Studying at HKUST in Hong Kong

Note: You may check out my original answer to this Quora.com question here. I’ve changed it a bit for this blog, but the key-points remain valid.

After graduating from a German high-school in 2011, I decided to enroll in a 3-year full-time program at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). I have spent three complete semester at HKUST so far, and I am now participating in the exchange program at National Chengchi University, Taiwan.

 

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HKUST 
General Remarks:

  • This relatively young university (the first class graduated in 1994) is rated as one of the top three universities in Hong Kong, the others being the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). Comprising of three major schools (Engineering, Science, Business&Management) and a smaller School of Social Science & Humanities, the university tends to claim that it outranks HKU and CUHK wherever they/we compete. Hence, for the subjects HKUST offers, the school enjoys a strong reputation, especially in the Asian region (I’ve talked to plenty of people in Taiwan and China, and many have heard of this school. Its academic position seems to be well recognized within the region)
  • HKUST offers top-notch facilities in almost all aspects: strong and working Wi-Fi around the campus, a modern library, media-rooms, access to countless research databases, computer-access, a digital card-system, a learning-platform, etc. etc.
  • HKUST’s student body comprises of three significant groups: Local students, students from Mainland China, and international/foreign students (those include a significant number of exchange students). While I have discussed with many classmates the extent of interactions between these three groups, I do have to say that strong interactions between these groups are rather the exception to the norm.
  • Most if not all UG-programs at HKUST are now 4 years in length. PG programs offer a research stream (leading to a M.Phil, also called RPG) as well as taught-programs (TPG, M.Sc.). There are PhD.-programs being offered as well.
  • I do have to warn you though of two things: (1) HKUST is located in a remote area of Hong Kong. Basically plan on spending somewhere between 30 minutes to an hour to pretty much anywhere. (2) HKUST is not known to be a party-school. Within Hong Kong, ask any student, and they will point to HKU as your first-choice if that’s your thing.

 

The School of Business and Management:

  • System (Note: When i enrolled at HKUST, the university was still following the 3-year curriculum. I am not aware of the minutiae of the changes under the new regime): Students will choose a first and second major at the end of the first year (old policy!); majors include: Accounting, Economics, Finance, Information Systems, Operations Management, Management, Marketing. Apart from these, there are Global Business, Quantitative Finance, and Economics & Finance, all three of which have a separate admission-procedure (You may kindly check the following link: HKUST Business School – Undergraduate Programs)
  • Courses and Professors: Students generally take the same courses in the first year(s) of their study at HKUST. Basic coursework includes introductory courses from all major departments, case-study / Business English courses, as well as business ethics. In subsequent years, depending on the major students have chosen, classes generally tend to be smaller, and the courses are more specialized and sophisticated. Courses usually have 2 lecture-sessions per week (each 80 mins), and sometimes an additional tutorial (attendance is not always taken or mandatory in tutorials). There are mid-term exams, projects/presentations, attendance and in-class contributions as well as final-exams, or any sub-set. More importantly, most Professors have received their PhD-degree from top-notch schools in the United States, and they are generally open to students’ requests and questions.
  • Academic Rigor: HKUST, as mentioned before, is not a party school. Part of that stems from its grading policy, which ranks students based on a normal distribution. That means that by policy the A-range will account for about 15% of grades/students, B-range for 25%, and the remaining 60% of students will receive a grade in C-range or lower. Note that this is a HKUST-policy, and I have witnessed courses with very high mean-scores, where students who got 90+ percent of the total marks were graded into B-range.
  • Exchange Program: There are many schools available for students to go on exchange, and many actually do so (in my major, almost everyone went on exchange)! Some of the “highlights” include NYU, UC-system, and University of Pennsylvania in the United States; Bocconi, City University, and WU Vienna in Europe; and Tsinghua University, Peking University, and NCCU (Taiwan) in Asia!
  • Job Market Prospects: HKUST’s career center has prepared the results of a graduate employment survey. You may access it via HKUST – Student Affairs Office.

 

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Hong Kong as a City

  • Asia’s World City: Hong Kong claims for itself the title of “Asia’s World City”. That is certainly true in the sense that it is a melting-pot of cultures (and food!). Go to Central, and you couldn’t tell if you were in New York City, Frankfurt, London, or Hong Kong. And by the way, that also holds true for the prices.
  • Living Expenses: Hong Kong is not cheap to live in. Rent prices are high (so do try to get a place in the dormitories at your university), and food prices have seen several years of inflation. You may expect to spend north of 40 HKD if you want to eat outside of campus, and somewhere above 20 HKD if you stay on campus. Of course prices are open-ended.
  • Transportation: Assuming you have a student-card, transportation is easy, convenient, and rather cheap (i.e. compared to Western cities). It is widely used by locals, and with a combination of buses and the MTR you can truly reach any place. Talking about air-travel, Hong Kong does offer connections to many (many!) places in the world, and that offers you a great opportunity to explore Asia.
  • Culture and Language: Do not expect to pick up “Mandarin” Chinese on the side. While certainly not impossible, the local’s mostly very good command of English and the ubiquitous use of Cantonese will certainly limit your “Putonghua” interactions. Hong Kong does however pride itself of its own culture, as well as its own language, and differences to Mainland China are sometimes emphasized.

 

Conclusion

  • Student life in Hong Kong is certainly different from that in the United States or Europe. It has however nonetheless been an incredibly exciting, frequently rewarding, and admittedly sometimes arduous journey. That, however, does greatly contributed to one’s personal growth. I’ve met some great friends in Hong Kong, and I would make the same decision again.
  • It’s certainly not for everybody. The workload and the associated pressure can, and that is a sad fact, make or break you.
  • Check and possibly adjust your expectations. What do you want from a university-education? Party? Academic challenges? Life in a new culture?
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