Why Grades Aren’t the Only Thing When It Comes to Your University Application

By the SMU Social Media Team

We’ve always put an awful lot of emphasis on getting good grades, and most of us see this as the key criteria for snagging a spot at the university of our choice.

However, as times change, more universities are starting to recognise that grades aren’t the only thing when it comes to producing efficient and effective entrants into the workforce. After all, a degree is nothing more than a framed piece of paper if you don’t gain the right skillsets during your tertiary education to see you through today’s fast-paced, globalised economy.

As such, university applications are starting to place more weight on a person’s holistic skills—such as communication and critical thinking skills—as well as attitude and outside experiences or achievements. In fact, some schools practice Discretionary Admission, whereby a certain percentage of places are set aside each year for applicants with outstanding achievements or attributes.

So when it is your turn to find a way to edge out in a pool of candidates for that coveted spot in your dream university, here are five insider tips that can help your application stand out from the crowd:


Demonstrate your hobbies and passions

It’s a known fact that having stellar co-curricular activities (CCA) track records can give your application that extra boost, but these days, CCA participation is pretty much a given. So if you’re really looking to impress, try supplementing your school records with activities that demonstrate how you have gone the extra mile to pursue your hobbies and passions. From newspaper clippings of a community service project you’ve spearheaded to certificates in industry-led competitions, or evidence that you’ve performed in leadership roles or led significant campaigns, back your application up with evidence of how you are willing to invest time in what you find to be meaningful.


Critical and creative thinking

The days of memorising theories and regurgitating facts are over. These days, everyone is looking for that student who demonstrates an aptitude for critical and creative thinking. When it comes to your admissions interview, on top of doing your research about the university and programme you are applying for, try recalling relevant examples of when you conducted research, weighed options, digested information, and solved problems in the past—whether as a student or even in your personal life.

Impressing the admissions committee with a display of how you problem solve, or think outside the box can put you one step ahead of a fellow applicant. Don’t be afraid to speak up and work through your answers during your interview sessions—this allows the interviewer a demonstration of your critical thinking process.


Positive attitude

Needless to say, having a positive attitude can always be helpful in any interview or stage of your life. It isn’t just about being happy all the time or expecting your mega-watt smile to get you through every door. Remaining positive through an entrance interview means maintaining an upbeat, never-say-die attitude even if things don’t seem to be going your way, or conveying that giving up is never an option when asked situational questions. Of course, your positivity can also be conveyed in other ways like maintaining good posture and eye-contact as a sign of composure, and expressing confidence in your past experiences and potential future capabilities.


Intellectual Curiosity

An individual with intellectual curiosity is naturally desirable because he or she is someone who invests time and energy into learning more about people, things and concepts. Plus, while it’s easy for anyone to agree with the importance of pursuing new knowledge, only a handful can say they have acted upon it. Hence, being able to display how you possess intellectual curiosity and have pursued something out of your own accord can put you multi-folds ahead of fellow applicants. You can typically demonstrate this in an interview by bringing up things you have learnt or taught yourself in your past internships and working experiences.

Aside from that, a tell-tale sign of a person with intellectual curiosity is your answer when being asked if you have any questions for the interviewer. Not only will your answer show whether you’ve done some research regarding your course, it also shows that you have a vision for how your university life is going to go and how that aligns with what the school can offer. Being curious is always good, but never has it been more important to be intellectually curious.


Convey your message logically and systematically through your admission essay

It’s a myth that admissions essays are tossed aside in favour of good grades, so for applications requiring a written essay submission, do make sure you put some real thought and effort into that part of your application. It is hardly enough to simply answer the essay question, or state how much you want to be in the course you’ve selected, or how much it would mean to you. Considering that the acceptance committee probably has to read through hundreds, or even thousands, of essays, it’s crucial that you think of a way to make yours stand out. One suggestion would be to appeal emotionally with a relevant, sincere, and to-the-point story while also using logical reasoning to back up your passionate declarations of why you are the ideal candidate.


So even though grades are undoubtedly important for entrance into any university, don’t lose hope yet if yours don’t meet the exact cut-off for your dream course. At the end of the day, your scores only contribute to part of your application, as universities today are increasingly inclined to take your holistic skills, past experiences and overall achievements into consideration as well. You still can prove yourself to be a good fit for the university and course, so pay attention to all the other aspects and remember to keep calm and apply on!


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