By Liu Yong Zhe (23S03H, Peer Helper) and Sabrina Tong (23S03Q, Peer Helper)
Cover Image by Johnathan Lim (23S03M)
Your resident Aunties and Uncles are back with our Ask Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset column, this time as a collaboration between Raffles Press and Peer Helpers’ Programme (PHP)! Ever wanted to rant about that someone you just can’t stand? Overwhelmed with too many feelings? Submit your confessions to tinyurl.com/RIAAUU and we’ll give them our best shot. This column will be published at the end of every month.
How important is doing VIA for scholarships, university applications and etc?Troubled Timmy
Dear Troubled Timmy,
Let’s get straight to the point. You came here to find the answer to the question that plagues every JC student while they mug for their A-Levels, arguably the most critical examination in their lives: how important is doing VIA? We’ve all heard the horror stories of people accumulating dozens of hours of VIA, and perhaps you’ve been feeling a little inadequate that you can’t do the same for there are only 24 hours in a day. But rest assured, for it is not the be-all and end-all of things.
In fact, there is no straightforward answer to your question, since the importance of VIA varies in different scenarios. The short answer is that VIA is important, but not a golden ticket to success.
Why is everyone doing VIA?
The common perception is that VIA hours are indispensable in assembling a portfolio—the kind that you will be submitting in applications for university courses and scholarships. It is true that the competition for these coveted privileges necessitates that your portfolio give you an edge over the rest of your applicants.
Participating in VIA and accumulating hours is a quantitative measure of your development as socially responsible citizens who contribute meaningfully to the community. Exceptional academic results are unfortunately no longer sufficient to apply for certain courses and scholarships, as many applicants are able to achieve excellent grades today. Because of this, interviewers for competitive courses and scholarships seek to select holistic, well-rounded applicants who are competent beyond academics, such that you will be able to contribute meaningfully to their organisation in ways that one who solely specialises in academics cannot.
VIA hours also highlight your outstanding time management, being able to successfully juggle both studying and serving in an area you are passionate about, and demonstrates your interest in whatever you’re applying for, such that you are willing to go out of your way to make a contribution in tangible ways.
Results are King
While VIA is important, for better or for worse, results are undoubtedly king in Singapore. If you do not meet the cutoff point for the courses you are interested in indicated by the university’s IGP (Indicative Grade Profile), you are highly likely to be disregarded even if you have 500+ hours of VIA. Take competitive courses such as Medicine, Computer Science and Law as examples. All these courses require near-perfect scores, due to their rigourous nature, and as the competition is exceptionally fierce, and without the academic chops, you will be pushed aside. Needless to say, applicants with a higher UAS/RP (University Admission Score / Rank Point) will definitely have an edge over their competition. Even for those not aiming for highly in-demand courses, grades do still matter. Regardless of a stacked portfolio, grades are one of the prime ways in which universities separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.
For scholarships, the same idea applies. Especially for academic scholarships, grades are the major contributing factor to whether you manage to clinch that highly sought-after grant or award, whether it be for science, arts, or anything else under the sun. Even if you’re gunning for a community service-based scholarship, VIA should not be treated as a cure-it-all for your slipping grades, and if you’re hoping that you can go out and do some volunteering instead of studying, think again. As students in this path, grades are a priority, and having hundreds of VIA hours while you’re almost failing your subjects is a sign that you’re neglecting your studies.
How to make the most of VIA
So, we’ve spent so much time waxing lyrical about the significance (or lack thereof) of VIA, but what about those of you who are meeting the academic requirements and are doing VIA with a purpose, whether to set yourself apart from the rest, boost your portfolio or ideally, because you truly have a passion for volunteering?
First and foremost, quality over quantity. Now surely this is an oft-repeated phrase, but VIA hours bring more value to the table if you’ve been dedicated to it for a certain period, (e.g. planning an event, serving periodically, etc.) and not just a one-off stint. Not to say that bouncing from one VIA to another is a bad thing, as it still demonstrates your compassion and willingness to serve the community, but that VIA is most valuable when it enables you to value-add and make a significant, long-lasting contribution to the community you are giving back to. Community service can showcase the qualities you possess that your academics may not exemplify as well: leadership, communication skills, and a passion for serving. Therefore, it’s not integral to do a ton of VIA, but to do it in a way that makes you stand out from the rest of the applicants who may not have contributed to the community in the way that you did. A tip is to self-initiate relevant VIA projects and organise events, as being the founder or co-founder of a project may demonstrate intrinsic motivation for the subject in question.
Moreover, don’t limit yourself to seeking out only certain opportunities in your “field”. It is essential to find relevant opportunities across a few different fields that are not repetitive so that you can prove that the organisation should choose you, instead of any other applicant. For example, if you want to be a doctor, particularly a paediatrician, just job shadowing doctors or doing clinic attachments or helping at Medical Protection Singapore means that your portfolio is going to be extremely similar to several other Medicine applicants. Consider helping out at childcare centres or organising a charity event where the beneficiaries are children, which may not be as relevant to the medical industry, but will go a long way in highlighting your patience and experience with this certain demographic.
Finally, you can’t only rely on VIA to differentiate yourself. Research stints, competitions like Olympiads and other impressive extracurriculars can also fulfil an identical purpose. For a portfolio, the quantity of achievements is less important than their direct relevance to the course that you are applying for, and based on the course, you can check out the school intranet or the periodic Outlook emails that cluster your inbox for opportunities.
Participating in opportunities such as internships and competitions can have an additive effect on your ability to get other similar opportunities in future, especially when barriers of entry are higher (e.g. many people applying, opportunity requires you to submit a resume). This is because you would then have previous forms of similar experience to draw reference from in order to demonstrate that you are more credible than the other applicants. Essentially, one opportunity leads to another when it comes to portfolio building.
Lastly, do note that this advice is best suited for those of us who are aiming for what appear to be more competitive courses. At the end of the day, it is up to you to be discerning and decide whether a greater number of VIA hours is something that you truly want, need, and can fit on your plate. All the best in your volunteering journey!
Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset
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