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Course of action

Like many 18-year-olds, National Junior College student Rachel Cheong is unsure about which university course to pursue. Final-year CN Yang Scholar Chan Hoi Ki gives an insider's view of options as Chrystal Chan listens in

NTU student and National Junior College student sitting beside each other to chat about campus lifePHOTOS: RAY CHUA

Rachel Cheong
Chan Hoi Ki

Rachel: I hear you’re in the CN Yang Scholars Programme, which I’m considering. As a scholarship holder, is your academic experience different?

Hoi Ki: My curriculum covers courses in biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics and even climate change. There’s a lot of emphasis on research, which a typical biological sciences major might not have. This programme is good for those who want to explore their potential in research. You get good financial support and plenty of opportunities to be involved in life-changing research, both locally and abroad.

How did you know this was the course for you? I’m still unsure of what to study...

Don’t worry, that’s normal! I chose biology because I knew I didn’t want to major in chemistry or physics.

Actually, I’m not sure if research is for me – I don’t have much experience with it.

Some of us in the programme were just like you. You’ll get your research experience almost right from the start, and you can even get an allowance for your hours in the lab if you produce some results or a lab report. As part of our holistic curriculum, you will get to study other things, from computing to ethics. It prepares us for the real world.

NTU student and National Junior College student posing for a photo

I see. What else do you get to do under this programme?

We go overseas to broaden our knowledge of research. Most of these learning trips are subsidised. I was at the California Institute of Technology for two weeks to learn about earth science. Some of my friends also went to Switzerland to visit CERN, which has the largest particle physics laboratory in the world.

So what has been the most memorable part of university life?

The time I went on exchange to Stockholm, Sweden, in my third year. I took the opportunity to travel around Europe during my free time.

Cool! Is it tough to secure an exchange spot?

It depends on where and when you want to go. You start by identifying the universities that offer the classes you require. Quite often, other students in your course will end up applying to the same few universities. In this case, the higher your overall grade, the better your chances of securing a spot.

Does that mean there is a grade requirement to even be considered?

Yes. For exchange, it’s a cumulative grade point average of 3.3 to 3.5, depending on your school’s requirements.

So how is university life different from junior college?

You can plan your own timetable, which means you might even be able to fit your classes into three days if you plan it well! But you need to be self-disciplined. Don’t expect the professors to spoon-feed you. You can email them after class if you’re shy. One good thing about NTU is that most lectures are recorded. You can revise anytime by watching the lecture again online.

NTU student and National Junior College student chatting about campus life in a café

Do you ever find university life stressful?

I think as long as you’re studying something you’re interested in, you’ll be fine. I am fascinated by biology and learning more about it, so it hasn’t been too difficult for me. Once you’re in university, go with the flow and enjoy yourself!

By the way, do you stay in a hall on campus?

Yes, I do! As a Nanyang Scholar, I get $2,000 per academic year to cover the cost of living on campus. I recommend that you stay in a hall – it’s a unique, fun experience that’s a big part of university life. For example, I acted in a hall play and was a lead organiser of a community project. Our hall residents went to a village in Vietnam to teach children English.

Is there a minimum number of hours of community work that everyone has to fulfil? This applies to my sister, who is from another university.

No, there’s no such requirement for NTU students. We do these community projects because we want to!