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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Cheong

Is the Residential College Life for You?

Updated: Aug 25, 2022

Late-night dim sum suppers in the lounge with new friends. Deep, heart-to-heart conversations on the UTown Green. Fun games of Angel & Mortal, and night cycling trips that inevitably end with a teh cino at Al-Amaan (or ‘Ameens’, to its loyal patrons).

If these sound like the university life you have always dreamed of, you may be asking yourself: should I stay on campus?

Regularly stunning sunsets from the College of Alice & Peter Tan. (Credit: CAPT Sunsets)

Before I applied for university, I never imagined I’d want to stay on campus — I’m an introvert, so living around others all the time sounded absolutely draining. Two years on, in my last semester at the College of Alice and Peter Tan (CAPT), I’m happy to say that I was wrong.

Staying on campus allowed me to experience independence living apart from my parents, join a community of people going through the same life stage as myself, and find friends that will stick with me for life.

Besides the Halls of Residence, NUS also offers students the opportunity to stay at Residential Colleges around UTown. The Residential Colleges under the University Town College Programme (UTCP) include Residential College 4 (RC4), CAPT, and Tembusu College.

Unlike Halls, the UTCP only accepts incoming freshmen, and the deadline for applications this year is 12 April. So, if you’re wondering if the Residential College life is for you, look no further. Together with Shu Juan, a freshman majoring in Psychology, and Samantha, a Year 2 Social Work student, we’ll take a deep dive into the Residential College experience.

The RC Life is for you if…

1. You enjoy spending time with others!

Cooking and eating together in the lounge is a staple of College life. Far right: Samantha Kok (Credit: Elizabeth Cheong)

Disclaimer: you don’t have to be an extrovert to enjoy staying on campus. As an introvert, I definitely needed some time to get used to living around others 24/7. But living away from my parents in a communal space has taught me so much about how important community is, especially in the middle of a pandemic.

The majority of my lessons have been held over Zoom for the past two years, so being able to step out of my room and immediately be among my community has been invaluable. It’s the little things — having lunch together, movie nights in the lounge or games of bridge or mahjong until dawn — that I’ll remember, long after I’ve forgotten what I learned in GEA1000.

Mahjong games can take anywhere from two to six hours, depending on the week. Tip: keep it to before Week 3 or after finals. (Credit: Elizabeth Cheong)

Shu Juan recounts a similar reason for choosing to stay on campus. “For me, I joined because I wanted a richer student life experience. I haven’t really made a lot of friends in my faculty,” she shared. Her classes are all held online, and even when doing group projects, there was no need to meet up face-to-face.

“But in CAPT, I see my friends every day… It’s so much easier to talk on a personal level with them, and not just about what work we need to do.”

Each College functions under a House system – each resident is assigned a House community that they live with. Just after she had moved in, Samantha was grouped with fellow freshmen and seniors in her House as part of orientation activities. Together, they ate meals in groups of eight (according to the SMM rules at the time), tried out different interest groups, and went for grocery runs to purchase campus living necessities.

“It set the tone for the warm and welcoming culture I’d just joined, and helped me to get to know more people in my first week.” She added, “The House is a community. It gives people a sense of identity and belonging.”

2. You have a hobby, passion or interest~

A big part of College life is the extracurricular activities. Every College has its own Interest Groups, from sports and dance to music, cooking and baking. The best thing about these groups? They’re tailored to beginners — it’s the perfect platform to try a new sport, experiment with the performing arts or pick up useful skills like cooking. You’ll also get to meet people with similar interests!

Performing for CAPT’s Arts Showcase 2022 was one of the best experiences I’ve had. (Credit: ASC Publicity)

As an amateur musician, one of the best decisions I made in CAPT was joining Jam City, CAPT’s jam band interest group. It was my first time playing music with complete strangers, and I met very talented musicians in that band. Our weekly sessions were a chance to destress, mess around and try out different songs, jumping from genre to genre, and it was their mutual encouragement and guidance that made me a better musician.

Performing live with my band for the Arts Showcase was definitely a highlight of my time in CAPT, and not one easily found during the pandemic. Weeks of practising late into the night and developing blisters, calluses and sore throats culminated in us standing together onstage as a band, as the curtains pulled back to reveal a dark auditorium full of fellow CAPTains, many of whom were friends who had come to support us.

Residential Colleges are the perfect place to experiment with your interests or find a new hobby. So if you play a little piano, or you enjoy cooking up a storm at home, you’ll fit right in with the passionate people here.

3. You like to try new things!

Each of the Colleges have a different focus — CAPT focuses on Community Engagement, while RC4 emphasises Systems Thinking, and Tembusu prides itself on offering support for a diverse range of interests and specialties.

As a result, each College plans programs according to its focus. A unique feature of CAPT’s extracurriculars is its Active Community Engagement (ACE), where CAPTains can join committees that serve people with vision and hearing impairments, children on the autism spectrum, and many other disadvantaged communities.

Samantha shared that as a Social Work student, this was the main reason she applied to CAPT; the student-led initiatives offered a good source of exposure to different local communities.

Kindle+, an ACE committee engaging foster youths. (Credit: @captacewing on Instagram)

Samantha joined CAPTSpark, which partners with APSN Chaoyang School to engage primary-school children on the spectrum. Every week, she and her group hold engagement sessions with a class of students, teaching them important life skills like road safety and bus etiquette through interactive games.

“At first it was a bit stressful, because we can’t be there in person to handle the class, but in the later sessions, the children really responded to us and were happy to see us, and that was very rewarding,” she shares.

Shu Juan and friends work on a puzzle provided by CAPTSupport, CAPT's mental health support group, in the lounge. (Credit: Wong Shu Juan)

Opportunities for growth aren’t limited by theme, either. There are many different options for leadership and development, whether on a College-wide or a House-wide level. As one of the heads of the jam band interest group, I was able to form connections with the various bands under my care and learn more about band dynamics, as well as my own working style. Without the College, I wouldn’t have had the chance to pursue these opportunities.

4. You don’t mind studying…

Where Halls offer a stay contingent on your extracurricular activities, the UTCP provides for a fixed two-year stay, during which you will study a program of four modules that replace your General Education modules.

These modules again differ based on the College’s focus — many of CAPT’s modules are based around learning about and connecting with communities in Singapore. Since RC4 focuses on Systems Thinking, and its modules often take this perspective in addressing local and global issues. Tembusu offers a diverse range of modules, but many include a sociological slant in examining their topics.

Taken at Medway Park, after a field trip with friends for a UTCP module on mental health. (Credit: Elizabeth Cheong)

The UTCP is a good way to clear your General Education modules, as you’re more likely to secure modules with friends, and the class size is much smaller. I was fortunate enough to secure a module with friends from my House, which made the weekly seminar sessions much more enjoyable.

If you’re interested in specific GE modules or you’re unsure if you will enjoy the UTCP modules offered by the Colleges, you can check out the UTS- and UTC-coded modules on NUSmods to get a better idea of what you will be learning.

Rainbow after a storm over UTown, as seen from CAPT. (Credit: Elizabeth Cheong)


Is the RC life for you? Only you’ll be able to answer that question, after weighing the monetary and opportunity costs, the commitment required and your hopes for university life. Much of the experience is what you make of it: it’s your attitude, enthusiasm and willingness to try new things that will make all the difference. However, I can say it was one of the best decisions I have made for myself in university, and I hope you’ll give it a try.

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