If you are reading this article, you must be a prospective applicant for the course of Medicine in NUS – one of the most highly sought after degrees in Singapore. Well, young padawan doctor-to-be, read on!
Due to the high – possibly bordering insane – academic demands of the course, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine (YLLSoM) has in place a highly rigorous selection criteria set in place to pick their students to study medicine. Out of 2000+ applicants, only 260+ lucky students get admitted to the school by September. With that kind of admission rates, it is almost as competitive as top universities in US and UK!
I applied for admissions to Medicine in NUS in 2009, and received the offer when I was still in OCS in May that year. While the offer of disruption from NS and joining the many doctors in Singapore was tempting, I eventually decided to reject the offer put forward by YLLSoM. (more details on that in my next article) Though the thought of being an M.D. has since long passed me, I still clearly remember the ardous process I had to put myself through to finally receive that precious piece of good news in that merry month of May.
Without further ado, here’s the rundown on the admissions process.
What You Need to Submit
According to the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine Admissions FAQ, here’s a list of things that you are required to submit to the NUS (I will provide some tips on each item as we go down the list):
- NUS Application Form
- A copy of your NUSHS Graduation Portfolio (including High School Diploma, all grades, transcripts, etc)
- Student Portfolio (to be submitted when you are shortlisted), which includes
- TWO Recommendation Letters
- School Official Testimonial (provided with your Graduation Portfolio)
- A page-long list of extra-curricular activities and achievements
- A page-long personal statement
The Selection Process
Once you’ve submitted the above, you will undergo the stringent selection process, which will include:
- GPA-based Shortlisting (aka Ranking Cut-off)
- Two Interviews (conducted back-to-back)
- One Essay-writing Test
- Portfolio Review by Faculty
Usually, you will be informed of the admission results by mid-May.
What You SHOULD Do
Instead of providing you technical details on the admission process (which you can read up more on the YLLSoM Admissions FAQ page), I will touch more on the things you SHOULD do to beef up your portfolio, and possibly boost your chances of admission to Medicine in NUS.
- NUS Application Form
- ALWAYS PUT MEDICINE AS FIRST CHOICE. I can’t stress this enough. Don’t be a hero and put Medicine as second choice (even if you have absolutely awesome reasons to do so). A life as a doctor is a life-long commitment, and the faculty needs to see that you are ready to commit to this cause.
- NUSHS Graduation Portfolio
- Presentation: I know this isn’t much, but please take some pride in keeping your photocopied material in a decent folder (nothing artistic. Just presentable). And make sure everything is Certified True Copy.
- Grades: Don’t listen to the website about the minimum subject CAPs you will need to apply. Unless you have a CAP of 4.0 and above (with the recent grade inflation, I am not sure if this estimate is still reliable at all), it is almost impossible to make it past the initial ranking-based cut-off. However, I am pleased to inform you that once you make it past the initial short-listing, grades no longer play that big a role in selection).
- Grades (exception): The only exception I can see to the grades criteria, is if you apply through the EIS scheme (Exceptional Individuals Scheme), of which you will be considered more on grounds beyond academics. For further details, you may ask our alumnus current studying there, Nathaniel. Take note that the number of students admitted via EIS is very small.
- Triple/Double Science: I don’t believe that it is a must to take triple science, or that it is a must to take Biology in NUSHS to stand a fighting chance in Medicine. However, personally, I strongly recommend that you major in all three sciences, as studying biology before entering Medicine would make your first year slightly easier, and fundamental understanding of physics will always go a long way.
- Medical Attachment: If you’ve been for one, PUT THAT SOMEWHERE IN YOUR PORTFOLIO. It’s pretty useful, and makes you look serious on your pursuit to become an M.D. However, please remember that it is not a must, so don’t go crazy if you’ve not had the time nor opportunity to participate in one.
- CCA Transcript: Good-to-haves include CIP, helping the elderly, volunteering at a hospital, etc. Essentially these activities should show that you have compassion and have a heart for the sick. That’s the fundamental to being a good doctor.
- Recommendation Letters
- Who to Write them: People who know you well, and are willing to write an honest recommendation for you. While I know everyone is writing picture-perfect letters for themselves, I always believe that honesty is the best policy. On a more serious note, I think it might be more effective if there was a doctor who would be willing to write one for you. *hint hint*
- School Official Testimonial
- Standard stuff. Don’t depend on this to make you shine. However, you may use its contents as reference for building your overall ‘image’ that you want to sell to YLLSoM
- Page of Extracurricular Activities and Achievements detail
- Balance: The key word, is balance. I know you might have scored half a dozen (or more) medals in the Singapore Math Olympiad, but honestly the faculty is seeing loads of those. Pick some of your best that make you look like an all-rounded student, and write it down on that single A4 piece of paper.
- Staying Unique: My favorite question I always ask myself whenever I look at my portfolio is ‘Do I look unique or special here?’ If the answer is ‘no’, it means that you need to re-work your list of achievements. Always remember that you are only as special as you make yourself out to be. You can be an average Joe, but sell yourself right, and people will be convinced that you’re one of a kind (and hence deserve to be in YLLSoM)
- Academics vs. Non-academics: There is no strict balance in acads/non-acads that YLLSoM are looking out for in their prospective students. However, I personally believe that the Faculty is looking for signs that you are compassionate, know what you are doing, and capable of handling immense amounts of pressure. If your ECA page shows that, you’re half-way there.
- Personal Statement
- “What do I write?”: Good question! Well, please bear in mind that this is a SINGAPORE personal statement, and not an AMERICAN college essay. This means that you should be focusing on putting together a package of your most outstanding achievements together for presentation, together with a description of yourself and why you wish to join Medicine. What you should NOT do, is write a random story about your life and how it has influenced you to join the ranks of doctors.
- “But… I don’t know where to start!”: If you don’t know where to start, you can begin with this question: ‘Why Medicine?’ Build your personal statement to eventually answer this question. I am sure that question is on the Faculty’s head as much as it is on yours.
- GPA-based Shortlisting
- There is nothing you can do for this stage. The university essentially assigns you a score based on what they think of your academic records and ranks you with the rest of the applicants in NUS. After that, YLLSoM will pick the top XXX students to be shortlisted for interviews and the essay writing test. How NUS ranks our school (NUSHS) against the rest of the A-level holders remains a mystery to me.
- Interview 1: With Professors and Senior Faculty
- The first interview is the more stringent and demanding of the two. Essentially, you will be interviewed by a panel of 3 members of the Faculty who will assess your suitability to become a doctor. The questions posed by them will be more serious in nature, and will test your ability to solve problems and handle difficult situations. They will also try to figure out what is your long term goals in medicine, and whether it is possible to give you a shot at it. Standard interview techniques apply.
- Golden Rule: BE HONEST. I can’t stress this enough, gosh. The last thing you want is to lie about something at the start of the interview and snook yourself halfway through. One mistake, and your chances of admission goes down to ZERO. Not worth the gamble.
- Interview 2: With current students
- This is the more fun/interesting interview of the two. Instead of letting faculty decide your suitability, some of the students currently in YLLSoM get a chance to interview you and make their judgment about your suitability. The panel of interviewers is slightly larger – about 4 to 5 people, and they will bombard you with interesting scenario questions that seem almost irrelevant to admissions. Their purpose is to see what kind of character you possess, and unless you have had it well-rehearsed in your head, it is very hard to lie for an interview like this.
- Golden Rule: BE HONEST.
- Just remain calm and be yourself! I actually enjoyed this interview a lot, because it helped me define my character and what kind of doctor I would eventually become (which was one reason why I didn’t pick up medicine in the end)
- Essay Writing Test
- This one is pretty straightforward. You are given a short amount of time (I can’t remember exactly how long I was given. Maybe under an hour?) and you’ll need to write an essay about a given topic – usually medically related. This will test your general knowledge about the medical landscape in Singapore and see what kind of ideas you can contribute to the community (i.e. they don’t want bookworms that only know how to study). Write a decent, convincing essay, and that should do the trick
- Take note that no technical medical knowledge is required. This is similar to the GP in A-levels, but topics are related to medicine (e.g. research into cure for AIDS, the fight against dengue in Singapore, impacts of GM food on public health, etc.). My only advice to prepare for the essay is to read widely about the health industry in Singapore, and be as creative as possible.
- Portfolio Review
- SUBMIT IT ON TIME.
What You Should NOT do
At this point, the article is about 1800 words long, so I shall end off with a couple of final notes on what you should NOT do.
Please do not:
- Dress like a slop for interviews
- Sound desperate in your personal statement/interviews
- Lose sleep over the admissions results
- Unnecessarily compare your results with others to see if you stand a higher chance
- Brag about your offer after you get it
- Moan and emo if you get rejected
If there are some questions which you would like me to address specifically, please leave a comment on this post, or write to me directly so that I can do a follow-up to this article. Your inputs are greatly appreciated!
That’s all from me. All the best!