With this year's Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education results coming out tomorrow, students will need to begin mapping out their route to college.
Outstanding students may also have to think about what to do with any scholarships they receive, as they may profoundly affect their college life and even their career.
Don't think of it as just an extra piece of cash because if properly allocated, it will make a big difference in your life, a university admissions expert says.
"Scholarships can be used not only to cover tuition and living expenses, but also to start an academic-related project or support overseas learning," said Bennett Yim Chi-kin, University of Hong Kong's director of undergraduate admissions and international student exchange.
Scholarships also provide platforms and opportunities for students to expand their possibilities, he added, taking HKU's President's Scholars as an example.
Established in 2017, President's Scholars receive an HKU tuition fee waiver and are guaranteed opportunities to study abroad with overseas learning scholarships of up to HK$200,000.
Students who wish to join the overseas learning scheme at HKU's top partner institutions, such as Yale, Oxford or Harvard, will receive HKU's guaranteed referral.
In addition, awardees will be selected as HKU student ambassadors and will represent the university at ceremonies, conferences and seminars, which allows students to expand their networks and develop their interpersonal skills.
Samson Hung Chun, a freshman who is reading medicine and surgery, was one of the top DSE achievers who received the scholarship last year.
In secondary two, his deskmate was a special educational needs student.
Hung believes that many people misunderstand SEN students.
"They just don't know how to express themselves and make friends with others," he said.
After being unexpectedly invited by his deskmate to have lunch with him and social workers, Hung gained more understanding regarding SEN students' difficulties and volunteered to help them.
"I've really been in touch with them, and I feel like I know them better, so I want to dispel that misconception," he said.
A member of HKU's SEN Peer Impact Network and student ambassador for HKU's Equal Opportunity Unit, Hung supports SEN students or those with disabilities to help them integrate into university life by teaching social skills and promoting inclusion.
The scholarship gives him privileges in overseas learning and helps to relieve financial burdens, allowing him to concentrate on his studies and social service, Hung said.
The Future Leaders of the Year scholarship is one of three new scholarships set up for DSE candidates last year, designed for students who are interested in enrolling in one of the five bachelor of arts and sciences programs which are focused on the study of interdisciplinary theory and practice and who aspire to enter the start-up industry and make their mark in the future. Awardees will receive HK$20,000 to use as a start-up fund or to engage in start-up-related activities.
First-year fintech student Rain Lee Sze-choi was one of the awardees last year who has also devoted himself to supporting SEN students.
A St Stephen's College graduate who has been invited to be a tutor from time to time after getting into HKU, Lee came into contact with many SEN students and learned that the resources used to support SEN education is very limited.
"My teacher told me that most staff in the college have not specialized in teaching SEN students, so it is difficult for them to understand SEN students' needs and adjust their teaching methods," Lee said.
So he used the scholarship and the coding knowledge he learned at HKU to establish a new internal platform for the college, SSC Shepherd's Den, to systematically integrate SEN students' information and assist teachers and social workers in providing them with more effective support.
The platform includes information about students' grades, activities they have participated in and abilities they have assessed. It also allows teachers to record data on the platform.
"By giving out scholarships, the university also wants to encourage students to participate in other social practice," Yim said.
"In previous years, we saw a lot of scholarships awarded only to only top DSE scorers, causing scholarship winners to cluster in ace subjects such as medicine," Yim said.
"This year, we want our scholarships to cover more subjects, as we believe that society also needs different kinds of talents."
Among four new scholarships set up for DSE students this year, the DSE Top One Percent scholarship will automatically be awarded to those who excelled in the exams and have been ranked in the top 1 percent and are also enrolled at HKU.
The one-off cash prize of at least HK$50,000 allows students to choose various subjects they like, rather than focusing on the university's conventional ace subjects - a test of how students use the money to plan for a better college life.