He was convinced that four years in the United States would give him global exposure. But then the pandemic hit and reports of racist attacks on Asians in the US also worried him.
Mr Cheong has decided to alter course. Instead of going to the US, he has opted to pursue his degree studies at the Singapore Management University, which is known for its American style of teaching.
Similarly, Raffles Institution alumna Valerie Lu, 19, was all set to start her degree studies at the Maryland Institute College of Art in the US this September. But after factoring in the uncertainties and high cost of studying overseas, she applied to and secured a place at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) instead.
Mr Cheong and Miss Lu are among the Singaporeans who are giving up on their overseas study plans in favour of local universities.
Each of the six local universities received between 19 and 550 applications during the second admissions exercise held last month to cater to late applicants, they told The Sunday Times.
These included applicants who switched from overseas to local universities.
Another group of applicants were polytechnic diploma holders who had previously thought of going to work but were now opting to study because of the weak job market.
While the universities are still in the process of deciding how many applicants to take in, the National University of Singapore confirmed it had received 450 applications during the second admissions exercise and SUTD said it had received 550.
Students like Ms Lu and Mr Cheong are the lucky ones, though, with a definite path to pursue.
The Covid-19 outbreak has left many Singaporean students, with plans to study overseas, unsure of what the future holds.
If teaching is still online, why would I go back? Sydney is not a cheap city to live in.
MS CELINE CHOO, 19, who started her studies at UNSW in February but had to return to Singapore 11/2 months later.
It has been my dream since I was 10 and I have been working hard to get into a university like Stanford. I hope governments deal with the pandemic and it will still be possible for young people like me to pursue our aspirations.
MS ALICIA CHEONG, 18, who still hopes to study overseas.
Take Ms Stella Cheong, 22. A local university has offered her a place. But she still prefers to head to San Francisco to study business studies there.
The situation has left her undecided. She calls it "being in a coronavirus limbo" and is prepared to defer her studies for up to six months.
Singapore Polytechnic alumnus Garreth Benjamin, 24, who headed back to Singapore in March, has also decided to put off the last semester of his commerce degree at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney till next year.
He had earlier planned to take up a three-month internship at an accounting firm in Sydney, but now realises that such positions will be hard to come by, so he is prepared to wait.
Interviews with two dozen Singaporeans already enrolled or about to enrol in overseas universities found that most like Mr Benjamin were deferring their studies by three to six months.
Those deferring said they prefer an on-campus education and complained that it was unfair of universities to charge the usual high international student fees for online classes.
Miss Celine Choo, 19, who started on the first year of her undergraduate degree at UNSW in February, had to head back to Singapore just 11/2 months later. Her tuition fees alone for this year will amount to $50,000.
She is taking up her courses online for now and says she would head back only if her university offers face-to-face classes.
"If teaching is still online, why would I go back? Sydney is not a cheap city to live in," she said.
The views and sentiments of Singaporeans tally with a survey conducted last month by IDP Connect, part of international education specialists IDP Education - which found that the majority of international students still hope to commence their studies as planned.
But the survey which polled 6,900 international students, including 180 Singaporeans, found that for students who had already chosen to defer or were considering to defer, the majority were only willing to defer for up to six months.
"Thirty-one percent of respondents stated they would be willing to start their course online and move to face-to-face learning at a later date, but by far the greatest preference was to defer to January 2021 if this meant face-to-face learning would be possible," said IDP Connect chief executive Simon Emmett.
He also said students who stated that they would prefer to defer than study online, said they wanted international exposure.
Many also stated that the standard of online teaching was a concern.
Separately, embassies here reported that they are trying their best to keep students updated with relevant information.
Mr Leighton Ernsberger, the British Council's director for education and English in East Asia, said the organisation, which provides information and counselling to students heading to Britain, is hosting online sessions, as well as virtual briefings for students.
EducationUSA also continues to offer advisory services and has held pre-departure orientations.
Meanwhile, students, like Miss Alicia Cheong, 18, are keeping their fingers crossed.
"It has been my dream since I was 10 and I have been working hard to get into a university like Stanford. I hope governments deal with the pandemic and it will still be possible for young people like me to pursue our aspirations," she said.]]>