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First Placer in Engineering Exam, Masters Degree, Summa Cum Laude at Age 21 – Here’s How I Did It

A master's degree at age 21, topnotcher and summa cum laude in chemical engineering

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Engineering Licensure Exam


When preparing for a licensure exam, most students would be happy with just passing and getting that engineer title.

However, there are a few who would put everything at stake and give everything they have to reach their goal to become a topnotcher.

GineersNow had an exclusive interview with Engr. Clarence Co from De La Salle University, Philippines.

At the age of 21, through a special program offered in their university, he was already able to get both is Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Chemical Engineering.

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Just when it sounded amazing enough, Clarence was also able to graduate Summa Cum Laude with a Grade Point Average of 3.948.

Along with this, he also got multiple awards such as the Gerardo Cinco Gold Medal of Excellence in Chemical Engineering, Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr. Award for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Outstanding Master’s Thesis, and was admitted membership into the Jose Rizal Honors Society.

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Recently, he passed the November 2016 Philippine Chemical Engineering Licensure Examination and was able to get the top spot in the said exam.

Just like any other engineering student, he went through sleepless nights studying, and sometimes gets late in his morning classes.

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He also felt anxious as the licensure examination date was coming closer, and questioned his preparedness. So how did he do it?

In this feature article, Engr. Clarence Co will share some studying tips as well as some lessons he’s learned throughout his early engineering journey.


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Why did you choose chemical engineering? Who or what was your inspiration?

When I was in high school, I loved both math and science. And out of the sciences, I favored chemistry the most.

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I liked the idea of how we studied atoms and compounds which will become the basis of all the things we see, use and manipulate.

I was torn between chemistry and chemical engineering, but because the latter sounded cooler, I went with that (laughs).

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In addition, after telling my first choice was chemical engineering after being asked what I would like to pursue in college, many people would tell me jokes such as “maraming pera diyan. (There’s a lot of money there) “, “Ah, gagawa ka ng shabu! (Ah, you plan on making meth)” and many other jokes.

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What are your favorite subjects in your entire engineering study? How about your least liked subjects.

My favorite subject was Chemical Reaction Engineering. I also liked Fluid Mechanics.

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These two subjects, for me, had the most theoretical basis, and so you can easily visualize on how the equations work, which I enjoy in particular. On the other hand, my least liked subject was Thermodynamics.

In fact, this subject is the one with the most theoretical basis, but I just find it too abstract and very hard to visualize.

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Did you have any failing grades? Or any disappointing experience in engineering school? If yes, how did you cope?

No, I did not have any failing grades, but I did have a learning experience in engineering school.

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During one of the terms, my friends and I decided to have an 8:00 AM class. As I am not a morning person, it was very difficult for me to get to class on time.

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Sometimes, I would get to school halfway into the class, in that case, I would decide to skip the class together, fearing that the professor might humiliate me if I insisted on attending the class.

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As a result, I missed a lot of seat works, quizzes, and homework submissions, so I got a rather low score on her class.

How did I cope? I promised to myself I will never take any 8 AM class anymore for the rest of my stay in DLSU, which I did. I guess the obvious lesson here would be to exercise punctuality and all, but another lesson I learned is that to never commit to something you cannot do or deliver.

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Do you have any studying tips you can share with our audience?

Always listen attentively to the professor. I think this is underrated as a tip.

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It pays to listen attentive because the professor usually talks with a continuous line of thought, especially when discussing a topic.

And in order to understand a topic, one has to start with the fundamental ideas and then build on it.

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When you listen intermittently due to distraction or whatever cause, you lose structure. And in the end, you will have difficulty understanding the topic altogether.

When that happens, retention is also greatly diminished.

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Therefore, I think this is a really important habit for students to practice.

Not only will it save students valuable studying time, but it will also serve as a useful skill at work, or life in general.

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What’s the best advice/pieces of advice you could share to other students?

Always aspire for more than what you are capable of. But first, always know your capabilities.

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Conduct an honest analysis of yourself: your strengths and weaknesses, skills and talents. And when you want to achieve something, make sure that it challenges you and not something within your reach.

That way, it will always push your boundaries further and make you grow as a person.

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But when you fail, do not look down on yourself, because nothing was lost at all, you still have the same set of skills and strengths.

In fact, they say you learn more when you fail. In any case, trying is better than not trying at all.

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What did you do the second you found out that you topped the board exam?

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I showed it to my mother, who, at the time, was recuperating from a surgery. She couldn’t believe it. I was really happy because I thought it would bring her joy and happiness in the midst of a gloomy atmosphere.

She would then tell the nurse who attended to her that her son topped the examination, and soon, she also got calls from friends congratulating her, thanks to social media (laughs).

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Did you enroll in a review center? Do you recommend students to go to one? If yes, where did you go?

Yes, I did enroll in a review center, that is, Manila Review Institute, Inc. (MRII) in Morayta, Manila.

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I think it will be beneficial for students to attend a review center.

It is better to rely on the expertise of a review center because the knowledge one has acquired or one can possibly acquire during the review period will be limited.

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Another beneficial effect for me was that the review center provided an environment, the mood, for me to study.

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In addition, they provide a lot of resources which one can utilize to sharpen one’s knowledge.

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Did you have any expectations when you took the board exam? Did you feel that you would top it?

I had a good feeling I was going to be in the roster of the Top 10.

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I did aim in topping the board exam, but as the week of the board exam approached, I felt anxious and doubted the adequacy of my preparation.

I also knew that there were a lot of contenders for the highest spot coming from other schools. And so I usually prayed to God and ranted to my friends, who would then give me encouraging and reassuring words.

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What’s your next plan?

My next plan would be to find work first. Having already obtained a Master’s degree, I’m not quite sure if PhD is for me. I would like to work in the industry to gain some first-hand experience of the practice of our profession, but I’m also open to teaching on the side.

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What sets you apart from other engineers?

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I like learning foreign languages. I make it a habit to learn at least some phrases before going to a particular country.

I speak Filipino and English. I know some Mandarin Chinese and Fookien Chinese. I learned (or tried to learn) Japanese, Korean, and very very little Thai.

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Another random fact: I never had a game console besides a malfunctioning Nintendo Game Boy (the one which required 4 AA batteries). I played Pokémon from Gen I to Gen V. So yes, I’m quite a boring guy in that I also don’t play LOL or DOTA or Sims, or whatever. The closest thing to a game I have played is Far Cry 4.

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Who do you owe your success to?

First of all, I owe my success to God, who has blessed with me so much more than I deserve.

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To my family, who always supports me in everything I do. To my teachers, from since I was small until my college days, because besides from the knowledge they imparted me, many of them have touched me, inspired me, and molded me into who I am today.

And to my closest friends, who were always there and gave me encouragement.

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Describe yourself in 3 words. Explain why.

Three words? Optimistic, analytical, and crazy, maybe? (laughs) I’m optimistic in that I always try to put fun in everything, sometimes, I admit, even crossing the line.

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I am not easily dragged down by problems but always see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m analytical in that I analyze details, when discussing things, I put importance in how arguments are brought up to prove or emphasize a point. (And that goes both ways, receiving and giving). I’m crazy because…I’m crazy (laughs). Maybe my friends can explain this better.

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What are the 5 most important life lessons you’ve acquired that you want to share with young millennial engineers all over the world?

1. Know God and trust God.

He has a lot of plans for us.

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But we have to follow Him and submit to Him in order for Him to make us grow and mold us into the people we ought to be, a people that He so intricately designed. But if we choose to walk our own way, He won’t be able to give us the life that He has planned for us.

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2. Treasure your relationships above all else.

I read somewhere before that college is the last place where you could make friends that will truly last. It will be very unlikely, it said, to make such friends at work.

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That is why you need to value your friends, because you most probably find another like them anymore. In addition, value each meeting with a new person. Whether it be with an orgmate or a professor you will meet only once or a nurse in the clinic, I believe that meeting people is a blessing and that one ought to cherish it.

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3. Do not settle for being mediocre.

Mediocrity rots the mind. Like I mentioned earlier, always push your boundaries. Achieve for excellence in all that you do.

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4. Persevere

Even the seemingly unsurmountable problems will come to pass. Do not give up. Failures, setbacks, pitfalls, everyone will forget them with time. Just keep pushing forward.

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5. Learn and learn and learn.

Read books. Try new things. Listen to inspirational talks. Learn from other people. Always be ready to accept new (useful) knowledge and absorb it like a sponge. Do not assume you know everything, but be humble and teachable.

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Engr. Marinel Sigue
Electronics Engineering graduate whose first love is writing. She is obsessed with anything pink and dreams of living the van life in a renovated school bus.


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