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What’s it like to study in… Singapore?

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 Singapore offer your students who are thinking of applying to study overseas? Ranked at number 14 in the QS Best Student Cities (2017), 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. Singapore universities are internationally recognised – and generally well regarded by employers – so it can be a great choice for students who are planning to work elsewhere after graduation.

Where to study 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.

The National University of Singapore (NUS), located in the suburbs, is an academic all-rounder.  Currently ranked at number 15 in the world (QS, 2018), it’s a safe bet 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 11th in the world (QS,2018), mostly thanks to its phenomenal reputation in engineering and technology.

International students are also attracted to the business, finance, accounting and management courses at the internationally ranked Singapore Management University.

Courses 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 requirement. You can easily get by in Singapore if you only speak English – though expect to pick up some ‘Singlish’ during your stay.

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.

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. 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 the chilli 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.

How much does it cost to study in Singapore?

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. Average fees at the top universities are in the region of US$ 12,000 to US$14,000 per year, but individual courses will vary so encourage students to research their course costs carefully.

It’s important to get accommodation sorted out well in advance of arrival. While a room at campus is probably the best option, it is not guaranteed and may still end up costing more than students expect. The next easiest option is likely to be sharing an apartment with other students close to campus.

Student visas allow some part-time working 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.

Other things for students to consider:

  • A study visa, known as a ‘Student Pass’, must be applied for online at least one month in advance of your 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 the wish to stay after graduation.

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