Blog 🍎 School 23rd July 2021

The Beginner's Guide to Studying in Singapore

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James Leach

James is senior content marketing manager at BridgeU. He writes and directs content for BridgeU's university partners and our community of international schools

Singapore might be small, but it punches above its weight when it comes to quality of life and education. But what do students need to know before they apply to university in the city state?

What can studying in Singapore offer your students who are thinking of applying to university overseas?

Ranked at number 20 in the QS Best Student Cities (2019), the answer may be quite a lot. World-class universities – tick. A richly interesting mix of cultures – tick. An exciting city to live in – tick. Great graduate opportunities – tick.

Singapore is a geographically small but hugely influential city-state, nestling at the end of Malaysia. The country has gained recognition as a world leader in many areas of research and innovation and its two leading universities now both rank in the world’s top 15.

It’s no surprise, then, that Singaporean universities are internationally recognised – and generally well regarded by employers – so studying in Singapore can be a great choice for students who are planning to work elsewhere after graduation.

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Where to consider studying in Singapore

Singapore has no fewer than 34 universities, of which six are national. For ambitious international students, the two flagship unis are the biggest draw and great bets for studying in Singapore.

The National University of Singapore (NUS), located in the suburbs, is an academic all-rounder. Currently ranked at number 11 in the world (QS, 2022), it’s great option in a broad spectrum of disciplines. As well as the high-ranking engineering and technology courses you might expect, its social sciences and management courses are also top-notch.

Students generally rate the quality of teaching staff and students and the opportunities to interact with professors and researchers at the forefront of science. Spending time abroad as part of degree courses is encouraged, for example with internships or summer student exchange programmes.

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is currently ranked 12th in the world (QS, 2022), mostly thanks to its phenomenal reputation in engineering and technology.

Students studying in Singapore are also attracted by the business, finance, accounting and management courses at the internationally ranked Singapore Management University.

Academic life for students studying in Singapore

Singaporean academia has close ties to the academic cultures of the USA, the UK and Australia. Fittingly, students studying in Singapore are generally taught in English, and non-native speakers without a formal language qualification may be asked to sit tests to prove their proficiency in English as part of the entry requirements. You can easily get by in Singapore if you only speak English – though expect to pick up some ‘Singlish’ during your stay.

The average length of an undergraduate degree in Singapore is three to four years.

Students usually arrive at university with a Major in mind, and will need to complete a set quota of courses relevant to that subject area. But typically, students also have the option to pick a few classes outside of their Major each year, offering a middle ground between the hyperspecialization of UK degrees and the breadth of American ones.

Another way in which studying in Singapore offers a middle ground between the American and British systems is Singaporean degrees’ common curriculums, similar to the USA’s general education. In the USA, these classes can make up as much as 50% of an undergraduate degree. The UK, meanwhile, has no comparable offering.

In Singapore, the common curriculum is present, but it makes up less of students’ degrees – usually up to a third. The curriculum is made up of a series of mandatory classes relating to a student’s general subject pathway (e.g. social sciences, business and management).

Students tend to report that courses are demanding and the atmosphere can be competitive. Good organisation and time-management skills will help them through.

Course structure may vary, but typically summer vacation periods are between May and July. Orientation weeks may kick off from the beginning of August. A university year in Singapore may consist of two longer ‘semesters’ made up of 13 weeks of lectures and tutorials, followed by two weeks of exams.

Types of degree to study in Singapore


Bachelor’s Degrees

Bachelor’s Degrees are the standard undergraduate degree offered by Singaporean universities. Globally recognised, the most common duration is three years.

Bachelor’s Degrees with Honours

Just like Australia, Singaporean universities also offer Bachelor’s Degrees with Honours, which typically last an extra year. Bachelor’s degrees are organised into broader subject groups, such as a BA (Bachelor of Arts), a BSc (Bachelor of Science), and a LLB (Bachelor of Law).

Double or Combined Degree

As we touched on above, students in Singapore choose a general degree pathway. However, most universities do give students the chance to pick two. Called double or combined degrees, it’s an incredibly popular option.

This can mean that the degree takes four years instead of the usual three, though.

Advanced and Specialist Diplomas

These are both vocational degrees which last around two years. Occasionally called polytechnic diplomas, they closely resemble what would be called an Associate’s degree in the USA and Australia.

They’re ideal for students already committed to a very specific field who need to quickly gain professional qualifications, and they place a lot of emphasis on work experience. 

These degrees aren’t as intensive as undergraduate degrees and lead to a less advanced qualification.

Double Majors vs Double Degrees

Some institutions in Singapore – including Singapore’s flagship university, the National University of Singapore – offer students the chance to enrol in both double major programmes and double degree programmes.

Both allow students to split their academic focus between two separate disciplines (say, Business Administration and International Relations).

So what’s the difference? Whereas a double major degree will still fall within one Bachelor track (e.g. BA, BSc, LLB), a double programme degree means combining two separate subject pathways (think BA/BSc, BEng/Bsc, and so forth).

Joint Degree Programmes

You know how we said Singaporean academia has close ties to most other leaders of English-taught higher education? Well, we weren’t exaggerating: a number of Singaporean universities offer joint degree programmes with other universities.

The National University of Singapore, for instance, offers joint degrees with both Australia National University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Concurrent Programmes

Concurrent undergraduate programmes allow students to register for a Master’s alongside their undergraduate application. Most common for STEM subjects, it’s an application option often called 3+1 or integrated Master’s in countries like the UK.

Types of educational institution in Singapore

National Universities

Six universities in Singapore are national universities, including NUS and NTU. Though different from ‘public universities’ in name, from the perspective of a student studying in Singapore, there is very little difference between an institution which is ‘national’ and one which is ‘public’.

Just like with public universities the world over, you can expect comparatively large student populations, cutting-edge research, and government-funded facilities.

Private Universities

Singapore also has a number of private universities. Usually smaller, they receive less state support, which also means the fees tend to be more expensive. However, select state subsidies exist for specific subjects (e.g. nursing), which can make the overall sticker price cheaper for students.

International Universities

Remember the joint degree programmes we mentioned above, where students are awarded a single diploma by two institutions, one Singaporean and the other international?

Well, Singapore’s international universities (sometimes called foreign universities) take this to the next level: they’re entire institutions based on this premise! Notable examples include the Singapore University of Technology and Design, developed in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA and Zhejiang University in China.

Georgia Tech, Penn State, and John Hopkins also have a substantial presence in Singapore through partnerships with institutions such as NUS and Nanyang.

Polytechnic Institutions and Institutes of Technical Education

Both of these offer vocational training pathways, often granting diplomas just below a Bachelor’s level, such as Advanced Diplomas. Though diplomas exist for everything from electrical engineering to business studies, this path is best suited for students already in a specific professional track looking to enhance their qualifications.

Student life in Singapore

It may have all the hallmarks of a modern international city, with a distinctly high tech feel, but international students may still have to make a significant cultural adjustment. The crime rate here is low and people feel safe. It’s also very clean, of course.

But there are a lot of rules that govern life in Singapore and falling foul of them can lead to heavy fines and long prison sentences. Drugs such as cannabis may be regarded as ‘recreational’ in some countries but here they are strictly outlawed. Famously, you can even be fined for bringing chewing gum into the country.

The climate in Singapore is basically year-round heat – but drenching rain showers can come suddenly. Singapore’s dense population of around 5.5 million includes Indians, Chinese and Malaysians who have immigrated here to be part of its economic success story. In fact, around 40% of Singapore’s population are from overseas and its official languages are English, Tamil, Malay, and Mandarin.

This same diversity is reflected in its student population, with over 65,000 international students currently enrolled in higher education in Singaporean institutions.

Its colonial past and large British expat community also make their mark. The lines of large, immaculately shiny cars drive on the left-hand side of the road. Menus feature bangers and mash alongside chili prawns and Pad Thai.

Travelling around the city is easy, with efficient public transport networks – or get your thrills on the ‘MRT’ – the much-loved sky train.

Accommodation for students studying in Singapore

Student accommodation in Singapore varies from university to university, but in general, both private and university-managed options are popular with international students.

University-managed accommodation

University-managed accommodation in Singapore tends to be on-campus and is popular with both home and international students. However, it’s worth noting that in Singapore it tends to be considered more expensive than off-campus, private accommodation.

When it comes to university accommodation, all options resemble what you’ll be used to seeing in other countries, with communal facilities and a mix of single or shared rooms available at different price points.

Halls of Residence are popular at Singaporean institutions. They’re a mixture between collegiate accommodation and the traditional halls or dorms you’ll find in the US and the UK. To get a room, students apply before the beginning of their first year.

However, what makes ‘living in hall’ such a unique experience is the tariff system: students are expected to participate in a number of extracurricular activities each week. Earning enough points throughout the year through these various activities and commitments is required to be eligible to re-apply the following year.

Though this unique system makes it loads of fun, it also makes it a hefty time commitment, so it’s not necessarily for everyone. Some students love it, others find it distracts them from their academic studies and other pursuits.

Residential Colleges provide a high amount of pastoral and academic support for students, but the atmosphere is a little more relaxed than in Halls of Residence. Without the same strict tariffs, students don’t need to commit to quite as much.

Student Residences are the closest to USA or UK dorms: it’s university-managed accommodation, but students are mostly independent. That usually means self-catered accommodation (where students have to cook and shop for themselves) and sharing apartment-style accommodation with a group of fellow students.

Private accommodation

Private accommodation in Singapore can either be student-specific (these are usually called hostels and rooms can be either private or shared) or private long-term rentals.

Universities tend to keep lists of verified private housing providers, so it’s always worth checking each institution’s website or getting in touch with student support for guidance.

Note: If students are looking for housing in apartments and condos (not student hostels), they need to check the conditions of the lease carefully: it’s not uncommon for long term rentals in Singapore to be on 2-year contracts!

How much does studying in Singapore cost?

Affordability is one area where Singapore tends not to rank highly. With a high cost of living, it’s generally considered expensive. Although some things like public transport are very good value, tuition fees and accommodation are pricey. International student fees in Singapore tend to be around 20,000 SGD per year (15,000 USD), but they can go up to 50,000 SGD (37,000 USD). Individual courses vary, so encourage students to research their course costs carefully.

Scholarships for studying in Singapore

One of the reasons Singapore is so popular with international students is the wealth of international scholarships available – especially considering the size of this tiny country!

Though it varies slightly year to year, we recommend checking the Education section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website for up-to-date information on scholarships.

Part-time jobs

Student visas allow some part-time work during term time and during holidays. Students who get the best out of studying in Singapore are probably those who are quite career-minded and able to make the most of the internships and work placements that are an integral part of many degree courses here. They can gain valuable experience in their chosen field, as well as earn money to help support themselves.

It’s important to note, though, that international students in Singapore who wish to work alongside their studies must first obtain permission from their university!

Student visas for studying in Singapore

A study visa, known as a ‘Student Pass’, must be applied for online at least one month in advance of the course start date, and not more than two months in advance.

Students are required to provide a medical certificate stating that they don’t have HIV or tuberculosis.

Students must be careful not to overstay on their student visa – but many international students do apply for and are granted Permanent Residency in Singapore if they wish to stay after graduation.

It’s a great option because there are lots of employment opportunities across a range of sectors in Singapore, and employers are used to hiring internationally.

Learn all about studying in Singapore – and more!

Our free eBook, the Ultimate Guide to Studying in Asia, has all the essential information about applying to and studying in Singapore, as well as four other world-leading education destinations in Asia: Japan, India, Hong Kong and South Korea.

To make sure your students find the university that’s the best fit for them, and maximise their chances of creating a successful application, make sure you download your copy! And remember, they can also research all these destinations (in fact, 28,000 universities around the world!) in the free BridgeU platform, which will find their best matches for them. 

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