• Vivian Moh

What I wished I had known before Exchange

As someone who fumbled her way through a semester-long local Student Exchange Programme (SEP) to Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and miraculously survived, there were so many things I wished I had known prior to my experience. Here are some tips and lessons I have gleaned from my harrowing experience so that you, dear reader and fellow CNM friend, can breeeze through the labyrinth of application, module mapping, administration details, and considerations to make the most out of your SEP journey (if you decide to embark on it!)

Source: Unsplash (@MattRagland)

Disclaimer: Please note that this is a personal reflection based on my SEP experience for the AY20/21 Sem 2. There are official NUS links and guides available that may be more informative, relevant, and accurate to the specific semester(s) you may be going on SEP for, so please always check through the official channels or email studyabroadfass@nus.edu.sg on anything you’re unclear about.

Considering SEP?

Decisions, decisions, and more decisions. *sigh* Indeed, there are so many aspects to consider whether SEP is the right choice for you.

Personally, there wasn’t much hesitation to go on SEP since I was certain I wanted a new environment to learn in, to meet different people, and gain fresher perspectives. Moreover, since the modules read on SEP will be based on the S/U grading system (i.e. not counted towards your Cumulative Average Point a.k.a CAP), it really encouraged me to go beyond my comfort zones and read modules without the stress of grades. And I was certainly not disappointed by the eye-opening experience.

Yet, however rosy things may seem, there were crucial considerations (and hard truths) that guided my decision:

Module Planning: Even though I wouldn’t say module mapping is very difficult, you are after all trying to match another university’s modules to NUS’ so there’s always the possibility of not being able to map back certain modules. This means you won't be awarded the Module Credits (MCs) for the modules you read in the Partner University (PU), which may affect your year of graduation and possibly incur additional school fees for the extra semesters you take to complete your degree.

For CNM students, this would be of greater concern since we have NM3550Y (Compulsory Internship Programme) which means we may have chosen not to take the full 20 MCs workload during our CIP semester and will need to overload to make up for it. Unfortunately, I found myself in this predicament☹️ but since we can map back 10 MCs of Level 4000 NM modules and overload on SEP, my overall module planning wasn’t disrupted much.

Tip: Plan enough Unrestricted Electives (UEs) to read while on SEP to allow for more freedom in mapping back modules, just in case you can't map back your core modules!

Local or Overseas: Welllll, for (sad) cohorts like mine, we pretty much weren’t given a choice since overseas SEP was cancelled *wails in sadness*. But if you’re reading this in the future when there’s a new norm and overseas travels resume, then good for you!!

Do consider many things, including (but not limited to): the country, university, finances, residential area, culture, language, food, and many more. Overseas SEP may seem daunting, but if you really want that overseas student experience and to soak in the different and unique cultures, it’ll really worth your while!


As for local SEP, we can choose from Singapore Management University, Nanyang Technological University (NTU), and Singapore University of Technology and Design. The most relevant university for CNM majors would be NTU because of their communications school. It'll also be easier to map their modules back to NM modules!

  • Partial or Full Exchange: If you're already considering local exchange, the question comes naturally: partial or full exchange? Partial exchange means reading at least one module in the PU and the rest in NUS, while full exchange means a full workload in the PU. Both would require students to complete a minimum of 20 MCs workload. Modules that are read in NUS will be counted towards CAP while those in the PU would not.

Tip: If you’re on partial exchange, do ensure that you have enough time to travel from one campus to the other (if you have physical classes) and that your timetables do not clash!

Year of study and semester: Since CNM students usually complete CIP in Y3S1/S2, keep that in mind before considering the prime time for exchange. Previously, when overseas SEP was available, we were advised to go on overseas SEP after our CIP is completed because companies may prefer face-to-face job interviews, and it might be more troublesome if you're not physically in Singapore. However, with the new normal and most work processes online, it may not be that much of an issue anymore!

Instead, you might want to prioritise your module planning so that you don’t have to worry about not being to map back your modules, graduating late, or even paying more school fees for the additional semesters. D;

Applying for SEP?

Now that you’re still reading on, I guess you’ve (sort of) made your decision on whether to go, which types, and when to go on SEP. Let’s delve deeper into the application process! Reflecting on my experience, I narrowed down some advice I wished I had known so I'll be less anxious and more prepared:’)

Prepare your application early: keep your eyes peeled for emails from the SEP department (FASS-SEP) as they'll likely have a briefing to explain how SEP works (around weeks 2-3) and another email to inform when the application rounds open (around weeks 3-6, with separate rounds for local and overseas SEPs).

And once you receive the email, please start planning for it and not wait till the last minute to rush it. This is especially since the window for applications usually ends midsemester, which means you’ll likely be busy with midterms, assignments, and catching up on sleep with barely any excess time dedicated to researching for SEP.

If you happen to be procrastinating right now, please first, finish reading this article :p then really spend some time thinking, researching, planning the possible PUs and modules you may be interested in, and start applying! The SEP department has a lot of applications to consider, so don't be that annoying person to pester them with late applications ._.


Module Mapping: Just like how modules in NUS change every Academic Year, the modules in the PU may also change due to differing circumstances. Even though it’s quite a bummer, it’s inevitable that some of the modules you initially planned to read in the PU may not be available during the semester you go on SEP for.

As such, the overseas SEP study plan you submit during application (which includes the five PUs and the modules of your choice) is just an estimation of what you will read in the actual semester and to ensure you have sufficient modules relevant to your studies to fulfil the minimum workload.

The moral of the story? Cast your net wide, plan different possibilities and combinations of module mapping so you don’t have to limit yourself to a very narrow number of modules (which may not even be available to you!).

Think about what you wish to get out of your experience: Perhaps you’re looking to clear certain core modules, reading modules that the PU has but NUS doesn’t offer, or trying out areas of study that you're new to? Regardless what it is, your ultimate aim for SEP will guide you on the modules you should prioritise and plan for!

After you've applied, hold your horses and try to be patient regarding the release of the application results. There will be different rounds of acceptance/rejections based on the demand and vacancies for PU(s) you applied for. Even if you're rejected from the first round, don't lose hope so soon as you may be given another round to apply for the PUs that still have vacancies!


Registering for modules on SEP?

Just a little heads up on this portion because it’s based on my experience in AY20/21 Semester 2 and things may have changed over time.

MC Ratio: This is super important because it’ll give you an idea of how many modules you need to read in your PU in order to transfer sufficient credits back to NUS, so do refer to this list for the MC Ratio of the various overseas and local PUs!

MC ratio for local PUs

As always, if you’re unsure/have doubts on anything, always email the SEP department for double confirmation so you’re not just module-planning/mapping blindly and risk not being able to transfer sufficient module credits!

please skip ahead if you're not on SEP to NTU

Regarding NTU module registration, we were asked to send in a list of modules we wish to read in NTU for approval around two months prior to the start of the semester. And in case you've missed out on the multiple warnings in the emails NTU sends to remind you of this, "approved" modules are not necessarily "registered".

This depends on whether (1) the module is available during the semester you’re on exchange for, (2) the module is open to exchangers to take, (3) there are vacancies available, and (4) whether the module clashes with anything else on your timetable (and since they don’t have NUSmods, you can’t plan your timetable before applying :( ). As such, you'll only know whether you're actually registered for the modules around one to two weeks before the semester starts.

So, a very important lesson I’ve learnt – always try to plan for the unexpected: be a bit more kiasu and apply for more backup modules just in case.

But what if I really don’t get any modules after this period??

This is quite unlikely but it’s not entirely impossible. 😖 Sadly, it was also one of my main concerns while fighting registering for modules.

In a similar system as NUS, there’ll be a grace period of THREE weeks of Add/Drop period when the semester starts, in which you can finally view your timetable and the demand and vacancies available for the modules.

If your timetable ends up very chaotic, or if you don’t manage to register for sufficient modules for a suitable workload based on your module planning, this is a good time to strategise and go for the less popular modules which may have been your second/third/fourth choice.

At this desperate point in time, you'll really thank your past self for that intense planning and researching for potential modules that are not only interesting to read, but also possible to map over easily.

Although this might sound a bit nerve-wracking, don’t worry too much about it because it's likely that you'll get sufficient modules (just maybe not the ones you're super interested in). I was only registered for three modules at the start of the semester, but I managed to get all the modules I wanted and a nice three-day workweek by the end of Add/Drop period!

A back-back-backup plan would be to email the SEP department who'll hopefully help to change your exchange status from "Full" to "Partial" (during the Modreg period) so you can still register for NUS modules in case you don't get enough NTU modules to fulfil the minimum workload *fingers crossed* However, this may vary on a case-by-case basis and there could be differences in the semester you're going exchange for!

Please continue reading from here!

What about module mapping to NUS?

Unfortunately, it’s not the end once your modules are successfully approved and registered in the PU. You still need to map it back on Edurec so that NUS can effectively transfer the MCs at the end of your SEP.

For NM modules, it is generally pretty difficult to map a PU module to a specific NM module in NUS. Instead, we usually work with dummy codes (NM17XX, NM27XX, NM37XX, NM47XX) which are placement codes when the PU module has no similar NUS module to map to, but is related to a specific discipline (like CNM).

Take note not to spam multiple mapping requests for a single module! Just map your PU module to what appears to be the most suitable NUS module code because the exchange coordinators will advise you accordingly if otherwise.

If you're currently stressing out already, don't worryyyyyyy yet! Just attend the SEP briefing and look through the slides they send, it should be clear enough!


(this gif was legit me during the mod mapping process, but I survived and so can you!!!)

Before the start of the semester, around the same time as when I apply for PU modules, I started my module mapping worksheet on Edurec. While the preference to start your module mapping worksheet differs from person to person, I timed it so that I'll have an idea of which PU modules are credit-transferrable back to NUS and whether I should register for more modules or drop those that were not approved.

Sometimes, NUS might request for information about the PU module to decide whether it’s a possible credit-bearing module. Try to search it up on Edurec to see whether it's been mapped before, do some googling, ask your seniors, or email the PU's exchange coordinators for the outlines of the modules you’re planning to read. It’ll ease the process a lot!

Around the middle of the semester, we'll need to indicate on Edurec the actual modules we ended up reading in the PU. So while you're enjoying the semester in the PU, do check your NUS inbox regularly so you won't miss it!

After the semester ends, remember to submit the credit transfer form together with your unofficial transcript for verification and smoooooth-like-butter credit transfer. Take note to do so as soon as your unofficial transcript is available because the SEP department needs time to process and it may affect your Modreg for the following semester if it’s delayed.

Okay, content-heavy decision-making stuff aside, here’s an advice to everyone on their SEP journey: Make friends from your PU!!!

This is super important to breeeeze through SEP and have a fun-filled experience. Moreover, since your modules may be seminar/project-based (mine certainly were), having friends in a foreign and new study environment definitely helps a lot. :) And never, ever underestimate the tips and tricks only the PU's students will know... such as the power of shortcuts across the campus, juicy gossips on the lecturers, or the exclusive info like which canteen has the best food, yum!

It's the iconic THE HIVE at NTU

Most importantly, what’s an exchange without making friends and soaking in a different culture and vibrant student life? Without the stress of grades, dive into learning beyond your comfort zones and challenge yourself to greater heights, that’s the charm of the exchanger life~ Take heart, don’t be afraid to be touristy, and have loads of fun 😊 I’m so excited for you already!!

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