Scholarships in Singapore are not uncommon. If you are familiar with Singapore education system, you will probably be familiar with ASEAN Scholarships, sponsored by Ministry of Education (MOE), for both high school and undergraduate studies. However, there are plenty other scholarships offered here which you may rarely hear of. One of which is the Tanoto Scholarship by Tanoto Foundation, offered to Singapore Management University (SMU), NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) undergraduates.
THE APPLICATION PROCESS
I did not complete any separate application form for Tanoto Scholarship. Instead, my application for undergraduate studies to SMU had an option of whether I wanted to be considered for any scholarship offered to the students. Of course, I ticked the checkbox in a heartbeat. Kudos to SMU for making the application so simple!
Having said that, if you are currently an undergraduate in SMU (non-freshmen), I believe you need to separately apply through the school’s administration office.
2. School Internal Selection
Although this scholarship is funded from the proceeds of an endowed gift by Tanoto Foundation, the selection of students from the undergraduate pool to progress through to interview stage is administered by SMU. While there is no standard recipe to nail this stage, it is generally known that you need to have good academic result and be active in co-curricular activities (CCA) involvement. On top of that, Tanoto Foundation also prioritises students with financial need.
The first and last requirements are straight forward, but the second one may be a little unconventional to many Indonesian students. In my experience, what the recruiters really look for is someone with a substantial leadership position (Of course, a head of Cleanliness in your class does not count), a competitive sports participation (weekly smacking of shuttlecocks with your little brother does not count too, sorry), or an artistic talent with a proven track record. Essentially, they want to see that you are excelling not only in school, but also in other aspects of your education.
Just a little sidetrack: You will be surprised at how much your CCA involvement counts. When I was going through the interview for admission to Singapore Chinese Girls’ School (SCGS) with ASEAN Scholarship, I ranked 83rd in my cohort while my competitors were ranked 2nd, 5th, 10th, and so on. I knew that the scholarship was out of my league and I was prepared to go home empty-handed. The only thing I knew I could do better than my competitors then was playing table tennis, but I did not know it meant a lot. During my time, such outside-school activities were not as important as having multiple tuitions (Chinese, English, Mathematics, general school subjects, you name it I had it). So imagine my surprise when I heard that I managed to secure an interview and subsequently the admission to SCGS with a scholarship. Shout out to my parents who supported my unpopular decision to be extremely involved in table tennis!
Moral of the story: Get interested in something and make sure you’re so good at it.
3. The Interview Stage
Once the school decides to progress your application to the interview stage, you will get a call from them to schedule for an interview slot.
Sidetrack: I remember getting mine on a Saturday morning in Indonesia. If you know me personally, you will know that I have difficulty expressing my emotions. So when the phone rang and the person on the other end of the phone, Felicia, asked to speak to me in English, my mother knew (through her unerring motherly instinct) that it was regarding a serious matter. When I finally got to the phone and Felicia broke the news to me, all I said was, “Oh”, followed by 5 seconds of silence before I forced out a, “Thank you”. Felicia then told me, “You don’t sound happy at all” while inside, I was already brimming with excitement that I could not show.
As I was in Indonesia when the interview was scheduled to be, I had a phone interview with three Tanoto Foundation staff via Skype (Random tip: It’s really advisable for you to change that weird username you have on Skype account which you created when you were a pre-teen). Of course, I read up a lot about the Foundation, its holding company and its subsidiaries prior to the interview. I also remember spending a lot of time practising my lines, finding the right lighting and background for Skype interview, testing my speakers and microphone, and all other small details which counted.
The interview went relatively well as I was able to convey all the things I wanted to say. However, there were some parts when I could not hear what the interviewers were saying due to the poor internet connection in Indonesia. The first few times it happened, I politely asked them to repeat their questions or comments, but after a while, I gave up trying and smiled at the webcam instead for fear of frustrating the interviewers. Yes, that is Indonesia’s internet connection’s reliability for you.
4. The Scholarship Offer
Smile, give thanks, count your blessings, AND REPLY THE EMAIL OF SCHOLARSHIP OFFER.
 Disclaimer: the experience I share below may be specific to Singapore Management University (SMU) and may not apply to other universities in Singapore.
 The school will give you a window to accept the scholarship offer, make sure you read the terms and conditions of the scholarship and reply the email before the window expire.
Photos are provided by the author.