011, and it has dropped a bit each year since then, prompting speculation that entry to competitive colleges would become marginally easier. Instead, counselors and admissions officers say, the pool of high-achieving applicants continues to grow, fed partly by a rising number from overseas.

At the same time, students send more applications than they once did, abetted by the electronic forms that have become nearly universal and uniform applications that can make adding one more college to the list just a matter of a click. Seven years ago, 315 colleges and universities accepted the most widely used form, the Common Application; this year, 517 did.

Students applying to seven or more colleges made up just 9 percent of the applicant pool in 1990, but accounted for 29 percent in 2011, according to surveys by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, and counselors and admissions officers say they think the figure has gone higher still. While people have lavished attention on a Long Island teenager who was accepted by all eight Ivy League colleges, admissions professionals say it is remarkable that anyone would apply to all eight.

Stanford received 42,167 applications for the class of 2018 and sent 2,138 acceptance notices, for a first-year class that, ultimately, will number about 1,700.

The University of California, Los Angeles, the national leader in applications, had more than 86,000 requests — twice as many as in 2005 — for space in a first-year class of about 6,000, and it also received 19,000 applications to transfer from other colleges and universities. This year, for the first time, the admission rate for first-year applicants at U.C.L.A. and the University of California, Berkeley, could drop below 20 percent.

A generation ago, it was rare for even highly competitive colleges to offer places to fewer than 20 percent of their applicants.
“For most kids, this really used to be a regional process, but they have access to so much information online now, so every school seems local,” said Richard H. Shaw, the dean of undergraduate admission at Stanford. Admissions directors at several top Eastern colleges agreed, saying that they now received more applications from California than any other state, which would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

Some of them also pointed to colleges’ increasingly aggressive outreach to prospective students, with mailings, emails and advertising — some of it well intentioned, and some of it more cynical.
“One of the ways that colleges are measured is by the number of applicants and their admit rate, and some colleges do things simply to increase their applicant pool and manipulate those numbers,” said Christoph Guttentag, the dean of undergraduate admission at Duke.

A generation ago, it was rare for even highly competitive colleges to offer places to fewer than 20 percent of their applicants. In 2003, Harvard and Princeton drew exclamations of dismay (from prospective applicants), envy (from other colleges) and satisfaction (from those they accepted) when they became the first top universities to have their admission rates dip below 10 percent. Since then, at least a dozen have gone below that threshold.

This was the second year in a row that Stanford had the worst odds of admission among top colleges, a title that in previous years was usually claimed by Harvard. This year, by the April 1 deadline for most colleges to send admission notices, Harvard and Yale had accepted about 6 percent of applicants, Columbia and Princeton about 7 percent, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago about 8 percent. (Some rates will increase by a few tenths of a percentage point as colleges accept small numbers of applicants from waiting lists.)

Several universities, including Stanford, Duke, Northwestern, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania, had admission rates this year that were less than half of those from a decade ago. The University of Chicago’s rate plummeted to a little over 8 percent, from more than 40 percent.

The most competitive small colleges draw comparably accomplished applicants, but far fewer of them relative to their size, so their admission rates are higher. Even so, the acceptance rates at Pomona, Amherst, Harvey Mudd, Bowdoin, Claremont McKenna, Swarthmore, Middlebury, Williams and others were between 10 and 20 percent this year.

Mr. Shaw, the Stanford dean, said he could not predict where the rates would bottom out — in fact, he never expected them to go as low as they have.

“Honestly,” he said, “I’m sort of in shock.”



Chem engineering

Editing Essays- Part 4 (Chem Engineering)

Chemical Engineering is a very technical and challenging course. Many famous CEOs, business leaders and Nobel Prize winners studied chemical engineering.



Note the comments in  in the essay to a laymen and lack of elaboration, good opening lines. Often candidates may better their essays by reading widely on global affairs. Contact us if you want to know how this essay turned out great!

#chemenginessays #editingchemenginessays #quintessentialedu #educationconsulants #chemengineducation #futurechemengineer


science student

Getting References – Part 1 (Science)

Here is a sample reference of an good student Harvard would accept:

X has been an assistant in my laboratory during the past year, and has proven to be exceptional in several respects. First, X is exceptionally intelligent. He proved to be a very quick study, learning the elements of experimental design and the uses of microcomputers in record time. Furthermore, his questions are always thoughtful and penetrating. X threw himself into his assigned projects wholeheartedly, and shows every sign of having real talent in . . . . I was a little surprised by his high degree of enthusiasm because I knew that X was not primarily interested in . . . . When I mentioned this to him, I discovered that he has well defined career goals that mesh with the projects he was working on . . . .

Second, X is exceptionally diligent and hard working. He worked many extra hours over the summer. I vividly recall coming into the lab late in the evening. . . and finding X at work. X invariably finished projects well in advance of our projected target date. X was always cheerful during this intense period, and was a joy to have in the lab.

Third, X is very good at working with other people. He is exceptionally nice and considerate and sensitive. X is not only good humored and friendly, but also is good at gauging other people’s level of knowledge and attitudes. . . .

All in all, I think X has a very bright future, and I am sure that he would benefit from . . . . Given his great intelligence and sensitivity, I am sure that he could put . . . to good use.

In short, I give X my highest recommendation, and very much hope that the committee judges his application favorably.



Choosing your degree: Ma, I want to be a hairdresser.

I remember telling my granddad and mum that I wanted to be a hairdresser and sweep hair off the floor. (That isn’t even what a hairdresser does but let’s move on.) Now I’m a lawyer. Suffice to say, we don’t know what the heck we want when we’re younger.

This article is important. This is probably the most important article you will read. I have heard from countless of classmates/friends/family that their degree either 1. Wasn’t something they liked 2. Wasn’t something that helped their career 3. Wasn’t something they found was worth the money.

You want to undertake an undergraduate degree. But you have no idea what to study, where to study, what you want to do after you graduate, what career you want to be in.

The list of questions is endless. But first, we have to decide on what you want to study, before we can move on to harder questions.

I can guarantee you that pretty much everybody has felt that fear when deciding what to study in their undergraduate degree. So don’t panic.

Here are 5 questions you can ask yourself to figure out what you want to do with the next few years of your life.



A.  What do you like?

i) What do you WANT to study?

  1. One piece of advice that always stuck with me was this: you will never be the best in your field if you don’t like whatever it is you’re doing.

2.Don’t undermine what passion does. People who enjoy their subject do way better at it than people who don’t enjoy their subject (assuming equal natural aptitude for that subject).

ii) What subjects are you currently studying that you LIKE?

iii) Do you like to read and write? Do you prefer calculations? Do you like debates or exact answers?

1.Do you sway more towards qualitative or quantitative analysis? This can help you decide whether you want to be in the arts stream or sciences stream. E.g. if you prefer exact answers, you won’t enjoy the slightly less exacting science of writing essays.

B. What are you naturally better at?

i) To give you an example of this: I chose to do Design Technology (DT) for GCSEs. I was terrible at DT, and all things that required me to do precise practical work, art, and design. But I chose it because I LIKED it. I switched from DT to Geography after one term. Basically, don’t just choose something you like to do, because you may suck at it, and being lousy at something is not fun. So on that note, don’t immediately cross out doing subjects you are good/great at but is not your favourite subject.

ii) List your academic strengths/weaknesses.

  1. NB This is a list not of what you like but what you are GOOD at.


A. What subjects are you currently studying for your pre-university course (A Levels/IB/AP)?

i) For example, most universities require you to have studied Chemistry and/or Biology to apply for medical school. Most Maths courses require you to have done Maths, and some preferably Further Maths. Engineering most likely require Maths and Physics. Research what certain degrees require you to study at GCSE/A Level before you pick your GCSE/A Level subjects.

B. Some degrees require certain GCSE grades. Most of the time at least a C is required in Maths and English.

C. So if you’re a keen bean and you’re reading this article before you’ve started your O Levels or A Levels, be sure that you choose the right subjects to prevent doors being closed when you choose your university degree.

D. If you’re not sure what you want to do, it’s safe to AVOID ‘softer’ subjects, like Photography/Media/PE/Business/Law (for A Levels this isn’t even recommended for those applying for a law degree) /Sociology, if you’re aiming for a traditional career path.


A. Some career paths are really straightforward and require you to have a specific degree. Whereas some career paths accept a range of different degrees.

B. If you want to be a doctor, you HAVE to study medicine. There’s no way around it.

C. But if you want to be a lawyer, you can do the conversion course (GDL) after doing any degree you want. However this is not a viable option if you want to practise in Singapore. They don’t accept the GDL so you would have to read Law in university (and at certain universities only:

D. If you want to be an entrepreneur, you can pretty much do whatever you want, but Business or Economics might give you a better foundation.


A. Sometimes what you may learn in a Mathematics degree is nothing like what you’ve been doing in your A Level/GCSE Maths subjects. Or sometimes, I feel like I only like doing a subject because I’m good at it? But when it gets hard I don’t like doing it anymore? HAHA. So make sure you think about why you really like that subject first before you use it to base your degree choice on it.


A. Sometimes your university may allow you to transfer to a different degree course. This might be an option, though quite uncertain. You would probably have to email the university to confirm the possibility of this.

B. Sometimes you can do a double degree or a joint honours degree, e.g. History and Politics, Law and Business, you get the idea. Sometimes certain universities offer a joint honours but others don’t. This may be something to further consider.

C. Sometimes certain professions don’t require a specific degree, e.g. you can do a conversion course (the GDL) from any subject to practice as a lawyer. Other examples are media or business.



Quintessential Consultancy

Studying Medicine

Editing Essays – Part 1 (Medicine)

Here, we share with you common pitfalls and improvements that one can make to an essay with help and advice.

 Screen Shot 2015-12-12 at 11.22.22 pm

Note the use of “gratifying prestige” and *no recognition of the long and arduous journey of medicine”. Here’s what an improved essay draft could look like:

edited essay

#medessays #consultancy #quintessentialedu #essayconsultants #educationconsultants #medicine #medicalstudents

UK vs US University systems

US vs UK Education System

I am privileged enough to have studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford and a Masters in International and Development Economics at Yale, hence I have gained some perspective on the differences between the UK and US education system. My sister and friends also studied at top American universities (UC Berkeley, Harvard, MIT, etc) so I was always eager to find out the similarities and differences between the two systems.

To summarize:
Although the US universities ask that you submit a course preference in your Common Application, there is considerable freedom to select your courses, provided you meet the basic prerequisites. To graduate you need to complete around 30-40 courses, the compulsory ones being the courses required to complete your major, and electives. If you are feeling hardworking, you may also find the time to do a second major/minor.

For the UK, particularly Oxbridge, you spend all your time going in-depth into your course of study. If it’s Physics, all you do for 3 years is Physics. You may attend lectures for other fields of study such as Economics, but given your own course requirements, you will probably not have enough time. And attending lectures without doing the coursework and having someone to moderate your learning is probably ineffective. Trust me I have tried it – and it’s hard to keep the motivation up when there isn’t a way to measure your learning outcomes.

It seemed to me that the core modules in the US tended to be much easier than the core modules in the UK; however that should be caveated by the fact that the most difficult elective modules in the US are of such a high level that only the best will be able to handle it. The issue is one of selection: you can graduate with a high GPA if you select easy modules. And many a student will be tempted to select this option. However, I believe that college education is meant to train your mind and develop your thinking processes, so do avoid the urge to select easy courses to artificially pump up your GPA. Employers, based on my experiences and the experiences of my peers, look at the headline i.e. which university you graduated from. It is more rewarding to challenge yourself by going for more difficult courses, surrounding yourself with the best and brightest, than to aim low.
After I graduated from PPE at Oxford, my masters in International and Development Economics at Yale was a breeze. That was how difficult PPE was as a course. I attended perhaps half the tutorial lessons at Yale and 1/10th of the lectures and spent a lot of time travelling to New York, Boston, Miami, California to visit friends, and to Peru, which was my first sojourn into Latin America. This was because after my first semester, I had almost guaranteed that I would pass my masters (requirement: 1 Distinction, average of High Pass out of 8 modules; 1st Semester grades: 3 Distinctions, 1 High Pass). Unlike the UK system where the grades are determined by a final examination, the system of continual assessment allowed me to relax a little after I had achieved good results in the first semester, and to pursue interesting off-topic elective modules such as “Culture of Postwar Japan”. As someone who is an avid reader of Japanese authors such as Haruki Murakami, this exposed me to many other literary icons and their unique styles of writing. I also enjoyed watching videos of movies made by the legendary Akira Kurosawa.

To end off, as someone who’s always been keen on a broad based education in classics, literature, culture and the sciences, if I could turn back the clock, I would probably have chosen an undergraduate education in the US, and then specialise by doing a masters in the UK in economics or finance, instead of the other way around. To make the best decision about your university education, you need to understand the type of person you are, and how you like to learn. I hope this helps to clarify some of your doubts and if you need someone to talk to, please email
Cheers, Andrew