Student Guide to Singapore

Everything you need to know before studying in Singapore - education system, visa requirement and process, Indians living in Singapore, post-study options and more.

Education System

Singapore has four national universities. Then there are polytechnics which offer tertiary education through diploma courses, which are practical courses with plenty of group work. Diplomas are offered in Tourism, Biotechnology, Digital Media, Engineering, Business Studies, Mass Communications, Accountancy, and Hospitality Management. The five polytechnics of Singapore are Nanyang Polytechnic, Republic Polytechnic, Temasek Polytechnic, Singapore Polytechnic, and Ngee Ann Polytechnic. 

For international students, Indian Standard 12 mark sheet acts as the qualifier for entry into undergraduate courses, whether it is CBSE, ISCE or State boards. Admissions are based on academic merit as well as competition among all eligible applicants. In addition to fulfilling admission requirements for the international student category, Indian students are also required to fulfill the subject prerequisites for the courses which they are applying for. For example, if you are looking for admission in Business Administration, then you need to have passed Mathematics in your 12th standard or at some other higher level. Or if you are considering civil engineering, then you need to have passed Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry at least on the school level.*

*These requirements differ from every institute. Some polytechnics may not have these requirements while universities might have them. Please check with the institute of your choice before applying.

College Fit: At the higher education level, students have a wide range of options when they choose a college or university. Although there are agencies that attempt to place colleges and universities in rank order, the concept of “fit” is also important. The GPA* of admitted students are important, but majors offered, location, number of students enrolled, and campus culture are all factors in a prospective student’s decision.

*GPA means grade point average. It is the average of all grades received.

Popular student destinations: The top universities in Singapore are Nanyang Technological University (NTU), National University of Singapore (NUS), Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and Singapore Management University (SMU), in no particular order.

International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma, Information Technology, Management, Finance/Accounting and Engineering are a few popular courses Indian students pursue in Singapore.

Safety in Singapore: Singapore has a well-deserved reputation for being safe and relatively crime-free. Major crimes like murder and rape, are dealt with severely and swiftly. The government has also made it known that extremism originating from religion or race has no place in Singapore, and it will not hesitate to take action against any extremists or terrorist groups or individuals.

Weather: Singapore's weather is warm and humid, ranging from an average of 31°C during the day and 24°C at night. It rains throughout the year with heavier rain during the monsoon season, which lasts from November to January.

Lifestyle tips

Singapore is a multi-cultural society where Malay, Chinese and Indian traditions coexist along with the western cosmopolitan outlook. According to the Asian cultural norms, older people are treated with respect. However nowadays wealth and status are considered more important than age distinctions. A social superior or an authority is treated with formality and respect. Singaporeans claim they are an egalitarian society like the western countries, yet they have strong hierarchical relationships like those between parents and children, teachers and students, and employers and employees. 

Indians living in Singapore

There were nearly 351,700 Indian immigrants living in Singapore in 2013. They represent 9 per cent of the country’s population.  

Accommodation

Firstly, you need to decide whether you want to live in university managed accommodation, or with a private landlord. Choosing university managed accommodation can also give you a catered or self-catered option. Catered accommodation offers the benefits of your meals being cooked for you and a degree of certainty with meal costs.

If you have an idea about what you prefer, the accommodation office at your university will be able to tell you what accommodation they have available – so that’s the place to start. If you are thinking of renting from a private landlord or if your chosen university can’t offer you anything in its own residential facility, the accommodation office should be able to provide you with a list of private properties and landlords in the area.

Wherever you choose to live, you should make sure that you know your contractual rights and responsibilities. In most cases you will be asked to enter into a tenancy agreement, which you should read thoroughly before you sign.

Orientation

Orientation week is mandatory for international students so you want to be sure that you arrive before it starts. This is the time where you will be introduced to the university and its services, as well as enroll in your classes. It is essential that you read your guidebook, which is provided by the college. The guide explains each part of the admission process.

Activities

Along with sports facilities, colleges offer extra-curricular activities which able to offer students a wide range of experiences – intellectual, cultural and relaxing. Music, drama, science and literary societies are offered in all colleges, and there will be opportunities for outdoor education and other leisure activities. Visits to theatres and concerts, to places relevant to the courses of study such as art galleries and museums, religious centers or historical sites, scientific companies and projects are all part of college life.

Requirements

These vary between study programmes and levels. For each course, Indian students will need to meet a minimum English language requirement. Along with that a minimum academic record of 70% and above in Class XII will be required, if looking at getting admission to a government university. For private institutes and polytechnics, students who have secured below 60% can also get admission. The student should have completed 18 years of age before joining a degree programme.

It is important to note that these numbers are just for reference purpose, the actual numbers may differ from university to university. The following documents also need to be submitted:

• Attested copies of mark sheets of Standard X, XII, and the Bachelor’s degree (if applicable)

• At least, two Academic reference letters from professors who have taught you most recently.

• If you have work experience then two letters of recommendation (LOR) from the employer/manager who knows you well and can comment on your professional abilities • Statement of Purpose (SOP)

• Resume

• Photocopied score reports of GMAT / IELTS / TOEFL

• Portfolio (in case of students applying for art and design courses and architecture programmes) • Others (Certificates / achievements at the state and national level and extracurricular activities) • Proof of funds

Timeline

Most of the colleges in Singapore accept online applications. You will have to visit each college's website to apply. In most cases you will have to make an account on the college website to provide your basic information, submit the scanned version of your documents, and pay application fees. You will be informed about the application process and stages through this account. Please refer to the website of the colleges of your choice to know the process of applying.

Application fee:

All colleges require that you pay an application fee while applying. The fee amount will differ depending upon the college and course being applied to, so check with individual colleges about their application fee.

Steps:

The common steps to applying for admission are:

• Search for colleges and courses

• Contact schools and visit websites for information

• Narrow down your list of schools

• Take the entrance exams like GMAT, GRE, TOEFL, IELTS

• Write SOPs and ask for LORs

• Apply to colleges which fit your interests

• Appear for video interviews of the colleges that shortlisted you

• If accepted, apply for student visa

SOP:

A Statement of Purpose (SOP) is your introduction to the college and admission officers. It is always written in first person and describes the reason for applying to a particular college. It needs to highlight why you are a perfect fit for the college and why the college should accept you. The style of writing could differ from formal to casual, but it is important to remember that it should reflect your personality as well.

Essay:

Essays are also required to be submitted by a prospective student. Essays are an important part of the university admissions process. Students may be required to write one or two essays, along with a few optional essays too. Common topics include career aspirations, strengths and weaknesses, skills, experiences, and reasons for considering a particular school.

LOR:

A letter of recommendation (LOR) is a reference letter written by a third party describing the qualities, characteristics, and capabilities of the prospective student to recommend him to the college in terms of that individual’s ability to perform a particular task or function. The third party could be a professor, direct manager etc.

Intake seasons

Singapore government universities generally have two intakes i.e. August and February, with the private institutes offering multiple intakes in January, February, July, August, September and October. The intake season for polytechnics is usually April and September. You should start your admission process around six months before the application deadline. Typically, applications for admissions open in October. You should be done with your language and aptitude tests by three months before the deadline, if mentioned otherwise. The last three months should be dedicated to filling out the application form properly.

Language exams

International English Language Testing System (IELTS), Test Of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), and Pearson Test of English (PTE) are all standardized language tests, which are required to be taken for the purpose of getting admission to colleges. These follow different formats, structure and result bands. These tests are all different in various ways but many colleges ask for any one of the results. So it's up to the student to decide which exam to appear for.

Repetition of exams: IELTS can be taken unlimited number of times. TOEFL can be retaken as many times as wished, but cannot be taken more than once in a 12-day period. Same with PTE, it can be taken as many times as desired. You must wait to receive your scores before you can book your next test.

Fee: The fee for these exams is Rs 9,300 for IELTS, Rs 10,000 for TOEFL and Rs 9,350 for PTE.

Time to apply: Ideally, if you are aiming at the January intake you should appear for these exams by June, so that you can apply before the first deadline. The universities you will be applying to will mention which exam results they will accept. But if they give a choice to go for either of these, then the choice depends on you. The time required to prepare for IELTS/TOEFL/PTE would depend on the existing English language proficiency. You may require two to four months of preparation before the exam date.

Score requirements: For undergraduate courses, you should have scored at least 6.5 in IELTS and 80 in TOEFL.In case of a postgraduate course, you need to have scored 7.5 in IELTS and 90 in TOEFL.

General exams

GMAT – The Graduate Management Aptitude Test is used to measure the abilities of the potential MBA aspirant to undertake higher education in the field of business or management. It measures mathematical, English, and reasoning skills of the student.

GRE – The Graduate Record Examination is another test required to be taken by students applying to graduate schools to pursue MA or MS. Increasingly many business schools are also accepting GRE scores for the purpose to granting admission for MBA.

Repetition and Fee: You can give GMAT unlimited number of times, subject to five times a year and a gap of 30 days between two tests. The cost of GMAT is Rs 16,000 and GRE is Rs 12,000.

Average Scores: The average GMAT score accepted across universities is 520 and above 600 for the top colleges. Average GRE score is 145 for Verbal, 160 for Quantitative and 4.0 for Writing.

It is important to note that these numbers are just for reference purpose, the actual numbers may differ from university to university.

The cost of living depends heavily on what part of Singapore will you be living in along with how much you will socialize. Some of the basic elements for living as an international student in Singapore are:

  • Accommodation rent (on-campus or off-campus)
  • Groceries and food
  • Utilities like power, water, gas, internet
  • Phone bills
  • Text and reference books
  • Airfare for traveling back to India

Other elements which may differ from person to person would be:

  • Dinning out
  • Travel and vacation
  • Car rent and car insurance
  • Cable TV connection

School expenses

The tuition fee varies according to different universities, courses and the city. The tuition expenses in Singapore for an undergraduate course might be up to S$12,000 to S$15,000 per year for an undergraduate course. And if you are thinking of applying to a postgraduate course, the cost would be approximately S$17,000 to S$25,000 per year.

Living expenses

An international student in Singapore spends on an average about S$750 to S$2,000 a month on living expenses. This amount varies depending on individual lifestyle. These estimated costs below give a rough guide to the basic monthly expenditure of an international student in Singapore.

Item

Cost Per Month (Singapore Dollars)

Accommodation rent

$200 - $1,500

Utilities

$50 - $80

Three meals a day

$300 - $450

Public Transport

$20 - $100

Mobile phone bills

$30- $80

Books & Stationery

$30 - $100

Personal expenses

$100 - $200

Scholarships

Merit and need based fee waivers are awarded to international students. Candidate with strong academics, good performance on standardized exams and extracurricular achievements would be eligible for scholarship awards and financial assistance. To benefit from these opportunities, one has to make sure to send all the required documents by particular deadlines. In addition to this, the presentation of the application is also important because one is judged by the image one projects.

Documents required: The documents usually needed for a scholarship application are as follow, although the requirements may differ:

  • Academic records and photocopies
  • A recent CV
  • A letter of intent, which acts as a cover page
  • Certificate of language proficiency (TOEFL or IELTS scores)
  • Letters of Reference

Loans

Student Eligibility criteria: The first thing to be aware of is whether you are eligible to apply for the loan or not. The general eligibility criteria that are followed by all the banks are –

  • You should be an Indian national
  • You must have a strong academic record
  • You must be seeking admission to a professional, technical or other course of studies. Most banks maintain that the selected course should be job oriented
  • You must have secured admission to a foreign university institution
  • You must be above the age of 18 years or else your parents can avail the loan

Eligibility of course: You may not get a loan on every course. Here are the kinds of courses that qualify for the education loan.

  • For Graduation: Job oriented professional or technical courses offered by reputed universities
  • For Post-graduation: MCA, MBA, MS and also diplomas
  • These courses could be from foreign universities or institutes approved by the state and central government

Loan amount: If your total fee is Rs 10 lakh, the bank may offer to give a loan of 80% of the amount and you will have to put in the balance 20%. This is called the margin amount. The maximum loan amount for studies abroad is generally around Rs 20 lakh by the bank. If your tuition fees amount is Rs 30 lakh, you’ll have to manage the rest of the funds by yourself. Some banks charge a processing fee, while others don’t. It may be a fixed amount or a percentage of the total loan amount. So if the bank charges you one per cent as processing fee, that will be an additional cost you’ll have to cover.

Documentation required: You will have to provide the acceptance letter sent by the university reflecting that you have been selected for the course and the schedule of fees. You will also need to show the mark sheet of the last qualifying examination to show your academic record.

All banks have different requirement for documentation, so you need to confirm with the bank first.

Repayment: Repayment starts only after the course period. If the student gets employed within one year after completion of the course, the repayment should start immediately after the expiry of one month from the date of employment.

If you do not secure a job within a year of completing the course, then repayment starts irrespective of whether or not you are employed. The loan is generally to be repaid in 5-7 years after commencement of repayment. If the student is not able to complete the course within the scheduled time or extension of time for completion of course, he may be permitted for a maximum period of two years. Generally, you will get up to a maximum number of 10 years to repay the loan.

Conditions

New applications for a Student’s Pass must be submitted at least one month and not more than two months before the commencement of the course. Applications must be submitted through the Student’s Pass On-Line Application & Registration (SOLAR) system.

Following documents will be required for application purposes:

  • Valid passport – Your passport must be valid for at least three months beyond your period of stay in Singapore.
  • Completed Student Visa Application Forms – ICA form 16 & Form V36
  • Application fee payment receipt, as you are required to pay S$30, which translates roughly to Rs 1500. An issuance fee of S$60 (Rs 3000) has to be paid once the Student's Pass is approved and issued.
  • Offer of place – You need to have an offer of place from a Singapore institute/university. The forms are usually issued after the tuition fees have been received.
  • Two passport sized photographs (if applicable)

Note: Additional documentation may be required. During the personal interview, additional documents may be requested by the interviewer. These may be documents to prove evidence of academic or financial status –

  • Transcripts, diplomas, degrees, or certificates from schools you attended
  • Test scores that your college required, such as the TOEFL, GRE, or GMAT
  • How you will pay all educational, living and travel costs

Post-Studies Visa process

After the degree program is over, international students can submit an application for a one-year Visit Pass to ICA (Immigration & Checkpoints Authority of Singapore), if they want to look for employment opportunities in Singapore. This can be done online through e-VP.

Work permit

You can work part-time for up to 16 hours per week. Work permits are not required for those who want to work during holidays, as they can work full-time without any visa restrictions.

Visa for spouse

The spouse and children of full-time graduate research students can get sponsorship from the university for a Social Visit Pass to stay in Singapore. The graduate students should get their spouse and children to apply for an entry visa at Singapore's embassy.  When the spouse and children arrive in Singapore, they will be given a 4-week Social Visit Pass at the airport. 

Pre-departure list

  • Book airline tickets
  • Arrange accommodation in Singapore
  • Arrange transportation to/from the airport to home in Singapore
  • Arrange your banking – consider buying traveler’s cheques
  • Check baggage and customs limitations
  • Clear all paperwork with your home educational institution

Get your documents in order and make photocopies to store in your baggage and keep at home, including:

  1. Passport
  2. Airline tickets
  3. Travel insurance certificate
  4. Letter of Acceptance by the educational institution
  5. Key addresses and phone numbers
  6. A bank statement showing proof of funds
  7. Prescriptions for any medication you are carrying
  8. Traveler’s cheques—if applicable
  9. Medical and immunization records
  10. Academic history and university transcripts

Homesickness: Homesickness is a predictable problem faced by most students at one point or another. It may occur at the beginning or later. Homesickness will pass. Be patient. Give it at least two weeks. If you are feeling sad, explain what is happening to your friends. Do not hide in your room; if you do, the homesickness will only worsen. Find your counselor staff with whom you can talk about homesickness or other problems. Homesickness might be made worse by frequent, long telephone calls home. Most homesick students feel more homesick after a call home than they did before they picked up the phone. Try to limit yourself to one call home every week. The sooner you integrate into the university experience, the sooner your homesickness will pass.

Shopping in Singapore: Large shopping malls like ION Orchard, VivoCity and Jurong Point in Singapore are one-stop shops for all of your daily needs. Be vigilant to ensure that all of your shopping is properly billed and that you keep the bills with you at all times.

Learning basic cooking: Cooking for yourself will save you money. Indian food is expensive in Singapore. It will also satisfy your urge to eat ‘your food’ during moments of homesickness. You can easily find many shops which sell ingredients used in Indian food.

Travel: Each large city has and provides different methods of public transportation, such as buses, taxis or trains. You might wish to rely on a private car for transportation. Even with the rising cost of petrol, private cars are the most economical and convenient mode of transportation because you get a lot of flexibility and freedom with your car. You can travel wherever and whenever you want, and don't have to depend on the schedule of public transport. However, before you buy your own car, you will have to use public transportation or ask friends for rides.

Stay on Student’s Pass: Upon completion of their degree program, international students may submit an application for a one-year Visit Pass to ICA, if they wish to seek employment in Singapore. This can be done electronically via e-VP.

Work visa

In Singapore, if you accept a job offer before you complete your studies then the employer needs to apply on your behalf for the employment pass. If you do not secure a job before the completion of the course, you can apply for an ‘approval in principle work visa’ which allows you to stay for a limited time while looking for a job simultaneously.

An employment pass is valid for only a few years (between three to five years). The visa is linked with the job that you are doing, so long as you are gainfully employed by the employer the work visa is in effect.

 

To explore more study options in Singapore, click the following links.

MBA in Singapore

B.E./B.Tech in Singapore

MS in Singapore