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

Not 100% sure about your next step? Let one of our seniors share his journey and offer tips on how you can make the right choice to a fulfilled life in this annual higher education workshop.

A university is the last stage of your formal education. It is a link way between a schooling life and a working life. You definitely want to choose the correct path that leads you to a good and successful career after you graduate. At the same time, you also want to enjoy your life in a university of your choice. Hence you may be anxious about the choice of your university that is often an irreversible decision. Digital Senior understands your worry, but also believes that the process of choosing a university need not be daunting. The factors that you need to bear in mind can be divided into academic and non-academic factors and Digital Senior would like to introduce you a few important academic considerations first.

Are you alone?

How Strong is the Department of your Major?

The first factor that you need to consider is the academic strength of the department offering your desired major. Each of the four 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, share some of the basic business acumen.

NTU, on the other hand, offers many niche programs such as Education, Sport 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 fulfill that aspiration. NUS offers many traditionally prestigious courses such as dentistry, law, pharmacy and medicine.

In terms of strength of majors, NTU boasts the strongest communication studies program in Singapore based on 2014 QS world subject ranking.  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 designs, may be a perfect fit for students with an inclination for applying arts, designs, technology and engineering to make a better world.

We even have universities collaborating. For example, A new dual degree program, SUTD-SMU dual degree in technology and management was launched last year. To increase the university places, we have UniSIM and SIT in the picture now.

NTU and NUS each offer 50+ degree programs , SMU 7 , SUTD 5, UniSIM 4 while SIT has 36.

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 in all four universities are 4-year programs, though certain majors, such as business in NTU, are 3 years long. The advantage of going for shorter program is that you can graduate faster and start to work sooner or have more time for further studies. The downside is that you may feel that 3 years may be a little rush for you, as you may need more time to participate in campus activities or more buffer time for you to find internship or jobs. While NUS and NTU has similar curriculum designs, SUTD allows students to do one and half year of common curriculum before they can declare a major, so that students have sufficient time to explore their interest in university. This is similar to the system in most US universities.

2. Modules selection

In SMU, restriction for taking double degree/major is relatively lower compared to other universities; in fact, taking double majors is encouraged by the university. If you want to have that flexibility, consider SMU in that respect. Both SMU and SUTD are considered as specialized schools , therefore, 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 S/U option to take the stress off learning and exploring something that you like, but not necessarily good in.

3. GPA

GPA deserves some special mentioning here. Other than SMU, the other three universities 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 extra reward, as he/she can get 4.3 out of 4 for that particular subject, pulling up the average GPA as a result. Such extra reward is not available in three other universities. However, NUS and NTU allow S/U option for 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.

4. Pedagogy

Lastly, SUTD adopts a more hands-on education and SMU adopts a seminar-style participatory education. In NUS and NTU, more conventional lecture-tutorial style is followed. Different education style may have different impact on your learning outcome and also affects your GPA. SIT and UniSIM prides themselves on being practice-oriented universities. Both are characterized by longer-than-normal work attachment(or internship) spanning 6months to a year, compared to 2 to 4months long internships in NTU and NUS.

Looking Into the Future:

1. Job Prospects

As practical as it sounds, discussing about job prospects is a must when deciding on the choice of university. After all, it is what the school prepares you for supposedly, at 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. Among the 4 local universities, NUS is placed highest in the worldwide university ranking, whichever one that 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 that it is the best university.

Future Job

However, if you are like most people, you will plan to work locally upon graduation , 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 on 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 master 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 longer tradition and international reputation, you are more likely to get in a good graduate program. Moreover, the connection between your undergraduate department and the graduate program department is also critical to how favorably admission officers look at your application. While you are choosing a university and consider 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 probably 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 four universities in Singapore are yet to have very distinctive identity 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 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 UniSIM, 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!

Culture Shock

Bricks and Mortar

Secondly, let us move to something concrete, literally. It is the university residential 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. SUTD has a student domicile that is named 6 degree, 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 much resource in fostering the residential environment. SMU, however, does not have a hall system, though it has a student hostel mostly dedicated to the 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 residential halls. SIT and UniSIM 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 375 350 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 schools are approximately as follows: 70% of NUS students, 80% of NTU students, 86% of SMU students and 60% of SUTD students. For SIT and UniSIM, it is stated that their students must go on overseas trips.

The overseas schools you get to spend your time in varies. For SIT and UniSIM, 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 and ZheJiang University in China. NTU has a staggering 290 overseas university partners in more than 33 countries for you to choose from. Despite its youth relative to NTU & NUS, SMU has 212 agreements with overseas universities in the most exotic of countries such as Africa and Mauritius.  Hence students going for such exchange will benefit the most from the quality of education in their chosen field of study.


The list of consideration 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 personally deem as most important and want to achieve in university.  For example, future prospects may be your principal consideration while culture is insignificant to you, the reverse may be true for your peer.

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 inwards”.  Understand your goals for university education and what you really want to get out of it. The best university is the one that best fulfill your goals. Good luck to your search and hope you will decide on a university where you enjoy each and every day of your life.