Only a few weeks into his freshman year at Yale-NUS, Leon Han YNUS ’20 has had many firsts — among them, his first time discussing gender, race and sexuality in the classroom.

The Singaporean freshman, who graduated from the highest-ranked high school in the nation, is not the only one attracted to, or even thrilled by, Yale-NUS’s academic freedom compared to schools elsewhere on the island. In an educational system defined by rote learning and cut-throat competition, few students have the chance to engage in open discussion, let alone pursue their own academic interests outside pre-professional programs. For Han and the over 110 Singaporean students who enrolled in Yale-NUS’s current freshman class, the college has promised an alternative.

Yale-NUS received over 9,000 applications for the class of 2020 and enrolled 210 applicants, almost tripling the size of its inaugural class four years ago. The school has not disclosed its admissions rate and yield rate.

“At Yale-NUS, there’s a diversity between classes that I wouldn’t expect to see at older universities,” Markus Le Roux YNUS ’19 said. “We are a new institution, and that means that we are rapidly shaping the character of our university … New students challenge the vision that we have of what our college should be, and I think all of the upperclassmen welcome this challenge, especially as we begin to transition into a stage where we are no longer defined by our pioneering status, and instead by the types of students that we produce.”

Laura Severin, Yale-NUS’s interim director of admissions and financial aid, said the school hopes to reach a total population of 1,000 students, meaning each class size will continue to grow in future years. Before the arrival of the class of 2020, the school’s new campus — which opened last fall — was only at half capacity.

Fifty-four percent of the current freshmen are Singaporean citizens and the rest come from 35 different countries, according to Severin.

Karen Ho YNUS ’16 said she is glad to see Yale-NUS finally reach a full house and enroll four years of students just like other universities worldwide.

When asked whether the admissions office has changed its selection criteria as the college transitions from a startup school and establishes its culture, Severin said her office has maintained the same standard all four years, and that it is natural for each class to take on its own identity. The Yale College Common Application allows applicants to share their Yale application with Yale-NUS through a check box.

Agatha Tan YNUS ’20, who is Singaporean, said she was attracted to how socially accepting and relatively small the college is.

A prospective arts and humanities major, Tan said that although she worries about having to take Quantitative Reasoning and Foundations of Science — two compulsory classes in the common curriculum — she appreciates the breath of academic options at Yale-NUS that she will later be able to take advantage of.

“Yale-NUS was also the only school in Singapore that offered me the options to explore creative writing in my major,” Tan said.

Yale-NUS’s first day of classes was Aug. 8.