“Uncle” Bryan: Entering university at 28

Hello, my name is Bryan. I am a Year 2 Business student in the National University of Singapore.

You must be wondering why I ended up in university seven years later than my peers. 

Well, when I received my grade slip in my last year of polytechnic, I found myself at a crossroads in life.

My results are not good enough to land me a spot in a local university. I can’t afford to study overseas, either.

My other option was to work. But I felt lost not knowing what career to pursue.

Bryan in uniform with his grandmother.

As I dutifully served the nation like everyone else in Basic Military Training (BMT), a golden opportunity came – I was offered a contract for one of the elite squads in the Naval Diving Unit.

At that time, I felt that a door had opened in my life.

With the encouragement of others, I stepped into what would be the next seven years of serving in the military.

Though it was a meaningful time spent as a naval diver, I knew deep down that university was still on my mind.

As such, towards the tail end of my contract, I felt that it was time to go back to my education.

God helped me to see my age and unique experiences as a blessing. Being in the working world changed the things I valued.

My enriching work experience turned out to be something the university took into consideration under my application as a mature candidate.

I was also required to retake the Standard Assessment Tests (SATs), which I studied hard for.

By God’s grace, I landed a spot in the university of my dreams.

Finally in university, I started to have concerns.

I feared not being able to keep up with the academic rigour. I also wondered if I would be able to blend in with my peers who were much younger.

As I stay on the opposite end of the island, I applied for campus stay in a residential college. This brought to mind more worries.

Do I have to stay up till ungodly hours? Are co-curricular activities (CCAs) demanding and stressful?

Thankfully, my stay in College of Alice and Peter Tan (CAPT) did not require me to burn the midnight oil or join 1000 CCAs.

Bryan with his university friends.

However, there was definitely a period of adjustment. Everyone around me was very driven and energetic, which took time for me to get accustomed to.

I also found that my age and life experiences made me rough around the edges – I tended to be more direct with my words, which came across harsh and offended some of my friends.

I’m thankful that they are forgiving even as I learn to be more sensitive and empathetic.

In time, however, God helped me to see my age and unique experiences as a blessing. Being in the working world changed the things I valued.

I am able to impart these lessons God has taught me to my younger peers.

The failures I experienced in the diving unit guided me to place less focus on results. This was echoed in the way I approached my studies.

Because I hold my grades loosely, I am able to invest time into building relationships instead of constantly panicking about my academics.

Bryan with his CAPT neighbours.

Reflecting on my time here thus far, I would say that it is important to be open and to put yourself out there.

Being a part of two Christian communities (Regenerate and CAPT’s prayer group) also makes me feel supported and loved. Our love for God unites us and transcends the boundaries of age.

Every time I walk past an NUS sign, I am reminded of how blessed I am to be here. My path might look different, but God makes no mistakes. 

Bryan continues to submit to God as He charts his path. His unique life experiences landed him a joint degree programme with Peking University. After two years in NUS, he will be flying over to complete his degree in China.

Esther: The gap year I was forced to take

Hello, I am Esther, and I am currently in the middle of my gap year while waiting for my university application results for the second time. 

I wish I could say that I took a gap year because I wanted to, but the truth is I didn’t really have a choice.

After graduating from polytechnic last year in May with a diploma in mass communication, I was rejected by the local universities I applied for.

I also did not have the financial means to go abroad. 

At that point, I remember being overwhelmed with disappointment.

Most people around me looked like they had a plan. My male friends enlisted into the army, while the majority of my female classmates managed to land a place in a university.

My friends who had chosen to go into Junior College were already one year ahead.

Negative thoughts constantly filled my mind. What if I went to Junior College instead? Did I work hard enough? 

In my loneliness, I also caught myself feeling envious of my friends who had the option to pursue their studies overseas.

I couldn’t help but feel that I was left with no choice since paying the hefty fees for universities abroad was not something my parents were comfortable doing.

Esther and a friend at their polytechnic graduation.

My next step was to consider private universities. I settled on Singapore Institute of Management (SIM)’s University of Buffalo (UB) programme. 

Since I missed their fall intake, my idea was to enrol for their spring intake in January this year. I would be half a semester behind my peers, but at least I would finally be on track for a degree.

I felt that I should join UB first, then maybe consider transferring out to a local university if my grades allowed for it.

As my parents were unfamiliar with the application process, they left me to do most of the applications independently.

Eventually, UB got back to say that they had accepted me. Finally, my life seemed to be looking up!

But it was also at this time that my parents realised that UB’s fees were exorbitant.

They did not want to pay the high fees and asked me why I did not tell them about the cost earlier, even though I distinctly remember myself doing so before I applied.

I was back at square one: University-less, and feeling lost. 

During her gap year internship, Esther had the opportunity to work with Mediacorp celebrities.

During this whole season, I remember feeling upset with God.

I had to take time to process my emotions and talk to Him about my confusion and disappointment.

He didn’t give me an answer, but I knew that He was taking me on a journey of growth to let go of the things I thought I needed.

In this year of waiting, I took up an internship at a journalism firm and had the opportunity to join a volunteer planning committee.

I got to meet people and understand how the media industry works.

As I made mistakes and learnt new things, I grew to become more independent.

I can choose to focus on what I can do with my strengths instead of beating myself up for my failures.

God also showed me that I am not defined by my academic successes.

During this gap year, having more time for my friends also brought me joy.

I realised that He made me a sociable person and I can choose to focus on what I can do with my strengths instead of beating myself up for my failures.

Esther smiling over what appears to be western food.

I have reapplied for local universities and am currently waiting for the results again. 

Even though this past year was long and lonely, God opened my eyes to see that rejection was really just His redirection to other things for my life that will only be revealed over time.

God will show you where to go. If you continue to seek Him and pray, He will reveal to you how He wants to use your life!

Esther’s season of waiting has not ended. But this time, she is comforted that regardless of her application results, God is in control. 

Stephanie: Tracing God’s hand in switching from Medicine to Psychology

My name is Stephanie. I am a Year 1 Psychology major in NUS, but I would have been a Year 2 Medicine student had I not switched courses.

Having done well for the Intentional Baccalaureate (IB), I was eligible for both medicine and psychology courses and applied for both. 

Initially, I was put on the waiting list for medicine.

I was quick to acknowledge the possibility that I might not be accepted into medicine. That way, I wouldn’t have to make a choice.

However, I was at an alumni Christian event in my secondary school when God placed on my heart a burden to heal.

I felt Him drawing my attention back to medicine.

A few days later, I received an email from the faculty of medicine that they had accepted me. I was overjoyed.

Stephanie with her clinical group.

Though I felt that God pointed me to medicine, I still had my reservations. 

While my peers expressed their excitement during our faculty orientation, I was concerned about what lay ahead.

My fears seemed to turn into reality when I began doing badly at the exams.

Each time, I either barely scraped by, or failed the paper altogether.

My self confidence was greatly shaken, and I struggled trying to get myself excited about what I was studying.

My professors, clinical group, parents and friends were all extremely supportive of me, doing whatever they could to help me pull through in my studies. 

Yet, I found myself completely burnt out by the end of the year.


During my final exams, I was so exhausted of trying that I found myself watching more Disney+ shows than preparing for the examinations.

It wasn’t that I didn’t care, but that I simply couldn’t find it in myself to study anymore.

I desperately prayed to God to just let me pass this once.

But He didn’t.

Stephanie with her good friends.

As I looked back on the past year, the anger in me grew. I found it hard to approach God as it felt that He had let me down.

 Especially since I felt that He had led me to medicine, it was frustrating that He remained silent as I struggled.

As I let out my pent up emotions to a friend, I finally decided: I don’t want to stay in medicine.

The one time I needed God to carry me, I felt like He dropped me.

Yet, strangely, it was after this drop that I fell into a good place.

I decided to apply for psychology due to my interest in mental health issues as well as my desire to understand people.

I don’t think God always explicitly calls us to a specific major. 

I’ve come to see that He gifts us with interests that we can use to glorify His name. 

God is slowly mending my heart.

The disappointment I felt in this faith journey is something I am growing to reconcile with, even as I do not understand everything He brought me through. 

From being a people-pleaser who constantly strived to prove myself, I now live in the security that these are not things God wants me to focus on.

Though my journey was emotionally devastating, I don’t know what my life would have been like had my path stayed the same.

If I had stayed in medicine, I would be a drastically different person from the me I am today.

If I had chosen to enrol in psychology since the beginning, I would have always wondered about the possibility of medicine.

 I believe God allowed me to go on this journey to help me clarify where I really wanted and needed to be.

Stephanie with her family.

So, surround yourself with people who will see you and hear you, because when your emotions are raw, support from loved ones will help you through the season.

Pray and spend time in the presence of God.

That was something I did not do. I was too afraid to ask God what He thought, and didn’t know if I had it in me to obey.

But God’s presence will always be the most emotionally healing place to be in. He is our place of safety.

The best thing to ground you during a period of uncertainty is love, and there is no other source of love that is as sure and guaranteed and endless as God’s.

Stephanie will continue to trust God as she journeys through university as a psychology undergraduate.

  1. Have you ever encountered a detour in your life’s plans?
  2. Looking back, how can you trace the hand of God in that journey?
  3. How did Bryan, Esther or Stephanie’s stories encourage you?
  4. What is one thing you can do to embrace God’s will for your life, even if it deviates from your expectations?
  5. Who are the people who can support you spiritually as you journey through life’s uncertainties?