A-level 'straight-C' student finds success in SMU after 3 gap years

Ms Lim Geok Shan said she did everything from working in a coffee shop to running a blogshop during her gap years. PHOTO: COURTESY OF LIM GEOK SHAN

By all accounts, Ms Lim Geok Shan is the quintessential academic overachiever with a scholarship from the Singapore Management University (SMU) and a place on the dean's list for three years running from 2016.

But the 26-year-old is quick to point out that she was nothing like that before enrolling in the Bachelor of Science (Information Systems) programme in 2016.

She scored straight Cs in her A levels in 2012, and received a rejection when she applied for a place in SMU's information systems programme the next year.

Ms Lim said she "felt like a failure in life" because with two older brothers suffering from visual impairments, the weight of expectations was on her young shoulders.

On Friday (July 24), she was one of 1,884 graduates to receive their bachelor's degree from SMU, which held a virtual graduation and career fair to mark the occasion.

Of the group, 56 had graduated with double degrees.

There were also 989 master's degree and Juris Doctor degree graduates, and 48 others who received their doctorates.

Ms Lim said in the three years after her A levels, she did everything from working in a coffee shop to running a blogshop.

"Apart from practical skills like learning to deal with people from different walks of life, coping with stress and time management, it really helped me grow as a person," she added.

She had started the blogshop with a friend when she was in Anderson Junior College.

For about a year after the A levels, she ran the online store by sourcing for clothes and various tech gadgets on Chinese e-commerce site Taobao.

A good day would see her make $500 a night.

Ms Lim later helped run her uncle's coffee shop, where she managed staff, some of whom were three times her age, and coordinated with suppliers.

In the third year after A levels, she worked in an administrative role for a real estate company. There, she learnt that her university-graduate colleagues were earning significantly more than her.

Ms Lim decided to try for a place in SMU again, although she was aware her straight-C grades did not meet the cut-off for the information systems programme.

As a backup plan, she also applied to read science at the National University of Singapore, and biomedical science at Nanyang Technological University.

By then, Ms Lim had saved up almost $30,000 to pay her way through school. Her father is a technician and her mother, a clerk.

SMU replied and said she had to sit a technical assessment test for basic programming skills, which she passed.

During the three-year break, she had honed her skills taking up ad hoc Web design assignments.

In August, Ms Lim will be joining DBS' Skill Enhancement Education and Development programme - a 24-month training programme for engineers in the tech and innovation industry.

"Society places a lot of emphasis on results and outcomes. But looking back, so what if I didn't do well in the A levels?

"We tend to form our identity based on these results or track records, but it's more important to find our sense of self," she said of the three years she spent working.

SMU said the event on Friday was to commemorate an important milestone of the graduates by "providing them with a memorable and valuable experience, offer a platform where they can relive and rejoice in the best moments of their journey with SMU, as well as an opportunity to interact with potential employers".

Among other things, it featured an augmented reality photo booth, which used tools to call up graduates' avatars on their mobile phone so they could capture photos of the occasion.

Physical commencement ceremonies will be held at a later date, when allowed, the university added.

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