Choosing Universities- Part 1 (Norcal vs Socal)

Choosing Universities- Part 1 (North California vs South California)

“California girls, they’re undeniable, daisy dukes, bikinis on top.” Katy Perry’s voice was the soundtrack of my summer in 2013, all geared up with flip-flops and denim shorts, ready to head out to the green lands of California for my first year at UC Berkeley. The funny thing was, as a born-and-bred Malaysian, I did not realize that California is almost twice as large as the entire Malaysian Peninsula. Needless to say, I felt just a little lied to when I found out that not all of California is sunshine and rainbows. And that in fact, Northern California (NorCal), was very, VERY different from Southern California (SoCal).

Que in what felt like the most cold and miserable fall semester of my life. I ended up having to purchase a whole new wardrobe made of boots and giant coats, while my bikinis and crop-tops were left to gather dust. But once I got over the shock that California in itself feels like an entire country, I began to appreciate the differences between the two half-states.

The Bay Area, located very snuggly in NorCal, is the heart of all things technology and start-ups. Silicon Valley is home to the infamous Facebook, Google, Apple, Netflix, and almost every tech company you have heard of. Naturally, the people around this area also tend to be a generation of incredibly intelligent, creative hippies. I have seen more strangely dressed individuals in the last 3 years, than I have ever in my lifetime. If you want quirky, open, passionate, driven people to be around, NorCal is the place for you. We even have the Golden State Warriors to boast about! The more notable universities on this side of the Golden State would be Stanford and Berkeley.

SoCal on the other hand, is the kind of California that you hear in songs and see in movies. Beautiful weather all year round with gorgeous beaches and wonderful views. The people are bronzed, fit and wonderfully dressed. Here, in the heart of Los Angeles lies Hollywood, so don’t be surprised if you see famous celebrities going about their day every once in awhile. I do have to admit, being in the City of Angels sometimes felt like being back in high school where the pressure to fit in and look good was reasonably high, but the beauty of the city makes it all worth it. The University of Southern California, UCLA and Caltech are the popular universities located in SoCal.

At the end of the day, Los Angeles and San Francisco are two incredibly fantastic cities that have their own personalities, each because of their fame and size, have become representatives of SoCal and NorCal respectively. My suggestion, visit them both! Stay for a week or so and get a feel for the people and the environment. They are so different that you wouldn’t think you were in the same country, much less the same state. Either way, I love both of them and I think that most of you would too.

If you have any queries, do email us at!


Fung Ying

Quintessential Consultancy


US Essays- Part 1 (Self-Reflections)

Writing College Essays: A Self-Reflection.


If there was one thing I learned about the college application process when I was applying to American universities, it was that everything mattered. Getting high SAT scores or a high GPA can only get you so far. It appears as though the United States wants to know more about you, the individual; not just what you are capable of academically, but also your interests and passions, your past experiences and future plans, and what you can bring to the table. In the span of two months, I had written 14 essays for 10 different colleges, all asking about my extracurricular activities, my inspirations, my life and why I had decided to pursue the course that I had chosen.


Writing openly has always been very easy for me, and having authored tens of thousands of words of fiction during my high school days certainly helped. It allowed me to approach the questions asked on the applications with a different and honest point of view, which I believe ended up being my saving grace. Asked about my favourite work of art, I talked about a tattoo born from difficult experiences; asked about my world, I talked about how ostracised I felt from my peers after having transferred from a local to international school. In my opinion, the college essays are an opportunity to highlight what makes you, you.


My advice would be this: don’t be afraid to be different, don’t be afraid to mention your past relationships, or your family difficulties, or your struggles with fitting in. The more muck and dirt you reveal about yourself in this process, the better. Because in the end, our failures play a larger part in forming our personalities than our successes. From my three years of having studied in the United States, I have come to realize that American schools really enjoy and relish in diversity: in people going against the grain, in highlighting and developing your own unique potential.


Methodologically I would suggest collating all your essay titles in one place. Often universities tend to ask similar questions, and this would save you the hassle of having to rewrite similar essays over and over. Do this early, so that you have the headspace to brainstorm and discuss your ideas with close friends and family. When you start writing your essays, don’t stress too hard about completing them all to perfection at once. Give yourself time to sleep on what you had written for the day, and come back to it later. The best way to overcome writer’s block is to take a break and relax, do something else that would take your mind off this stressful process. And remember, you are not likely to ever meet any of the individuals who read your essays, so bask in that freedom, have fun with it, and write!


If you have any queries, do email us at!


Fung Ying

Quintessential Consultancy

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



Editing Essays – Part 3 (PPE)

Said to be the university subject of future prime ministers, PPE (Politics, Philosophy, Economics) personal statements can be very daunting and demanding.



Take a look at this great essay. Say things with conviction and elegantly illustrate your points to its core.

#ppeessays #editingppeessays #quintessentialedu #educationconsulants #ppeeducation #futureprimeminister



Editing Essays – Part 2 (Law)


Often Law essays can be daunting. How do you show depth and breadth without sounding contrived and boring?



Note the comments about substantiating your understanding and evolution of thoughts.


Note the importance of an active voice and the importance of stating solutions and not just platitude statements.


Note the importance of being specific about what you want to do and sharing deeper reflections on what your trips taught you.

#lawessays #editinglawessays #quintessentialedu #educationconsulants #laweducation




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

oxford graduation photo



If you’re visiting this site, it’s more than likely that you are completely frustrated by the applications process (which is complex, obtuse and varies across university and country) to overseas universities; you are uncertain about your chances; you have a vague idea of what you want to do in future but you are not sure if the universities and courses you are applying for will get you there; you need someone to tell you whether taking the SAT a 4th time matters to admissions officers; and last but not least YOU HAVE NO IDEA IF YOUR ESSAYS ARE ON THE RIGHT TRACK. OH AND DON’T FORGET THE DREADED SPECTRE OF INTERVIEWS.

Bianca and I found ourselves in the same position, but in different years, amidst our frantic studying for upcoming prelim/ GCE “A” Level exams, and the challenge of coping with the insanity of applications, exam preparation, and some semblance of a social life. And still getting decent amounts of shut-eye. After our very own messy, crazy application process, we are proud to showcase our flaws and the things we amazingly did right, our perspectives having been through UK and US overseas education, on this humble website. We have also gotten our friends to contribute articles based on their unique experiences, and hope that this will be useful to you.

At the heart of the matter is the personal journey that you are about to embark on. This is just the beginning. But the beginning has a huge impact on the end outcome, which is your starting job post-graduation and the amount of enjoyment you derive from the period of life most people would regard as one of the most enjoyable periods in their lives. When you are a university student, you are finally old enough to make your own choices while young enough to recover from your mistakes; you will learn how to integrate with new cultures and add the finishing touches to a still-unformed personal identity; you will learn how to cook and clean for yourself (hopefully) and become a responsible adult, eager to make your mark on this world.

On our end, our motivation for writing this blog is to let you know the pitfalls we went through when we were your age, so that history may not repeat itself. Our perspectives are necessarily coloured by our experiences with universities, localities, scholarships – these experiences do not extend to generalization across all people. Loathe it or love it, what we write are with the best of intentions – we hope it may add some value to your own decision-making matrix as you embark on the next phase of your personal journey.

andrew                              bianca

Bianca and Andrew, 2015

P.S. Please email us if you have any queries, we will try to address them at

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