How I got a full scholarship
by Anonymous | 10-min read
Greetings to my fellow readers, I am a NTU ASEAN Undergraduate Scholar for the 2022 cohort! I got a full scholarship to study at NTU Singapore, to this day I still can’t believe it either! A truly durian runtuh moment. In this article, I will be sharing some insights and advice which I hope that you all can gain something from it, even if you’re applying / planning to apply for local or overseas scholarships.
Like most scholarships, NTU is looking for someone with outstanding results, excellent co-curricular records, strong leadership qualities and potential.
To be frank, I’m just an ordinary, introverted nerd. Besides ‘good’ results (define good?), I have minimal involvement in co-curricular activities throughout secondary school. In fact, I have even “ponteng koko” most of the time. (Disclaimer: I do not encourage anyone to skip koko activities, on the contrary, I strongly advise everyone to make full use of their school life by participating in school activities) I don’t have leadership positions like class monitor, prefect, librarian, club president… you-name-it and with meagre to non-existent co-curricular achievements under my belt. No prestigious international nor national achievements, not even state achievements. So how did I, your average Joe, manage to stand out in my scholarship application?
There are two stages to NTU’s scholarship application: submission of co-curricular activities and scholarship essays, followed by an interview if you’re shortlisted. Selection process may vary depending on the sponsors or institutions offering the scholarship, so do make sure you’re crystal clear regarding this matter!
1: Submission of co-curricular activities and scholarship essays
1.1: Co-curricular activities
NTU requires applicants to list 5 co-curricular activities that we have participated in the last 5 years and describe each one of them within 100 words. So you can throw all your primary school medals, trophies, and certs out of your window because nobody cares about them anymore! (Just kidding! :P)
Fully aware of not having any substantial achievements during my secondary school days (graduated in 2019), I participated in some co-curricular activities during and after my A-levels. (This was way before I even decided to apply to NTU, because I knew I needed to be more outgoing or else I can’t survive in life. Dramatic much? :P) It wasn’t anything commitment heavy nor impressive, I simply helped in organizing simple events like fundraising, other club events and being a Vice Secretary, taking on roles that I find suitable whilst also being able to handle my studies.
Finished A-Levels in November 2021 with lots of free time to spare. Fortunately, an opportunity arose with impeccable timing. The founder of spmpaper approached me, solicited my help to answer students’ questions on a SPM forum, SKORA. One thing led to another, I too assisted in other aspects of the project like compiling trial papers. Note that this is all volunteering work and I genuinely wanted to do it 😀 At about the same time, I have also set up my profile on a tutoring website, which I’m also very thankful that it got a parent’s attention and led to me having my very first student!
With all that, despite my pathetic secondary school life, I was able to narrate 5 achievements I’ve accomplished over these past two years (2020-2022). Within a such short span of time, I have gained volunteering experience through the said project and leadership experience by tutoring.
1.2 Scholarship Essay
Applicants are required to choose 1 out of the 3 essay topics to write on (3C1, #addmaths 😉), with not more than 300 words. (I’m not too sure if I’m allowed to list the topics here, if you’re interested maybe you can google to see if you can find anything)
I nearly made a mistake that would have made me fail to get the scholarship: I chose the wrong essay topic in the beginning, one that doesn’t suit my writing style. Back then when SPM had the “argumentative essay” option, I would choose that in a heartbeat every single time. Getting accustomed to the factual writing style, I ironically picked an essay topic that absolutely falls under the category of narrative writing. It was no wonder that I struggled a lot when it comes to describing expressions and actions because never have I written it before! For about two weeks, I was constantly tweaking my essay, letting my close friends review it, and they felt that the writing was odd, then it’s back to re-tweaking... Caught in this seemingly never-ending loop, I got unmotivated, I could also tell that my friends got bored of re-reading my essays too.
Just about days before the application deadline, I decided to rewrite everything from scratch but using the other essay topic (a mix of storytelling and factual writing). Sitting down and digging deep into my soul, I scavenged everything I know about myself: passion, hobbies, qualities, beliefs, values, goals, obstacles I’ve faced… (Sitting in the shower contemplating while letting the essay inspiration flow through my brain like the shower water!!! XD) I was able to churn out a much more well-thought-out and written essay within the span of two days, and my friend was impressed by it!
Since I wrote some very personal things in my essay that I’m not comfortable with sharing, so I’ll share some excerpts here instead:
On my personality palette, there lies a huge chunk of the “perseverance paint”, my most evident quality. Not the brightest kid with the brightest childhood… [some obstacles I faced]
… My life philosophy is we have the potential to positively impact the people we cross paths with, albeit our actions might seem insignificant… [volunteering + how I overcame some obstacles]
Ingrained with a strong work ethic, I have always been dedicated to my work… [concrete examples]
And my favourite part: the ending 🙂
To me, everyone is an artist with their own visionary stance and unique personality palette to paint this canvas called life. I aspire to fully utilize mine to create an exclusive masterpiece by consistently upskilling myself.
As you can see, I have applied some imagery techniques in my writing. I chose “palette” to represent my personality, “canvas” to represent life. I came up with this because I like art and I tried to sneakily introduce this into my writing. 😛 The result: a 300-word essay that nicely highlights who I am. My friend says that she can “see 3D pictures when she read”, I guess this is what made the essay stand out! 😀
TLDR, or need a summary? Here are the main takeaways:
- If you’re allowed to choose the essay topic, pick one that suits your writing style.
- REALLY sit down and ponder EVERYTHING you know about yourself
- Author’s favourite tip! Use literary devices or “gaya bahasa”: simile, metaphor, imagery, symbolism to make your writing stand out.
- Replace simple words with better vocabulary by finding its synonym (Extra tip: Microsoft Word has this feature!)
- Get someone to proofread your essay, preferably if that person has a strong command of the language you’re writing in.
2: Scholarship Interview
I’m glad that I have piqued your curiosity to read further, fellow reader 😀
About one week after I accepted the admission offer from NTU, I received another email from the scholarship department: “We are pleased to inform you that you have been selected to participate in a scholarship interview for the ASEAN Undergraduate Scholarship.”
And so, 2 weeks of paralyzing anxiety, and restless nights began as I frantically prepared for my interview.
2.1 Interview preparation
“Go big or go home.” Out of desperation, I explored every single corner of the internet to find all the past interview questions as many as I can. Reddit, Blogspot, Facebook, random websites … even as far as sliding into seniors’ Instagram and Discord DMs. 🤐 (The things I do for “money”, lol)
A very valuable piece of advice I’ve gotten from my senior is “try to read back my essay and see what questions that they might ask from there”. I did let my senior read my scholarship essay, and he came up with some interesting yet tough questions that really helped with my interview.
With the overwhelming number of questions, there’s gotta be some structure to it, right? So, what I did was I organized the questions into different sections of my Google Doc:
Past experiences: CCAs / leadership experiences / what I like most about tutoring and volunteering projects / tell us more about [my full-time job]
Behavioural questions: most difficult thing I’ve faced and how I overcame it / how my childhood experience shaped who I am today / strengths and weaknesses / who I look up to in life
Future: career path after graduation / goals in life / how I can contribute to my home country
Scholarship related: why I applied / why do I deserve it / how will it benefit me / backup plan if I don’t get it
Institution related (in this case, NTU): NTU or NUS (infamous question) / what I hope to learn at NTU / how I can contribute to NTU / would I still study in NTU if I didn’t get my first choice / clubs I hope to join
Course-related: why I choose this course / what I like about this course / will AI replace the jobs related to this course / applications in pandemic / applications in everyday life
Singapore: why I choose SG / if I plan to apply for SG citizenship
Other: Introductory question / Is there anything I would like to ask
In hindsight, I might have overprepared, but almost all of the questions that were asked in the actual interview were the ones that I prepared. The questions that were asked? They are the ones that I have bolded.
Once I have typed out all the questions and answers, I asked my seniors regarding the suitability of my answers. I do this because I have zero experience in tackling interviews as this is the very first one I’ll be attending. They have given some valuable constructive feedback like suggesting me to rephrase my answers so that it sounds more natural / appropriate.
Being someone who is extremely awkward in social settings, I practiced countless times: in front of the mirror, camera, even in the shower… (TMI?👀)
Since it’s a Zoom interview, I cannot emphasize how important it is to do a mock interview one day prior and ensure that there are no technical problems.
- Don’t be afraid to seek advice from seniors who were once in your shoes, but be polite!
- Do as much research as you can about the scholarship and the institution offering it
- Think from the interviewer’s perspective and come up with your own questions
- Sort the questions into categories
- Prepare sample answers and keep practicing!
- Do a tech check
2.2 Final boss: Interview
If you've made it this far, a big pat on the back to you! You’re at the point of no return and you can’t give up now, right? On the day of the interview, just take a deep breath, and relax!
You should do a final tech check an hour or two before the interview. (For me I was paranoid, I ended up checking 10 times lol) And the plot twist: the scholarships department sent me a WhatsApp message telling me to go into the Zoom waiting room 20 minutes before the scheduled time. *panic intensifies*
The interview started shortly after I entered the waiting room.
It was a 3-to-1 interview, meaning there were 3 interviewers who TOOK TURNS to ask me questions. My interview was rather odd: There was no self-introduction, very straight to the point. As soon as I entered with some greetings exchanged and identity verification, the first question I got asked was: “Why do you want to study [this course]”, followed by “What do you like about [this course]”, not even the “Tell us about yourself.”, “Why do you need / deserve this scholarship” or the infamous “NUS or NTU?” question!
Here are some mistakes I’ve made, and I hope you all don’t make the same ones too. I got quite nervous, and I forgot to smile most of the time. Also, I got too curious and was distracted by the interviewers’ reactions by constantly looking at them INSTEAD of the camera, lol. (Please never do that, because you’re looking down from the interviewers’ perspective)
Overall, I think I did mediocre for a first-timer, there are some questions that I didn’t answer that well. E.g. “Are there any questions you would like to ask us?” I asked a dumb one like “When will the interview result be released” and it seems to me that the interviewer wasn’t that pleased with my question, haha. There was also another one: “what do you like about this course”, which is very similar to the first question. I actually prepared it in the Google Doc, but that answer didn’t seem pretty genuine so I actually came up with a new one ON THE SPOT. I stuttered a lot for this question and even said the wrong thing, but I think my impromptu answer sounded more passionate?
Also, I want to emphasize the “do research about the uni” part, because that actually paid off during the interview. I was asked about “how I can contribute to NTU” and “CCAs in NTU”, and because I did the research, I was able to give points like peer tutoring and mention the specific clubs I hope to join, with reason. So again, if you’re applying to a university, please please pleaseeee make sure what are the special reasons you want to study there. Maybe it’s because the curriculum is flexible? Or that the modules are diverse? Give examples. Bring up some interesting module names if you can to
flex show that you have done your research. Perhaps it can be something more personal, even something as simple as: “I really like the community there. The seniors have been very helpful with my queries, and I hope to be a part of this supportive and wholesome community.”
- Do another tech check
- Be punctual
- Look into the camera and smile while answering (Extra tip: put a sticky note next to the camera to remind yourself that)
- Be polite and genuine
- Try to incorporate the stuff you have researched into your answers if possible
A huge thank you to everyone who has helped me in any way along the way: from my family, close friends, teachers, lecturers to seniors, (and NTU who's kind enough to award me the scholarship despite my average performance) I truly wouldn’t have accomplished this without your collective efforts. You know who you are 😊
A principle of life that I abide by is “If you’re passionate and dedicated in everything you do, you’ll definitely excel in life.” That has definitely stuck with me and finally paid off. (Both figuratively and literally :D)
Thanks for reading till the end, fellow reader. I wish you all the best in your future endeavours.