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nyaro
08-05-2015, 08:54 AM
Hi,
I finished my GCE A Levels in Dec 2013. I am currently enrolled in the University of Alabama in the US on a full-tuition scholarship.

In 2014, I wrote a guide on US higher education, school selection and scholarship hunting to share with students at my former schools, SJI and ACJC. I figured some of you can benefit from this, so the web version of my guide can be found below:
http://vominhtu.github.io/us-college/index.html

There are two points that I hope will get across to you when you read this guide. First, you do not need to be the cream of your batch to get a scholarship to study overseas, and many scholarships do not have any bond attached. Second, school rankings and reputations have very small influence on your education and intellectual growth. These ideas might contradict what you hear everyday, but take some time to think about how valid they are. If you know me in real life, you would know that I rejected a full scholarship offer from NTU, as well as a scholarship interview from NUS to go to the low ranking school where I am at now.

nyaro
09-05-2015, 09:15 AM
I got a few questions in my inbox. Sorry for the late replies, but here they are. I'm posting here so that others could see too.

Does a student having retained for a year in JC bar him having a shot at universities like the UCs?
No. The UC system of schools care more about your final A Level grades.

What are the chances of someone with a plain, weak background (neighborhood schools from young, non-existent ECAs, average grades) standing a realistic shot at universities at the UCs?
Your secondary school has practically no effect on the application outcome. That is, unless you won an international award or something, which would boost your chances a lot.
Also, keep in mind that "mediocrity" is relative. If you get a few As for your A level, you have good chances.
Another thing to note: your chances of admission also depends on your intended major. Getting into Berkeley is one thing, getting into its Computer Science or Business programs is tough.

What could someone like me try to do to build up a reasonably presentable portfolio (ECAs)? (Context: assume I'm going to retain, and shall remain in J1 next year, AND, that I'll have to serve NS)
Perform well in NS. That is an awesome character building experience. ;)
And also do a few things that interest you, regardless of the results. I'd recommend you read the articles written by Cal Newport on CCAs. Link Here (http://vominhtu.github.io/us-college/links.html)

4) (Not really related to US universities) Would it be a good idea for someone who has 0.000% experience in English Literature as a subject (didn't take it at the 'O' levels) to attempt H2 English Literature at the 'A' levels? Where is the line between interest and pragmatism?
That depends on how strong your interest is. What is more important, however, is that you take the courses that allow you to go into the course you want. For example, for medicine/pharmacy, chemistry is a must. Other than that, I personally do not think it matters much.

In the rat race that is society today, are the questions above laughable?

No, because you haven't been exposed to things outside your immediate environment.

Just be brutally honest - it's not your fault that I suck; I can't blame you if you look down on me.
Self-hate is destructive. No matter how your friends outperform you, do not let such thoughts dominate your mind.

How heavily do 'O' level results matter? If one's 'O' level results aren't so good, even if his/her 'A' level results are stellar, would he/she still stand a reasonable chance?
O level results have very insignificant effects. Don't worry about it.

Secondly, how might one build up good ECAs? What if you're in an environment which doesn't really... foster the development of good ECAs? Let's assume I have also have NS (thus 2 years of potentially useful time).

Don't limit CCA options to school-sponsored activities. A few external competition is just as good. If you give me more details I could elaborate on this.