Where it all started: Artlets look back on their USTET, freshmen journey

Art by Wackine Izzy Lopez/ THE FLAME

PICTURE THIS: It is the day before the University of Santo Tomas Entrance Test (USTET), and not only have you lost track of time.

You have also lost count of how many cups of coffee you have chugged in the past hour just so you would not doze off beneath a pile of index cards, wrinkled reviewers and multi-colored highlighters.

You begin fantasizing about what tomorrow will bring, stepping into the threshold of the grounds of España as you take in the sights and sounds of what could possibly be your new home. But for now, you whisper to yourself, “Let’s ace this test.”

A year later, you are now a bona fide Thomasian.

The COVID-19 pandemic deprived recent batches of USTET applicants of the exhilarating experience of taking the traditional entrance exam in person. The University of Santo Tomas Admission Rating was implemented in its place during the pandemic-induced assessment period.

Because of the improvement of the COVID-19 situation, UST embraced a hybrid learning environment in the academic year 2023 to 2024. It also paved the way to the return of the onsite USTET, which drew more than 43,000 applicants from all over the country.

As a new academic term unfolds, The Flame features some of the experiences of some AB freshmen who took part in the historic return of the face-to-face entrance exam that serves as the gateway to being a Thomasian.

Woes and joys

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The University of Santo Tomas holds the second batch of the UST Entrance Test at the Manila Campus on Nov. 19, 2023. Photo by Jessica Luna/THE FLAME

On Oct. 22, the University welcomed its first batch of examinees for the USTET 2024. Several aspiring Thomasians showed off their “claws” beside the tiger statue; some were mesmerized by the assemblage of the Main Building after seeing it for the first time, while other test-takers got a morale booster from the supportive hugs of their proud parents and companions.

Numerous USTET applicants for the Faculty of Arts and Letters, who are now AB students, remember the scene all too well. They can never forget the thrill and rush of having their future dependent on their stock knowledge, skills, and sometimes, even punctuality.

Asian studies freshman Ronan Asturias recalled the hustle and bustle of España Boulevard due to the myriad of vehicles trying to enter the University almost made him late for the test.

“I am not exaggerating when I say that I had to run my way just to make it in time; in fact, I was with hundreds of USTET takers running. I really felt the adrenaline coursing through my veins, and thankfully, I made it just in time, just a bit sweaty as well,” Asturias said.

The nature of the questions that appeared during the exam, however, was a whole other sob story for several new Artlets since it pierced through their “Achilles’ heel:” mathematics and problem-solving.

“Most can agree that the math portion was the most difficult; it was a real pain since the questions, the computations, and the time crunch really test one’s computation skills and mental strength,” legal management freshman Cyrene Velasquez said.

For political science freshman Alexisse Calibo, USTET takers from AB must not neglect STEM-centered topics, even if their sights are set on arts and literature.

“The USTET is a measurement of everything you’ve learned in your high school years, and it involves complex questions that test out your mind’s critical and analytical capabilities,” Calibo said.

Over 10,000 applicants took the first batch of the USTET that day, more than threefold the nearly 3,000 examinees in the same period last year.

New beginnings

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More than 12,000 freshmen attend the ROARientation and Thomasian Welcome Walk on August 5, 2023 for this academic year 2023 to 2024. Photo by Aaron Cedric La Torre/THE FLAME

The moment Artlets became qualified as offsprings of UST, they immediately took their precious time channeling the Thomasian spirit by forming camaraderie with other first-year students with whom they would spend the next four years.

“There was an official Facebook group dedicated to UST freshmen, and it was where everyone communicated with each other […] I was lucky enough to find my people fast amidst the chaotic and foreign environment,” Velasquez said.

Earning their place in the University is one, but maintaining morale and proficiency as they now face the challenges of being college students is another.

“Since UST is a prestigious university, the grading system and education are different here. It really tests and expands your knowledge, creativity, and capabilities,” communication freshman Camilla Saliendra said.

The trials along the way, however, should not be a deal-breaker for aspirants because their Thomasian peers make it all worthwhile in the face of academic workload, organization work and personal responsibilities.

“The workload is tough, but the people and the campus make it tolerable. From my experience, everyone understands each other since everyone is feeling or has felt the same struggle adjusting to an environment,” Velasquez said.

“I believe that [the challenges] are such a beautiful asset because the University helps you shape the person you want to become and face the real world,” Saliendra said.

Immersing in the culture

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The University welcomes USTET takers on campus on Oct. 23, 2022 after two years of waiving its entrance test due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Raymond Vince Manaloto/ THE FLAME

The tapestry of traditions and cultures that make UST as celebrated as it is today stretches from perennial weather conditions to eerie ghost stories that students find a way to poke fun at, making it something the incoming Thomasians can look forward to.

“[I] often see TikTok videos about floods and several ghost stories in UST, which have become our trademark,” Calibo said, noting the recurring joke about UST turning into a lake during rainy season due to its flood-prone grounds, as well as the individual spooky stories each cubicle has around the campus.

Calibo also mentioned the superstition involving the Arch of the Centuries, which states that students should only pass through twice: During the Thomasian Welcome Walk and the Solemn Investiture. Whoever enters the historic arch outside these events is bound to be “debarred” from graduating.

The stereotype that Thomasians are “ghosts,” or persons who leave a relationship out of the blue, is merely a “silly stigma,” according to journalism freshman Iya Santos.

“The meme that Thomasians are ghosters is not entirely true, because most of the time they are just busy with their hectic schedule,” Santos said.

Indeed, UST is home to several tall tales and oral traditions, enabling Thomasians to enjoy shared experiences. But beyond these stories passed down from batch to batch are memories and friendships that can outlast and outlive any existing traditions.

‘I believe that what makes us stay in this school is the people. The Thomasian community is very friendly, welcoming, and accepting. There are so many people that I’ve only met once, and after that, we would always greet each other and suddenly become best friends with one another,” said Saliendra.

“[The] Thomasian experience is not complete without Paskuhan, Roarientation, Agape, etc. […] The first time you hear the Yellow Jacket’s drum intro live and finally being able to yell the traditional UST cheer—Go USTe!—is the moment that will make you feel like a true Thomasian,” Calibo said. F

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