Every year, top A-level students make a beeline for medicine, law and business because these fields are seen to offer lucrative careers. Many of them do not even list engineering as one of their degree choices.
But that is changing at both the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
Top students, including those who chalk up the maximum 90 points for university admission, are not only listing engineering as one of their degree choices but several are even choosing it over law and medicine.
The trend is more evident at NTU, which takes in 2,800 engineering students a year and offers the elite Renaissance Engineering Programme (REP), which combines engineering with business and liberal arts.
Besides graduating with an engineering degree and master's in technology management, REP students spend a year at University of California, Berkeley or Imperial College in London before interning with companies abroad.
This year, REP was oversubscribed by seven times, although NTU increased the number of places to 64 from 50 last year. Almost all of those accepted this year are top A-level students with at least three As. Last year, the course was more than five times oversubscribed and five in six were top A-level students.
NTU dons report that another engineering programme launched this year, which allows students to take business as a second major, was oversubscribed by 29 times. Two in three of the 62 accepted were top A-level students.
NUS, which takes in 1,500 engineering students a year, offers an accelerated Global Engineering Programme. This allows students to go on to pursue a master's degree overseas at top universities such as Cambridge and the Grandes Ecoles in France.
Close to 400 students applied for the course and the 40 who entered the programme this year were all top A-level students.
NUS dons say that to attract the best and brightest from junior colleges as well as polytechnics, it is important to offer programmes that will stretch them, give them global exposure and excite them about engineering.
The old mindset that engineering is boring is changing as students get exposed to the best schools like UC Berkeley as well as vibrant entrepreneurial hubs including Silicon Valley, said Professor Teoh Swee Hin, who heads REP at NTU.
"They go to these places and they see for themselves that engineers are inventors and creators and an engineering degree can lead to very interesting jobs."
He said the students are from Generation Y and want courses that are interesting and expose them to different areas so that they can pick and choose. They also want to travel the world and have varied experiences. The REP has elements of all that, he said.
NUS engineering dean Chua Kee Chaing said that his school's Global Engineering Programme is attractive as students graduate with a postgraduate degree as well, all in four years. Young people are also keen on the overseas research exposure.
"We hope they will delve into engineering and find it interesting and exciting enough to want to stay in it."
Former Raffles Institution student Ang Wei Loong, 21, agrees that the old mindset about engineering being a staid, boring profession is changing.
With a string of As, he had offers to enrol in courses including business, accountancy and law. But he picked NTU's REP because it combined engineering and business and offered substantial overseas exposure.
"Why study business alone when you can combine it with social sciences and engineering? It is a lot more interesting and so are the careers that it can lead to."