Choosing the Right University? NUS, NTU, SMU, SUTD or ?

University is the last stage of your formal education. It is a linkway between schooling life and working life. You’d want to choose a path that leads you to a good and successful career after you graduate. At the same time, you’d also want to enjoy your life in a university of your choice.

You may hence be anxious about your choice of university, which is often an irreversible decision. We understand your worry but also believe that the process of choosing a university need not be daunting. The factors that”ll you need to bear in mind can be divided into academic and non-academic factors, and Digital Senior would like to introduce to you a few important academic considerations first.

Are you alone?

How Strong is the Department of your (intended) Major?

The first factor that you need to consider is the academic strength of the department offering your desired major. Each of the six local universities has different academic reputations in different majors. SMU has a particular focus on business in a general sense and many students, even those taking non-business majors, will cover basic business concepts.

NTU, on the other hand, offers many niche programs such as Education, Sports Science, Arts & Design, Philosophy and Renaissance Engineering that are not found in other universities. If you have a special interest to learn about a certain specialized field, NTU can help you to fulfil that aspiration. NUS offers many traditionally prestigious courses such as dentistry, law, pharmacy and medicine.

In terms of the strength of majors, NUS boasts the strongest communication studies program in Singapore based on 2021’s QS World University ranking by subject as well as ShanghaiRanking’s Global Ranking of Academic Subjects. NUS, as one of the leading universities in Asia, has a more balanced academic environment. Many of its engineering programs are ranked among the top 10 in the world whereas its IT, humanities and finance courses are also highly looked upon.

SUTD, the rising star dedicated to the fusion of technology and design, may be a perfect fit for students with an inclination for applying arts, designs, technology and engineering to make “a better world by design”. They have also been noted to appreciate students with passion and entrepreneurial spirit, and strongly encouraging students to pursue side projects and passions through Fifth Row activities.

We even have universities collaborating! For example, a dual degree program, SUTD-SMU dual degree in Technology and Management was launched in 2013. Since then, other programs like the SUTD-Duke-NUS Special Track have been introduced. To increase university places, we also have SUSS and SIT in the picture now.

NTU and NUS each offer 50+ degree programs, SMU 8, SUTD 5 (not including three special programmes), SUSS 80+ and SIT, 43.

Having discussed the academic strengths of respective universities, it is worth emphasizing that such strengths are not absolute. So what else do we need to bear in mind?

Take a Closer Look: Curriculum Design

The second important factor may be the curriculum design. This has been overlooked by many students who do not have the patience to do further research. There are 4 factors that we will examine under the broad term of curriculum design.

1. Duration

Then let Digital Senior give you a quick overview. Most majors offered across our autonomous universities are 4-year programs, although certain majors, such as business in NTU, are 3 years long. Double degree programmes will last longer, for at least 5 years.

The advantage of going for shorter programs is that you graduate faster and start to work sooner, and have more time for further studies. The downside is that you may feel that 3 years may be a little rushed for you, as you may need more time to participate in campus activities or more buffer time for you to find internships or jobs. Additionally, an honours year is usually necessary/helpful for those intending to pursue further studies, as they provide you with research training you’d need for a postgraduate/masters degree.

While NUS, NTU, SUSS, SMU and SIT have similar curriculum designs, SUTD allows students to do one and a half years of common curriculum before they can declare a major, so that students have sufficient time to explore their interests in university. This is similar to the system in most US universities.

2. Modules selection

In SMU, the restrictions for taking a double degree/major are relatively fewer compared to other universities; in fact, taking a double major is encouraged by the university. If you want to have that flexibility, consider SMU in that respect.

Both SMU and SUTD are considered specialized schools, so seekers of a more holistic education will find gratification in NTU and NUS instead. Both schools offer a substantial amount of credits for you to take modules outside of your discipline. They even provide the S/U option to take the stress off learning and exploring something that you like but are not necessarily good at.

3. Content

This is incredibly important! While the universities might offer degrees in the same discipline, and even the same modules, what they cover might not necessarily be the same. A quick look at literature (known as English at university level), for example, reveals that both NUS and NTU cover Singapore Literature, but the latter gives you a chance to study this in greater depth (two modules comprising of an introductory module and an elective, as compared to NUS’s one).

If you can, don’t stop your browsing at module titles/blurbs! Try to see if there are course outlines that you can get your hands on (if they are available to the public a quick google search will pull them up, otherwise you can try to see if seniors already in the university have access). While the module’s material might change when its instructors do, you can still get a clearer picture of how it’s conducted and what it will demand of you. This way, you won’t get a rude shock and think ‘this isn’t what I expected’ in dismay.

4. GPA

GPA deserves a special mention here. SUTD/SUSS/NTU/NUS use a scale of 5.0 as the maximum point while SMU uses a scale of 4.0. Their differences do not stop there. A student scoring A+ gets an extra reward, as he/she can get 4.3 out of 4 for that particular subject, pulling up his/her average GPA as a result. Such extra reward is not available in the other four universities.

However, NUS and NTU allow the S/U option for up to 4 modules taken during the undergraduate studies and students who convert a module to S/U module are only required to pass the module. Lastly, if you look at the GPA calculation for SMU, a B+ corresponds to 3.4 out of 4, while in other universities, a B+ corresponds to 4 out of 5. Keeping all the factors equal, it is slightly harder to get the same grade in SMU than in other places. Read more about the different GPA systems.

SUTD offers gradeless first-semester and NUS, a gradeless first-year (Pass/Fail).

SIT’s grading system depends largely on whether you’re taking a degree from their partner university. If so, grading follows the partner university’s system.

5. Pedagogy

Lastly, SUTD adopts a more hands-on education and SMU adopts a seminar-style participatory education. The more conventional lecture-tutorial style is followed in NTU and NUS, although some tutorials are starting to adopt the flipped classroom approach that SUSS follows. Different education styles may have a different impact on your learning outcome and also affects your GPA. SIT and SUSS pride themselves on being practice-oriented universities. Both are characterized by longer-than-normal work attachment (or internship) spanning 6 months to a year, compared to 2 to 4 months long internships in NTU and NUS.

Of course you can also, if you’re the particularly industrious sort, look up your future professors/lecturers to have a better impression of what they do and what their teaching styles are like. You might even discover that their research interests/areas are something that you’re keen on? If so, they could be your future FYP professor-in-charge—who knows!

Looking Into the Future:

1. Job Prospects

As practical as it sounds, discussing job prospects is a must when deciding on your choice of university. After all, it is what the school supposedly prepares you for by the end of the 3 or 4 years.  If you intend to work overseas upon graduation, you may want to consider a university that is better known on a global scale. NUS is placed highest in the worldwide university ranking among the 6 local universities, whichever you refer to.  Most people in the far corners of the world will only recognize NUS as the only university in Singapore. By virtue of its name, people will take it to be the best university.

Future Job

However, if you plan to work locally upon graduation like most people, then you will look at prestige differently. For example, SMU, NUS and NTU all have very strong and recognized business schools in Singapore. There are various debates about which business school is the best and there is no conclusion, but SMU business graduates command the highest average pay.

2.  Further Studies

Doing a masters degree has become increasingly popular among graduates who want to have a competitive edge in finding a job. A PhD program is pursued by those who are dedicated to research in the future. Graduate schools are particular about the background of your undergraduate program. If you are coming from a school that has a long tradition and international reputation, you are more likely to get into a good graduate program. Moreover, the connection between your undergraduate department and the graduate program department is also critical to how favourably admission officers look at your application. While you are choosing a university and considering further education, do look into the background of the department under which you will pursue your bachelor’s degree.


University is more than a place in which you study. It is a place where you live and spend four years of what will probably make up the best part of your life. People in their 20s want to try new things, make new friends and go out and see the world. Make sure that you have such opportunities in the University of your choice. While academic considerations are important, some non-academic considerations should also play an important role for you to make a balanced and informed decision.

Cultural Shock?

Firstly, let us begin by talking about something less visible but no less important: culture. It is fair to say that the 6 universities in Singapore have yet to form the distinctive identities that we see in many Western universities. However, there are still some notable differences that you may want to consider. SMU has a business-oriented culture. Students are encouraged to take initiative and be proactive. This can be seen in their seminar teaching style, or more interestingly, in how actively SMU students approach employers during career fairs and hand over their name cards.

NTU has a more laid-back culture, probably because the university is more remote from the downtown area and the whole campus is surrounded by forests (it’s not odd to spot a wild boar from your window while in Hall 9, for example). It is not surprising to see students wear slippers to attend lectures (if you can stand the cold). SUTD emphasizes hands-on ability, as students are required to put theories into applications, be it creating a product or building a model. Lastly, NUS is known to be somewhere between the spectrums. It is “culturally-safe” for many students. In SUSS, you may find yourself in the midst of working adults who are older while attending some of the classes! The exchange you can expect is very different in that environment. Expect conversations about the working world and even marriage!

Find an environment that you can feel comfortable in, but also a bit challenged at the same time. Challenge yourself to grow and be ready for the corporate world and beyond!

Culture Shock

Bricks and Mortar

Secondly, let us move to something concrete, literally. It is the university residence halls. Living in a hall may be one of your “first-time experiences” and Digital Senior promises you that it will be a memorable one. Living in a communal environment helps you integrate into the campus culture and make great friends along the way. Currently, NUS and NTU have a comprehensive hall system where freshmen are guaranteed a place in a hall and more senior students will bid for places using their hall points. As NUS has undertaken major construction projects, particularly the U-town, the competition for hall places is much less compared to NTU (which has since gone on to add more halls).

SUTD has a student domicile that is named 6 degrees, derived from the social theory that it takes at most 6 other people to know everybody in the world. As the name suggests, SUTD has been putting in many resources in fostering the residential environment. SMU, however, does not have a hall system, though it has a student hostel mostly dedicated to international students. The community spirit may not be as strong. However, it is located in more accessible parts of Singapore. Hence travelling is not a major issue for most Singaporean students, thereby reducing the demand for residence halls. SIT and SUSS currently do not provide halls for students as well.

Number of hall places About 11,000About 10,400About 1100
Cost of rental per month (S$)300 to 800225 to 375350 to 480
Fulltime undergrad population in 2014/152679723713close to 1000
Find out moreNUS Hostel RatesNTU Hall RatesSUTD Hostel Rates

Brave New World

Thirdly, staying on campus is a wonderful experience, but going out of campus—going for exchange programs—may also be meaningful. In the globalized world, going for exchange definitely enriches your experiences and widens your perspective.

The exchange programs offered by the various universities ranges from a few weeks to even a year. The most common ones are one semester long. The proportion of students who gain overseas exposure in each school are as follows: 70% of NUS students, 80% of NTU students, 86% of SMU students and 60% of SUTD students. For SIT, it is stated that their students must go on overseas trips.

(update: SMU students will now need overseas experience in order to graduate, so chances for exchange will most likely be even higher!)

The overseas schools you get to spend your time in vary. For SIT, it is mostly the university partners offering degrees through the school. You can find them here and here.

Given the reputation of NUS in the global arena, there is a chance you find yourself in Ivy league universities, associating yourself with the best brains in the world.  SUTD has fewer partner schools, however, it collaborates with some of the best universities in the field of technology and design, particularly MIT in the United States, Zhe Jiang University in China and UCLA, Berkeley.

NTU has a staggering 350+ overseas university partners in close to 40 countries for you to choose from. Despite its relative youth, SMU has agreements with 290+ overseas universities in the most exotic of countries such as Africa (continent) and Mauritius.  Hence, students going for such exchanges will benefit the most from the quality of education in their chosen field of study.


The list of considerations is not meant to be exhaustive, but to suggest some important factors that should not be overlooked. Digital Senior advises you to list down all the non-academic aspects you are looking for and then do thorough research one by one.

Final Words from Digital Senior

Everyone prioritizes the 6 factors differently. It hinges on what you deem as most important and want to achieve in university.  For example, prospects may be your principal consideration while culture is insignificant to you; the reverse may be true for your peer(s).

Hence, although it is wise to diligently invest the time researching the Internet or seeking senior’s advice, Digital Senior would advise you to “look inward”. Understand your goals for university education and what you really want to get out of it. The best university is the one that best fulfils your goals. If need be, set up an excel spreadsheet/list with the criteria that matter the most to you and start ticking!

Good luck with your search, and we hope you will decide on a university where you enjoy each and every day of your schooling life!


For other helpful information, Digital Senior recommends these articles!



  1. Hi, I am vidhya. I would like to take up CS & IT related Diploma course in Singapore college which has good value. I am planning to write IELTS exam if its mandatory. I would like to join in 2016 itself if possible. I have done my Bachelors and Masters in India. I have 9 years of Exp in software testing. Please suggest me the good college for me.


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