Mentors to help students get into top unis

S'pore students at Oxford launch non-profit Project Access here

Graduating students at a service before the 365th Commencement Exercises at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US, on May 26.
Graduating students at a service before the 365th Commencement Exercises at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US, on May 26. PHOTO: REUTERS

Students from junior colleges and polytechnics that are under-represented in top British and American universities now have a network of mentors to help them get into such institutions.

Singaporean students at the University of Oxford launched the non-profit Project Access in Singapore officially on June 4.

The initiative matches prospective students with mentors in their desired schools based on their fields of study. More than 50 Singaporean students in universities such as Oxford, the London School of Economics (LSE) and Harvard University have signed up as mentors.

They come from a variety of pre-university backgrounds and will be matched with prospective students with similar backgrounds.

One such mentor is Mr Sim Jing En, 23, who graduated from Ngee Ann Polytechnic with a diploma with merit in Tourism and Resort Management. He is now a first-year law student at Cambridge.

He said: "I received guidance from career counsellors provided by Ngee Ann on my applications to the law faculty of NUS and other local schools when I graduated. I applied to Cambridge on a whim in my second year of national service, without any guidance from Ngee Ann.

"Some of my juniors told me they didn't include Oxford or Cambridge because they wanted to be realistic about their limited choice of five schools which they can put in the UCAS application system."

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) is a Britain-based centralised portal for applications to universities there.

Mr Sim attributes his acceptance to luck, as he had nobody to vet his entrance essays or coach him for the Cambridge law entrance examination and interview.

He had been happy with the offer to study law at the National University of Singapore and just wanted the rejection letter from Cambridge to show that he had tried.

Instead, he got in and his "mental barriers" collapsed. He said many more polytechnic students could enter top foreign universities if they get over the idea that it is impossible.

He is part of the core Singapore team of Project Access and is in talks with all five polytechnics here to hold sessions to share information about the application process and life at Cambridge from the perspective of a polytechnic student.

Beyond giving essay comments and interview tips, mentors will also share their personal experiences in applying to their universities.

Mr Charig Yang, 19, who completed his A levels at Nanyang Junior College last year, was among the first to benefit from Project Access.

He got into an engineering course at Oxford with the help of Mr Lim Jian Hong, a senior from the same JC who is also studying engineering there.

Mr Yang, who has signed up to be a mentor, said: "He told me what to work on for the admissions test as some British syllabus topics are not taught here. He also shared the past year paper's answers, which was really helpful because Oxford publishes only the question papers."

Project Access is an international collaboration based in Oxford. Last year, it was launched in six countries besides Singapore, including Pakistan, Poland and Denmark.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 12, 2016, with the headline 'Mentors to help students get into top unis'. Subscribe