I remember the time I heard about SMU. It was three years ago when my family decided to bring me to a university fair in Jakarta. The first one to present was SMU, and the speaker described to the audience about how SMU provides holistic education, aiming to produce creative and entrepreneurial leaders for the knowledge-based economy. The seminar-style lectures, the global exposure, combined with the corporate world preparation got my interest. From that point on, I told myself, “I’m going to SMU.” Fast forward to today, and I’m currently in my second year, in pursuit of a business degree.

Getting in wasn’t easy, especially for Indonesians. Unlike NTU or NUS which provides its personal entrance exam, direct admission to SMU would require an applicant to take the SAT Test – a globally acknowledged college admission test – and score at least 1900 out of 2400; to achieve such feat is to virtually get a perfect score in all categories. The test itself consists of math and reading, as well as writing. While Asian students tend to nail the math section, they tend to struggle in the reading and writing sections, which make up two-thirds of the overall score. It took me two years of rigorous preparation and three attempts, but I finally managed to achieve the number needed to make it to the shortlist.

I’ve now lived in Singapore for over a year and if I had to describe my experience in SMU in one sentence, it would be practically impossible. There’s so much that has happened, both good and bad: so much that it’s difficult to describe in words. Nevertheless, it’s definitely an experience one would never forget.

School life is relatively harmonious, if not too competitive. I was warned that SMU is extremely competitive due to its academic system, which grades not only from papers and exams, but also class participation and group projects. Many seniors retell their experience and made it sound like war whenever people want to speak up in class for participation. But when I begin my first few lecture, I found that class is not as hectic as it sounded like. Most of the professors were not only helpful, but supportive towards a student’s learning prowess. The people I worked with were kind, but at the same time kept things professional and ensured that everyone got a chance to display their abilities.

However, the longer I stayed in SMU, the longer I begin to realise that it’s very easy for someone to get burned out. There are a total of fifteen weeks in a semester, including recess and study weeks, and the way the semester is structured gives off the feeling that time flies faster than usual. Combined with the amount of work to be done, it gives SMU students some degree of pressure.

Furthermore, the environment is competitive, both inside and outside of academics. Take a club activity for example. While some clubs are open to everyone, others require an audition or an interview to make it in, which further shows the intense competition in club life. When the pressure is high, there is a tendency for someone to see an overachiever and begin to look down on him or herself. Focusing more on yourself rather than others is crucial in order to survive here.

I’m still having a great time in SMU. It’s a place I’d never trade for anything. But it’s a lot of work, which makes you want a lot of play as well. Thus I felt that the key is to find a balance of both.

Featured image by Rudy Herman.