How to Increase my chance of getting into a Local Public University?

Now that you have got your results, the first thing you may want to do is to check the Indicative Grade Profile (or probably you have already done so). Don’t meet the mark? Don’t panic. That’s seldom the end of the world. In fact, there are just so many things you can do in such a situation that panicking is probably the least you want to spend your time on.

Apply Confidently

The first thing you need to remind yourself is that the Indicative Grade Profile is just indicative. It shows the 10th percentile, meaning there are still 10% of the cohort who got in with grades below the mark. And you may just be one of them. Secondly, the grades profiles keep changing from year to year. Check the IGP for the last few years and you still realize that.

Hence the first thing you need to do is to apply confidently. Don’t feel that you are less than others. As long as you hit the 0th percent mark, you are no different from someone who hits the 100% mark for admission. Though the chance may be lower, the worst you can get is not getting in.

When you refer to the IGP, it is always based on entry grades of last year’s intake( but of course!) and this year’s IGP is a result of this year’s supply and demand. Who knows, maybe this year, everyone decided not to compete with you for your desired course and its IGP hits rock bottom! Don’t second guess yourself, just apply. I know a friend who was in the army and applied to university every year. He got into NTU mechanical engineering at the year he ORD-ed with a poly GPA of 3.2. What a close shave.

To further maximize your chance of getting in, you need to look beyond the mere Indicative Grade Profile. You need to look at the student intake last year as well. Click here for a good collection of such information. A lower cut-off point with a larger student intake would increase your chance even more!

Play to your Strength

Though admissions are generally based on your overall grades, admission officers do look into the performance of specific relevant subjects. If you are applying for chemical engineering, your grade for the chemistry subject will be looked into further.

 Knowing how the admission officers think, you may want to “think like”. Apply to university courses that are linked to your high school subjects that you did well in. However, there need not be an exact match. After all, you are not likely to study environmental engineering in your high school. But broad similarities are very favorable. If you are applying for anything engineering or sciences related, your mathematic grade will be more important. If you are applying for anything social science or humanities related, your English grade will be more important. Given your interests, you may want to prioritize your course choice according to your academic grades.

Nail your Application Essay

For certain applications, a personal statement may be required. When writing such an essay, follow the one rule: less is more. Go straight to the point talking about your motivation of applying. If you have the tendency of starting by “when I was young, I was always ..”, use this template instead. “I believe I am a good candidate for the program because …”. The word limit is usually 200-300. Hence you want to maximize the value of each word in the text box.

nail that essay

Also, remember the power of three. Give three distinct reasons for applying, backed up with examples from your experiences. Some of the general reasons for wanting to study a certain subject could be the following. Studying the subject helps further your academic interest, helps achieve your career goals or is aligned with your value systems (such as being a doctor to help others, or being a social worker to give back).

Getting a recommendation letter

In the meanwhile, you need to do extra things to improve your chance. Getting a recommendation letter is always a good strategy. Think of anyone who likes you more. The person should ideally not be related to you on a personal level, like your uncle. It could be your high school teacher, your club teacher in charge, or even the employer where you did a part-time. Find someone who likes you more instead of someone who seems more powerful (the school principal who barely knows you for example).

What to include in the recommendation letter?

If you find your teacher for recommendation, make sure to ask them to explain the reasons of your sub-performance. If you face any attenuating circumstances, such as family emergency during exams, ask your teachers to include that in the letter. Or if you don’t have any special situation to mention, ask your teacher to talk about your good attitude, good learning ability or any other desirable qualities that would show that you will be able to follow the challenging lessons in university.

Applying through discretionary admission

By now you should know universities accept discretionary admission. In recent years, universities are increasing their intake via this channel. NUS took in 600 in 2014.   Your academics are put aside temporarily and they look at your talent/non-academic achievement. Here the achievement is not just winning a competition or performing on stage. It is something most teenagers would not be able to do. It is perhaps winning a major international competition or having a major invention. Don’t restrict yourself, but think along those lines.

Moreover, think of how your achievement can add value to the university community. One good way is to scan through the various clubs in university. Any clubs/school teams that the university especially want to develop further? Read the university news to see if they have any announcement or moves on those areas. Once you have it, it becomes your trump card during the interview. It will impress the interviewers, not just about your achievement but also your understanding of their university.

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With all that said, universities have made the stand that applicants considered under discretionary admission scheme still need good grades. This process basically opens a side door for those who have missed the academic entry bar by few inches but possess other desirable qualities such as good communication and leadership skills. Interviews will illuminate those non-academic abilities.

Expand your choices, the grass may be greener on the other side

Now the established three universities, namely NUS, NTU and SMU, take in the bulk of university applicants. But SUTD and SIT are rising fast as well. Don’t forget, SMU used to be in the position of SUTD and SIT around one decade ago, when people might be skeptical about anything that was new. Now you see students choose SMU over NUS and NTU because of its unique selling point.

The same may be happening to the two new stars. And the good news is, they impose relatively lower cut-off points, for the same courses that are also offered in other universities. STI is also easier for poly students to get in, as it allows student with GPA 3.0 and above to apply.

The point we want to bring across is pay equal attention to the two universities. Do your homework as you would to the other three. Who knows you may discover something you truly like?

Appeal: Fight for a Second Chance

If you get rejected for the choice you want, don’t settle so easily. Universities have formal appeal systems that you can use to advance your case further. Usually the appeal period will last from May to July. But before you submit your appeal, you need to do your homework.

As you are required to write a short essay explaining your appeal, you want to be extremely clear on why you want to study the course. Try to articulate them to your friends and see if they find your reasons convincing. Avoid generic answers that reflect lack of effort and interest.

Moreover, you want to emphasize why they should choose you despite your academic performance. Acknowledge the fact that your grades are not good enough, but don’t apologize or find excuses. Be confident in your unique selling points in terms of your achievements, personal interests in the subject and endorsement from other people in your life.

To find out more about appealing, click here

Informal Appeal: The road less traveled by

At the same time, you can always attempt “informal appeal”, appealing to a specific person in charge for the department you are applying to. Find out the email address of the dean of the department, for example. When emailing the person, don’t just copy and paste your appeal essay in the email. He may just ask you to apply in the system. What you want is to ask for a 20 minutes coffee break somewhere near his coffee, to know more about the department and the subject that interests you (and also him). It is after a good conversation that you start asking for a reference. If you can get it, your chance of success simply multiplies.

What if you still don’t manage to get it despite all the effort above? Now you need to give yourself a pat and tell yourself that not all things are within your control. If you are taking a gap year, for work, for travel or for army, you can always re-apply. Remember the minimum grades keep changing. The simple act of applying may just be a game changer. Good luck!


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