From the Horse’s Mouth: What’s the Difference Between a Hall, Residential College, and Student Residence?

Here in NUS, there are three main types of hostels that students can stay in – Halls of Residence, Residential Colleges, and Student Residences.  The newest model on the block is House, revealed by the Provost’s Office on 5 Jan 2022 – which Pioneer House (previously named as PGP House) falls under.  Chances are, you’ve experienced life in one type of hostel, but the experience of living in a different type of residence remains a mystery. If you’ve always wondered what campus life is like for those in other residence types, join us as we uncover this mystery by talking to three students who have experienced it all!


A. Residential College vs Halls of Residence

Both Residential Colleges and Halls of Residence are known for their vast number of student groups and activities – so what sets them apart from each other? Let’s hear what Kuik Tze Yin, Y3, Communications and New Media, and Dennis Tan, Y3, Environmental Studies have to say!


Kuik Tze-Yin, College of Alice and Peter Tan (CAPT) & Sheares Hall

Tze-Yin at CAPT and Sheares (Source: Kuik Tze Yin)

1. Hi Tze-Yin! Let’s get to know you a little. Can you introduce yourself and the residences you stayed in?

Hi! I’m in my third year studying Communications and New Media. I stayed in the College of Alice and Peter Tan (CAPT) in Years 1 and 2, and I stayed in Sheares Hall in the first semester of Year 3.


2. How was your experience in CAPT? Share what you enjoyed or what was less enjoyable.

One main thing I loved about CAPT was its main ethos of community engagement. There were so many community engagement (CE) projects I was able to join, such as Kindle+ (a mentoring project for foster children) and CAPT Kamal (a CE project in India). Being in CAPT also meant that I was enrolled in the University Town College Programme (UTCP), so I was able to take unique modules offered by the college to fulfil NUS’s General Education requirements. These modules were extremely CE-based which gave me a wider perspective of many hidden communities and pertinent issues in our society.

Tze-Yin with her fellow CAPT College Students Committee members (Source: Kuik Tze Yin)

The highlight of my time in CAPT was my second year, where I was very privileged to be part of the College Students’ Committee (CSC) and Student Affairs Committee. It was in these committees that I found the best friendships and forged the best experiences of my university life.


3. How about your experience in Sheares Hall?

“Sheares Hall Family Hall” is a popular slogan, and one that I resonate with deeply. Coming into hall at Y3 while overloading on modules and also juggling commitments outside of school was honestly quite scary to me. However, I was thankful to find that everyone in Sheares was super friendly, welcoming and caring. The welfare culture was strong and the various events and activities, such as Sheares Newly Discovered Companion (SNDC) and Good Luck Concert (GLC), were extremely engaging and fun!

Tze-Yin with a friend from Sheares Hall (Source: Kuik Tze-Yin)

It was also in Sheares where I had the time to join a few sports CCAs such as Badminton, Basketball, and Soccer. The trainings were all very enjoyable and fun, and I really liked that we were often provided with delicious treats after our training sessions – a clear example of the welfare culture in Sheares Hall!


4. What were the main differences between the two residences?

Meal plans are compulsory for Halls and Residential Colleges, but the variety of food offered in a Residential College is much larger! I loved CAPT’s food and dining hall – my favourite meals were lasagne and ramen. There were also meal enhancements from time to time (Snapple, donuts, Magnum, Ben and Jerry’s, etc.). In Sheares Hall, however, the variety is more conservative.

In terms of facilities, I was pleasantly surprised to see that each level of Sheares Hall had its own water dispenser and fridge. This was unlike CAPT, where three levels shared one water dispenser and fridge, leaving my friends and I to resort to playing fridge Tetris to fit all our food in the fridge.

Ultimately, both hostels offer a different, but equally enriching perspective of student life in NUS. CAPT has a strong focus on community engagement and is more academically-geared due to the UTCP programme. Sheares is true to its reputation and culture of a family hall, and there are tons of activities to explore too.


Dennis Tan, Tembusu College & PGP House (now Pioneer House)

Dennis with his chalked room door at Tembusu College (Source: Dennis Tan)

1. Hi Dennis! Let’s get to know you a little. Can you introduce yourself and the residences you stayed in?

Hello! I’m a third-year environmental studies major. I stayed in Tembusu College for the first two years, and I’m currently staying in Pioneer House (previously PGP House).


2. How was your experience in Tembusu College? Share what you enjoyed or what was less enjoyable.

I really loved my experience in Tembusu! I applied to join the college because I wanted to meet people from different walks of life, and where everyone would be able to be themselves. At the end of my two years in Tembusu, I can say that I definitely found those things there.

Dennis with his housemates in Tembusu (Source: Dennis Tan)

My house in Tembusu was called Tancho, and it was in that community where I felt like I was able to let loose and meet all sorts of quirky people. I was also a part of the house committee, and while it was tough work, it was truly a joy to plan all sorts of novel events for my housemates.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I loved that the people I met in Tembusu, including the Residential Assistants and Residential Fellows, really made me feel seen and loved. The casual conversations in the hallways and the little bits of welfare here and there really made me feel seen as a person and a friend, and not just another resident.

Dennis at a house event in Tembusu (Source: Dennis Tan)

Life in a Residential College was certainly vibrant and exciting, but it seemed like UTown never went to sleep. There were always things to do till late at night, and that really messed with my circadian rhythm!


3. How about your experience in Pioneer House (PH)?

Dennis with his friends at PGP House (Source: Dennis Tan)

One of my favourite things about PH would have to be the facilities! I was amazed by the size of the pantry – it’s HUGE compared to Tembusu. Every floor also has a pantry, and there are two fridges in the pantry. This is roughly a ratio of 15 people to one fridge, as opposed to 130 people to one fridge in Tembusu. But of course, we had meal plans in Tembusu.

PH is also quite conveniently located as it’s about a 10-15 mins walk from KR MRT. Additionally, if you like exercising, you’ll appreciate that it’s a stone’s throw away from a park connector for runs, which even extends to the well-known Ameen supper stretch.

On the other hand, since we lack a major common dining area, there are just fewer opportunities to meet. So I wished for more genuine communication and relationships with the people around me.


4. What were the main differences between the two residences?

I would say that PH’s compound layout doesn’t quite lend itself to building vibrancy yet. it’s a linear arrangement of different blocks, so there isn’t really a central area where people can meet or see each other. UTown, on the other hand, has the large Town Green field, and the circular format of the whole area allows you to feel the energy of the place, even if you just want to be a phantom for the day.

Another main difference is the food – in a Residential College you have a compulsory meal plan. In PH, we don’t have a meal plan or a dining hall, so you have to buy all your meals. However, you do save money because Residential College meal plans do come at a cost, PGP food is cheaper than UTown food, and you also have more freedom over which meals you want to have (instead of being a slave to your meal credits).

Every residence has their pros and cons, and each offers a unique campus life experience – so think about what you hope to get out of campus life and apply to a residence accordingly!


B. Residential College vs Student Residences

We’ve heard about Residential Colleges and Halls, but how about Student Residences? Daniel Cheng, Year 4, Mechanical Engineering, is here to tell us all about it!


Daniel Cheng, College of Alice and Peter Tan & UTown Residence

Daniel performing at an Open Mic event at CAPT (Source: Daniel Cheng)

1. Hi Daniel! Let’s get to know you a little. Can you introduce yourself and the residences you stayed in?

Hi there! I’m a Year 4 Mechanical Engineering Student. I stayed in CAPT for my first two years of university, and I’ve been living in UTown Residence (UTR) ever since leaving CAPT.


2. How was your experience in CAPT? Share what you enjoyed or what was less enjoyable.

Daniel with his Road Relay team for Inter-College Games 2019 (Source: Daniel Cheng)

My time in CAPT was a pretty fulfilling one. I was in Tulpar (one of the houses in CAPT) and everyone there was super nice and welcoming. Every time I came back to my room after a day of lessons, I always felt like I was returning home to a group of people that genuinely cared for me, and I would always look forward to the random fun conversations in the walkways.

I also really enjoyed taking part in the various student activities and events in CAPT. Some of my favourite memories include performing at open mic events, and participating in different sports for the annual Inter-College Games.


3. How about your experience in UTown Residence?

Similarly, my time in UTR has been enjoyable, but not in the same way as my stay in CAPT. UTR and CAPT are fundamentally different since UTR is a Student Residence and CAPT is a Residential College. In UTR, there isn’t a central elected student body or committee that plans bonding events like in CAPT. Instead, there are UTR-wide events organised by Resident Assistants that are usually focused on a theme like UTR Yoga (although such events can be pretty limited because of COVID restrictions). This means that community interaction is usually limited to your own suite – but that was still enjoyable to me because my suitemates are a pretty fun bunch!

While UTR may have lesser student activities, it allowed me to concentrate better on my studies and be less distracted. I didn’t have to deal with the usual FOMO, and I also still had opportunities to have fun with my suitemates. In this sense, the balance of work and play was pretty good.


4. What were the main differences between the two residences?

Daniel engaging with a migrant worker as part of one of his CAPT modules (Source: Daniel Cheng)

Since CAPT is a Residential College specialising in CE, there is that academic component that UTR does not offer. In CAPT, I was able to take interesting modules that allowed me to deepen my understanding of CE, and interact with communities I wouldn’t originally have a chance to interact with. Taking unique college modules is definitely a highlight of staying in a Residential College as opposed to other residences.

Another main difference would be the facilities offered in the different hostels. Both UTR and CAPT have great facilities, but UTR might probably be slightly more convenient. For instance, there are no corridor rooms in UTR, and only suites of four people with their own toilet, pantry and fridge. In CAPT, however, these facilities were shared amongst a much larger number of people!


Now that you’ve heard the varied experiences of our three interviewees, we hope we have helped uncover the mystery surrounding life on campus in the different hostel types. Every hostel is different, but they all have something unique to offer. If you need more information, you can always read up more at, or find a friendly senior to share their experiences!

Hey wait! What about House – the fourth type?  A new residential model focusing on proactive pastoral care and peer mentorship providing academic and non-academic guidance, more details will be revealed here progressively from February 2022.  Stay tuned!

Want to share your experiences of living in different types of residences on campus? Tell us in the comments or DM us on IG @nusresidentiallife!

Bethany Low

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