How I Ended Up In University College London (Part 2)

Back to my A-level days, I was struggling so hard with my A-levels had totally forgotten about my SATs. My low confidence I had in doing math totally made me feel like I wasn’t good enough to get into Harvard anyway.. why bother applying?

So when it came to applying for universities in the UK, I looked at universities that were good at economics and then I applied in the following order of my preference.

1) Oxford (obviously)

2) London School of Economics

3) University College London

4) University of Warwick

5) Durham University.

To be honest I was only looking at the first two because my parents had never heard of UCL, Warwick and Durham. So if I had failed to get into Oxford or London School of Economics I would probably have ended up in Australia. My parents were thinking of sending me to Sydney. University of New South Wales. My cousins went there and they have a really high regard for the university.

I filled in the UCAS form which is really one form that you can use to apply to 5 different universities and I submitted and waited. After a month or so I finally got my first offer. It was from Durham University that promised to offer me a spot in their university if I got ABB for my A-level results. That means a minimum of 1A and 2Bs. I thought it was quite achievable but it didn’t matter. I didn’t think my parents would let me go anyway.

Then came Warwick that offered me a spot for 2As and 1B. A higher standard but it didn’t matter again.

And then it happened. I had my first rejection letter from Oxford. Right after that… a rejection letter from the London School of Economics. The LSE one hit me the hardest. It hit me the hardest for two reasons:

1) It put the nail in the coffin for any remote chance of me studying in the UK since I had already gotten rejected by Oxford… the one other university that my parents recognize. Well they recognize Imperial College too but I wasn’t up for doing engineering.

2) The other reason why being rejected by LSE hurt because not one of my friends who applied there got rejected. Almost everyone who applied to LSE had gotten it. Some even turned it down for other universities… and I had failed to get it.

I started looking at Australian universities and more or less accepted that I would be studying there. Australia has a good education system and I had loads of friends going there too so I don’t know why I wanted to go to the UK so badly.

I had totally forgotten about UCL. until one day out of a big surprise my parents were talking to some of their friends about universities in the UK and UCL came up. They left that conversation thinking that UCL is actually a really good university and if I had gotten in they would let me go to the UK. Plus for the past two years UCL had ranked top in the UK for Economics and that was what I applied for. My hopes of going to the UK was renewed. So I waited for my offer letter to come and one day it finally did.

UCL offered me a position to study Economics at their university. Their offer though was AAA. 3 As. Given that I only took 3 subjects in A-Levels that meant I had to get straight As. Slightly more challenging but I had good hope. If I got in, my parents had agreed to send me to UCL.

So I studied hard and exam time came. I was only worried about Mathematics but after all the studying and practice I had done, I felt confident. The paper came and went and I felt confident I would get an A for it.

My next two papers were easy. Economics and Accounting. Both subjects that I’m good at. I aced the Economics paper… but something happened in my Accounting paper. I had done everything comfortably and was spending the last 10 minutes or so of my paper checking my answers over and over again. Then came the last 3 minutes and it was then that it hit me. I hadn’t turned to see a couple of last questions at the back of the paper. Panicked I hurriedly scribbled down answers of them as fast as I could… with whatever seconds I had left. In what felt like a flash… time was up… and I had my incompleted paper sitting right in front of me.

A few months later my A-levels results came back. I had gotten an A for both my Mathematics and Economics… but a B for my Accounting. One A short of qualifying for UCL. I felt angry at myself but I decided that hey… let me try one more thing. I called up UCL all the way from my home in Penang…. I told them about my situation and I appealed for them to still take me.

They promised to look into my case and at my personal statements… and they asked me which subjects I had gotten A for. I gave them everything they needed and hung up. There was nothing to do then but wait.

A couple of weeks later I got a letter from them saying that my appeal had gone through. They accepted me. I was so happy I ran to tell my parents and we immediately started making plans to go to London.

A few months later I was sitting in for my first lecture. Unlike LSE, UCL isn’t really popular with Malaysians. So there were only 4-6 Malaysians in my entire year. All of them… had gotten straight As to get in. They were surprised when I told them my story of how I appealed.

It took me only the first year to realize that while I liked studying Economics in A-levels, I hated it in university. At university, the Economics we did was very very mathematical. I spent years writing pages and pages of formula and all sorts of equations that I never use again today. I hated it… and my worried parents told me I could come home or burn a year and choose another university or course. But I said no… I promised them that I would finish what I started. I graduated 3 years later.

The 3 years I had in UCL were great fun.

I loved it… though the only thing I regret is that I didn’t skip enough classes to fully enjoy my student life there. Still… UCL was awesome and I’m glad it’s now made it to the 4th best university in the world.

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  • Swissmokka

    Hi Timothy! nYour blog post really drew my interest because I’m currently sitting for my cambridge A2 examinations. I’m taking the same subjects as you with the addition of english literature and I fell in love with economics during my course too. I’m planning to take economics and business management for uni. If you don’t mind me asking what was the title of ur econs major? Because someone told me before Economics and Finance is really grueling, full of math and technicality. But then again econs really is about analysis and figures…n

  • Lee Jia Qi

    Hi Timothy! I am an avid reader of your blog. I love reading about your funny life with Shorty, your lovely son Fighter, your cycling stories, and also your inspirational stories. nnBeing an A-Levels student who is currently sitting for A2, reading your blogpost about how much effort you put in for Maths really motivated me. Whenever I am at the verge of giving up, I’d ask myself, “If Tim can do it, why can’t I?”. You are the prime example of “hard work pays off”.nnThank you, Timothy, for always inspiring us. I really look up to you and Shorty ! Keep up the good work!

  • Timothy Tiah

    Hey. My major was BSc in economics. It was very very very very very mathematical. I don’t know if this is unique to UCL though. Ucl at the time (not sure about now) was the top university for economics and for research in economics. So maybe that’s why it was so mathematical. nnwhen I say mathematical I don’t mean dealing with numbers and just counting them. I mean having to memorize long mathematical formulas. If you hate maths like I do you’ll hate BSc in economics I think.

  • James

    Dear Tim, nTruly inspirational story! I know how going to university is more about the life experience and gaining vast array of knowledge, whether it be through making mistakes or going through hardship. I was just wondering to what extend your degree/major play a role in your entrepreneurship? If given another chance, would you have picked another degree in a similar field with your career?

  • mod

    That’s lovely. My bro is entering ucl this year. Do you have any advice for foreigners going to UK to study?

  • Swissmokka

    Or could it be the electives that you took?nnUghh. I have a roller coaster relationship with math really. Sometimes I love it sometimes I don’t. Either way I don’t think I have any alternatives for economics really, it’s the way of life for me now ๐Ÿ™‚ truly the subject opened my eyes to so many things (such as the consequences of GST haha). I can’t imagine myself studying anything else.

  • Anonymous

    I took econs in uni too and didn’t really like it as well. Got to say is totally irrelevant to what I am doing now haha

  • Anonymous

    There’s nothing to be proud of. You were there simply because your parents could afford and your results are not that bad. 2As 1B for A lvl is nothing. How many people who are way more competent than you ended studying in the local university? How many people have to take up loan and grant just to study at Singapore? And spend the next 3-5 years or more of their life after graduation to repay the loan? While you have all the resources you want and pursue the so called “dream”. Really, you might have more experience in life than me, but think about it. I am neither the group people I mentioned above.

  • Anon

    Hello Timothy ๐Ÿ™‚ do you mind if I ask why you choose to study Economics over Accounting? I took accounting for my spm and I love it, but I took Science subjects for my A Levels. Now I am accepted into Nanyang Technological University in Singapore for Accountancy. Anyway, nobody encourages me to go for it as they say I should study Pharmacy or Medicine or bla bla bla because my result is good. Do you have any idea on this?

  • Anonymous

    this post makes me regret how much i did not study hard enough in school. but there’s no diff even if i can do well because my parents can’t afford to send me to a uni

  • Anonymous

    I can understand the slightly ‘negative’ comment by certain people regarding your achievement, Tim. I am one of the group people who opt for local university because of financial constraint and work my way up to my doctoral degree through scholarship in Australia. But I couldn’t agree with him, as some ‘high rank’ universities requires both academic achievement and financial ability. -Nic, Greetings from Sweden-

  • Anonymous

    My apology, the ‘him’ i refer to is the Anonymous reader… I always wonder, if everyone can be more tactful, and see the more positive side of people, how great the world we are living in…- Nic-

  • Unknown

    Hi tim! Don’t let the hater the hater get to you. After all at the end of the day it’s the way you work and the man you are. How good of a husband , father , friend and worker you are is what matters not the university you went into or how lucky you are. As far as I can gather you’re a great guy and no matter how you ended up where you are today is all based on your hard work and attitude not how lucky you are! ๐Ÿ™‚ have a nice day.

  • Michele

    To Anonymous,nnSo let me get this straight. Are you’re saying that Timothy shouldn’t be proud of his achievements, which allowed him to go to University College London? nnAre you also saying that Timothy shouldn’t utilize all the resources he had at his fingertips, which yes, include his family’s financial capabilities to send him to the UK? nnWe can’t help the circumstances we’re born into, and it’ll be idiotic for us to not take advantage of the resources that are available to us. You can choose to feel bitter that other people have it better and spread that bitterness around, or choose to empower yourself with the resources that you do have available. nnYour negative commentary on Timothy’s blog is pretty much akin to you blaming your parents for not being rich enough to send you to university, by the way.

  • Dex&HL

    Sigh such a bitter person. Timothy has always been nothing but humble and a very sincere guy, so I really don’t understand the hate from this anonymous guy LOL. nnTim I respect you!

  • Dex&HL

    Sigh such a bitter person. Timothy has always been nothing but humble and a very sincere guy, so I really don’t understand the hate from this anonymous guy LOL. nnTim I respect you!

  • Timothy Tiah

    Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Leanne Tran

    Very inspiring for a college student like me!nI really look up to you, Timothy, because you prove that hard work pays off. I look forward to giving my next three years my best so I can be proud of myself in the end. And if things don’t go my way, I won’t give up and will try to find a way to fix it!

  • Jenny

    Hi, I wanted to share my personal opinion on why you were possibly rejected by lse. I was accepted and these were my subject combination for a levels – physics, chemistry, mathematics and economics. I applied for an econs related course as well, but my offer was AAA for physics, chemistry and mathematics and they disregarded my economics paper (for an economics related course?). Somehow I think lse prefers science. And accounting is considered a non-traditional subject. Econs is but they still did not accept my econs. That is probably why you were rejected by lse. Did your friends who apply mostly took sciences?nnHeh. I rejected lse as well. >.<