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.”



Duke Medicine

US Universities – Part 1 (Duke)

Duke University FAQs

Duke University

Subject studied:
Engineering, Economics

What subjects did you do at IB/A levels and what were your CCAs?
Subjects: Math, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, 2 ‘S’ Papers
CCAs: Students Council

How does the workload of universitiy compare with IB/A levels?

Comparable; you can choose your own pace.

How did you decided on this final university?
The flexibility and breadth of education afforded by the US system appealed to me. Duke has a great combination of a strong engineering school & reputable economics department.

What are the cost of living and cost of school fees for the entire duration of the degree?
Cost of living in North Carolina isn’t too high. Do budget for about USD $10,000 to USD $15,000 a year for room and board. Typically, tuition fees will come to around USD $45,000 to USD $50,000 a year.

How do teaching and learning work in your school? Are the faculty accessible?
Teaching is conducted through a combination of classroom lectures, discussions, lab work (for science & engineering), & field work. While students are given the latitude to perform self-directed learning, numerous opportunities are available for collaborative work. Faculty are accessible, and are willing to engage students.

How large are your courses?

Varies; small discussion-based classes may have 10 students or less, while introductory courses (e.g. Introduction to Economics) may have up to 400 students.

Are people very competitive academically? How many exams are there in a year? What happens if one fails the year?

There’s a healthy, collaborative spirit with regard to academics. In the US system, there’s typically a final exam for each course at the end of the semester, with about 1 to 2 midterm exams scattered during the semester.
It’s possible to repeat courses, with the permission of the Academic Dean.

How would you describe the school culture?
The Duke spirit is really strong. Duke isn’t located in a big city, and it makes campus life that much more vibrant. Sports like basketball, and to a smaller extent, football, are big at Duke.

Is there an established Singaporean presence at your university? How many Singaporeans are there per batch?
Yes there is. We have a reasonably-sized Singaporean community, and a Singapore Students Association. There are about 10 Singaporeans per batch.

How are international freshmen/freshers welcomed to your university?
There’s an International Students’ Orientation and a freshman orientation program. Freshmen are housed in freshmen-only dorms within East Campus. This is helpful in letting you get to know members of your class. Many of my closest friends at Duke were from my freshmen dorm.

Is your school “cliquey”?
To some extent. Greek life (e.g. fraternities & sororities) is rather popular. Certain groups of international students tend to form cliques. In general, however, Dukies are a bunch of approachable & friendly people.

Do people tend to hang among people of their own major/course/social class/race/nationality only, or is there a high degree of integration?
There is a good degree of integration. Due to the first-year housing arrangement and flexibility in course arrangements, there are numerous opportunities to meet people & find a group that you’re comfortable with. My freshman year hall-mates got along well, and we decided to live in the same cluster all the way through senior year. Among us, we had English majors, pre-meds, engineers, Caucasians, American-born Indians, Singaporeans – we were certainly a diverse bunch. Nonetheless, there are, as with many Ivies, rather ‘exclusive’ fraternities where people of a particular race / social class tend to gravitate towards.

What do students normally do in their spare time? Have you joined any extracurriculars? How do you find them?
I joined the motorsports team for a year, and was active in our SSA, helming it for a year. There are dedicated events for students to learn about the different extracurriculars on campus. Apart from extracurriculars, students can do lots in their spare time – attend campus events (theater / performances), socials, parties, go off-campus, explore the beautiful surroundings. During breaks, many of us venture beyond NC and travel around the US & beyond.

How would you rate the following “scenes” in your college and its surroundings: shopping, drinking, clubbing, fine arts, and sports?
Shopping – Not very active, although online shopping is very prevalent. There are very decent malls nearby (e.g. Southpoint mall).
Drinking – Active (on-campus & off). There are some pretty good bars in downtown Durham, near the American Tobacco campus. The legal drinking age is 21 and this is strictly enforced in Durham. Nonetheless, authorities provide students with reasonable leeway to hold parties on campus as long as things don’t get too rowdy.
Clubbing – Active. Don’t expect something like Zouk / Butter Factory though; the most popular club for Dukies, Shooters’, is more of a country-style establishment. Definitely not what we’d call classy.
Fine Arts – Active. The arts & theater scene is strong at Duke. The DPAC (Durham Performing Arts Center) is the largest theater in the Carolinas. It’s a beautiful establishment located in downtown Durham, just a 10 min drive away from Campus, and plays host to Broadway productions, high-profile concerts, recitals & comedy events.
Sports – Very active. Pretty much everyone is a Duke basketball fan. The Cameron Crazies, as they are called, are the most spirited in the country.

How’s the accommodation? Do most people stay in college dorms/halls, or independently? How should one look for accommodation?

Most people stay in college dorms & halls. There’s an annual on-campus housing lottery. On-campus housing is guaranteed for freshmen on East Campus.

How is the transport like? Does one need a car? If so, how should one go about getting a car?
There are free shuttle buses that ply the major routes around campus. A car isn’t necessary; if you need to take a quick trip or run errands, car-sharing services like Zipcar are available. A number of my American housemates had a car, and we could run errands together.

Is Asian food readily available? If one is to cook, where can we get the Asian food from?
Yes, there are nearby Asian supermarkets that cater to a sizeable Asian population in the Triangle region.

Do most people cook, eat at a catered facility or cafeteria, or eat out? How’s the catered food?
Most people eat at on-campus cafeterias. Portions, as with the rest of the US, are large. There’s a good variety of options, and many nearby delis and cafes do food deliveries to campus. It’s possible to cook if you’re living on Central Campus, an option open to Juniors & Seniors.

What are the laundry arrangements like?
On-campus laundry rooms are available, and are well-maintained.

Is it easy to find places of worship?
Yes; do get in touch with the various religious organizations on campus. The Duke Chapel is a great piece of architecture.

Do you think Singaporeans will experience a major culture shock?
No. Things aren’t that different in the US. For one, language isn’t a problem, people are pretty chill about things.

Do you ever feel peer pressure to do something you’re uncomfortable with?
No, Dukies tend to be respectful of each other’s values & practices.

Do you think that there might be any groups which might feel uncomfortable or marginalized at your school?
Duke is sometimes perceived to have a ‘rich, white-boy’ image. There has, in recent years, been much discourse to reinforce the importance of inclusiveness, after a couple of incidents where African-American students were abused with racial slurs.

What’s the best experience you’ve had so far in college?
Tenting with 11 other Cameron Crazies to get front-row tickets for the basketball game against our arch-rivals, the North Carolina Tar Heels, in 2009. That involved living in a tent outside the basketball stadium for a month, in the middle of winter. That was great for bonding & forging camaraderie through the pursuit of this common goal – to survive that period.




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