NUS Residential College life (Tembusu College) – Ask Me Anything

Please understand that this post was written in 2014 and may not be relevant / up to date with current information and trends at the point you are reading.

NUS Residential College life (Tembusu College) – Ask Me Anything

Chances are, you stumbled upon my blog searching for more information on NUS residential college life. I think the concept started when I just graduated from NUS so most unfortunately, I wasn’t part of the cool crowd.

NUS UTown does provide a comprehensive FAQ section that answers most questions already. If you’re keen on residential college life, you definitely should read that first. I got my friend Jacob Tham, to help out for this particular entry. He stayed in Tembusu during his second and third year. So, his experience would have been somewhat different from a freshman but still, it’s a good place to start.

If you have any questions, drop a comment below and I’ll get Jacob to reply. But guys, he is a busy man working in a bank so please give him some time too.

We’re reaching almost the last of NUS series – We’ll be back on regular schedule soon!

1. Why did you choose residential college (RC) instead of hostel/residence?

There were a few primary reasons:

1) Brand new facilities
2) Exclusive modules that were only offered to RC students.
3) RCs differ themselves from Halls by placing some emphasis on a student’s educational upbringing.

2. I don’t know if I should choose College of Alice and Peter Tan (CAPT) or Tembusu leh. Help!

To my understanding, the core of each college is set by the respective Rectors. Tembusu was set to cultivate all-rounded international citizens of the future. CAPT on the other hand focuses on community awareness.

These differences are however superficial as activities organized by one college is usually open to students of the other. This does not include Cinnamon as USP activities are 9 out of 10 times solely for their own students.

Aesthetically CAPT is slightly nicer. The toilets/corridors/lounges are larger. Tembusu is however slightly windier because of the more open concept which it has. There are videos of top floor residents filming the extreme wind conditions they were experiencing on the 21st floor!

3. How long were you at Tembusu? How was your college experience?

I was a senior when I first enrolled so I was only entitled to a year’s stay in Tembusu. I was however lucky enough to be given an additional year there. My college experience was great. I made a ton of friends and managed to pick up Ultimate Frisbee there as well.

I also liked the fact that Tembusu modules were held in our own classrooms. That meant waking up 10 minutes before class! 🙂

4. Hmm, I don’t know if I should go for a suite or single room.

Suites are 6 single rooms that share a toilet within a small apartment. They have a small communal area which comes with couches and a table. I have seen instances of suite mates becoming extremely close and came together to personalize their suites with televisions and all sorts of other things. There are also suites that remain ghost towns and suite mates that never really get to know one another.

There are really no notable differences in staying in a suite or corridor because most floor residents tend to be close. Corridor people (single rooms) usually join in a suite’s fun and hang about in the various suites.

5. Singapore is so [insert swear word] hot. Should I opt for an air-conditioning room?

I spent my two years in a non-ac room and I can say that the fan is more than sufficient. If you open your door, the room becomes extremely windy and can get really cold.

Then again I was brought up not sleeping in non-ac rooms so this may differ for different individuals.

6. OMG the meal plans are so expensive! Why?

Yes, we have extremely pricey meal plans relative to students living in Halls. This is justified by the type of food that is being served in our dining hall. Each meal (breakfast and dinner) gives students 5 options to choose from (Noodles, Chinese, Western, Indian (with Vegetarian option), Muslim). Students are free to consume from any stall. Also, we have free flow rice/drinks/salads/bread/fruits. Servings are very generous but the menu can be repetitive. We also get festive meals during Christmas, Chinese New Year etc…

Meal credits usage can also be delayed or used in advance. For example, if I missed dinner today, I can have 2 servings tomorrow. Or if you are feeling hungry today, you can use tomorrow’s meal credits for today’s consumption as well. There are many instances where I have missed a meal or two and I invited some friends from out of the college to take their meals in Tembusu using my credits.

7. How are the University Town Residential Programme (UTRP) modules different from a regular NUS module? In your opinion, do you feel that it’s harder to do well in the UTRP as compared to a regular NUS module?

There are 2 types of modules offered in RC : Ideas and Exposition modules (They typically begin with the IEM code) and General Exposure Modules (GEM coded).

IEM modules are writing modules which are the same ones as the ones offered at CELC. The GEM modules that I would say are unique to RC. Having taken GEMs from regular NUS faculties and RC, the primary difference would be the class size and style. The typical GEMs are lecture style and the topics are usually somewhat related to something that is being taught on campus. (Math, Life Science etc…). RC GEMs are conducted seminar style (think SMU) and students are required to actively participate in class. The topics are also very very unorthodox and are usually offered for a couple of semesters before a new one is introduced. For more information on modules: Tembusu Education

8. Do you get to count these modules as academic credits?

Yes, these modules are calculated towards your graduation requirements. Freshmen are required to do 2 Junior Seminars (JS), 2 IEMS and 1 Senior Seminar (SS). That is a total of 5 modules which can be calculated towards your ULRs.

Of which (if I remember correctly), the 2 JS and 1 SS are S/U modules which do not use your 3 S/U options. The Senior Seminar counts toward your Singapore Studies ULR and the 2 Junior Seminars count towards the 2 GEM ULR.

9.YAY! Freshmen are enrolled into an automatic two year programme. I don’t have to worry about my second year stay. Wait – does that mean I don’t have to do any activities at all since I don’t have to “earn” my second year stay?

Technically speaking, yes. But the place is so diverse and intriguing, you will be doing something. There is also strong support for individuals who want to start an interest group of their own.

10. Since I have to stay for two years, does it mean I can only do my Exchange/Internship in year 3 onwards?

Tembusu college puts your stay on hold and you can return to the college after you return from exchange.

11. Freshmen are enrolled directly for two years, do people usually stay for the third year? Is it hard to gain entry into the third year? How are third years being considered?

I’m not sure what the criterion is exactly but I think it boils down to your contribution to the college. Typically, the more active people are given a third year stay.
12. Sum up your college experience in three words

Don’t waste it.


  1. Frederick

    May 12, 2015 at 10:09 am

    Hi there! This has been very helpful for me as I am possibly starting my undergrad in NUS this year.
    I have one question:
    Does Tembusu have exposure camps, similiar to the ones that halls have? Have you been a part of it?

    1. meowsyy

      May 12, 2015 at 4:40 pm

      Hi Frederick, I don’t think Residential Colleges have exposure camps. They have quite a stringent admission system due to the academic component so they’re not as focused on how good your extra-curriculars are. I mentioned that U-Town started after my graduation, so no, I wasn’t part of any Tembusu College experience.

  2. hazelime

    May 22, 2015 at 8:37 am

    Hi! I am starting my undergrads in Aug this year in NUS and it seems NUS hostel life is so fun! I was wondering if I do not stay at NUS and I travel back and fro from Tamp all the way to NUS, would it be an advisable choice? ><

    1. meowsyy

      May 22, 2015 at 9:36 am

      Hi Hazelime, thanks for dropping by! I think it boils down to your preferences and also, finances. It was a no-brainer for me. I stay in Changi (near the Expo) and the two-hour journey (bus-train-bus) each way frustrates me. The morning crowd at Clementi is very intense plus I have very long days due to dance rehearsals. Staying on campus is not that cheap so do plan your finances well. That said, I do have friends who stay at Pasir Ris and Tampines who commute daily. They have a lot of discipline and determination because it’s very easy to skip classes when your mind thinks about the long tiresome commute.

  3. MR

    June 27, 2015 at 4:04 am

    Hi I’d like to ask what are your chances of being admitted after being waitlisted? Do you know if there are many such residents at Tembusu?

    1. meowsyy

      June 27, 2015 at 10:28 pm

      Hey there – sorry, ain’t much of a help here because I don’t know of any such residents. I’d say don’t bank on it though because you don’t have any inkling how long is the wait list and how far down you are in the wait list.

  4. Anonymous

    October 16, 2015 at 10:51 am

    hi! did you enrol in tembusu only in year 3? what are the requirements for a current undergraduate?

    1. meowsyy

      October 16, 2015 at 7:31 pm

      Hi there, I think Jacob was Year Two (or Three) when he got into Tembusu but that was because they were accepting seniors when Tembusu had just started. The admissions criteria now for current undergrads would probably have changed. Best to email/call Tembusu to check if you can’t find your answer online.

  5. Liting

    July 17, 2017 at 8:22 pm

    Hi, for people staying in a suite/suit, do they have to clean the shared area and toilet?

    1. meowsyy

      July 17, 2017 at 8:23 pm

      I believe the common areas are cleaned by the staff

  6. Anonymus

    June 19, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    Hello! Do you think Tembusu is more suitable for students from FASS instead of science students? Like are the modules there more humanities based?

    1. meowsyy

      June 19, 2018 at 7:41 pm

      I’m pretty sure there is a good mix of student demographic in Tembusu College – it was set up for that purpose. I had a brief look at the seminars offered, they seem to lean towards critical thinking skills which all students need to acquire whether you are a humanities nor science student.

  7. Beatrice

    June 7, 2019 at 10:26 pm

    Hi! I am a freshmen entering Uni this year and I am currently on the wait list for CAPT..they emailed me saying if I want I can opt out of the wait list to be in common pool so I’m rly at a loss of what to do..

    1. meowsyy

      August 19, 2019 at 11:12 am

      Hi Beatrice, sorry for the late reply, I haven’t been getting notifications for some weird reason. Hope that you managed to get your NUS accommodation sorted and enjoy your campus stay!

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