Introduction to Scholarships in Singapore
Scholarships are essentially awards of financial aid offered to outstanding students so that they can further their education. In spite of the apparent appeal of scholarships, it is important to look at the fine print of each scholarship to understand what you are getting yourself into. This guide covers some of the factors your want to consider in applying for a scholarship. The next section will go into the HOWs of getting a scholarship.
Types of Scholarships in Singapore
There are several types of scholarships, including merit-based scholarships, which are given to students with outstanding academic, artistic or athletic achievements, to name a few; need-based scholarships, which are given to students with good academic record but with disabilities or in need of financial help; student-specific scholarships that are given to deserving candidates of a particular race; college-specific scholarships that are awarded to outstanding students of a specific educational institution; and career-specific scholarships that are given to academically bright students who intend to pursue their careers in a specific sector.
Scholarships in Singapore are aplenty and offered by various organizations including government agencies, public and private entities, non-profit organisations, and educational institutes. For example, the Health Promotion Board offers scholarships for local and overseas undergraduate and postgraduate studies.
There are two categories for the scholarship for local undergraduate studies – mid-term and full-term. There is a slight difference in these categories although the components of the scholarship do not vary. Mid-term scholarships are given to students who have been enrolled in an undergraduate course and completed the required number of semesters in the university whereas full-term scholarships are given to students who have yet to begin their undergraduate journey. As such, the requirements for mid-term and full-term scholarships are slightly different – for mid-term scholarships, the agency that awards the scholarship assesses the student’s pre-university results as well as the results of the university course completed thus far. On the other hand, to be eligible for full-term scholarships, students need to have good pre-university results. With that in mind, we can say that it is not the end of the world even if your attempt to get a full-term scholarship does not bear fruits; you can still turn to mid-term scholarships after you have embarked your studies, if that is a consolation.
What Should you Look Out for Before Applying for Scholarships
This is a question that runs in the mind of every student who is keen on applying for a scholarship – what should I look out for before applying for a scholarship? There are a number of things to consider:
- Monetary value of the scholarship
Not all scholarships are equal. Some agencies provide full scholarships, where all expenses are taken care of, including tuition fees, hostel fees, overseas exchange program expenditure and the cost of a laptop and books, whereas other agencies provide partial scholarships, where only some expenses or part of the tuition fees are paid for. Scholarships also vary in the generosity of their monthly allowance, ranging from $200- $1000/month.
- Exclusivity of the scholarship
Some scholarship providers do not allow their scholars to obtain any other form of financial aid upon getting the scholarship, else legal trouble looms.
- Terms of the bond linked to the scholarship
There are a number of agencies that require students to sign a bond with them, and as such, students will be required to work at the respective agency upon their graduation. Being tied to an agency by a bond can be seen in a positive light as well as a negative light by some. If you are keen on working with the company or agency that you have taken a scholarship from, the bond can be viewed as a blessing in disguise. On top of that, you are likely to be placed on the fast career track as a scholar of the organization. However, bonds linked to scholarships can limit one’s opportunities. For example, if you were to receive an alluring offer after your graduation, you may have to give it up to avoid bearing the consequences of breaking the bond. Duration of bonds is usually proportional to the costs and duration of your undergraduate studies.
- Consequences of terminating the bond
No one can predict the future and what is going to happen 4 years down the road after your graduation. You may have found out your passion and want to pursue your dreams. Bond termination is becoming increasingly prevalent in Singapore. It will be wise to understand the terms and conditions attached to the termination of the bond carried out by either party (agency and student).
- Maintaining the scholarship
Receiving a scholarship is a great achievement, no doubt, but maintaining it is also quite a feat. Many students become complacent after receiving a scholarship that they lose focus on their studies. As such, their scholarships get terminated. To reap the maximum benefits of a scholarship and ensure that the scholarship provides a good stepping stone for a great career, you need to work hard and maintain a good grade point average (GPA). Many agencies state the minimum GPA that students need to attain every semester to maintain the scholarship, and you should keep note of that throughout your studies. In addition, some agencies require students to work as interns during their undergraduate or postgraduate education in order to maintain their scholarships.
- Applying for a scholarship
Before applying for a scholarship, it is important to understand the terms of the scholarship and the benefits that you can avail. If you are not ready to be tied to a company for a good 4-6 years upon your graduation, you may want to think twice before taking the next step. Do not allow the prestige and monetary enticement of the scholarship to cloud your judgment. On the other hand, if you love the job security promised by a corporate scholarship, you should hesitate no more in taking the plunge. Otherwise, you can aim for a scholarship provided by schools which are mostly bond-free.
As can be seen, there are different types of scholarships provided by various organizations that you can apply for, and the choice of scholarship application is largely a personal one. Hence, it is only wise to give a thought about what you want upon graduation before you proceed. Perhaps, you are not sure now, mid term scholarships are for students who are clearer with what they want after 1 or 2 years in university. So, keep your options open.
How to Get a Scholarship?
Now that you have gone through the warnings (we suppose you have) in the previous section, you should be ready to pocket the scholarship. In this section, we go through the different phases of getting a scholarship, namely – Preparation, Application, Interview and the good news. Under each segment, we explore the ninja tricks and tips for you to increase your chances of hitting home run.
Perhaps you are not the president of a club with 1000 members, neither are you the national champion of a glamorous sports, you also do not have 101 awards from the science or maths competitions under your belt. How do you stand out among the crowd and win at the scholarship game then? This is a guide that addresses this question and helps ordinary folks like you and me to secure sponsorship of our hefty university tuition fees.
1) Be Unusual
Nobody wants to give a large sum of money to a Tom, Dick or Harry, but you don’t always need to have a stellar CCA record or godlike results in order to be exceptional. In fact, the 2 aforementioned achievements are becoming increasingly trite in the scholarship application scene. Instead of being the best (which is tough with all the competition), you can easily stand out by being different. Do something that no one else has done to surprise the organization with an unusual scholarship application.
You have probably left school now BUT its is not too late. You should have some time before your scholarship application is due for submission. Below are some of the examples of unusual activities done outside of school in students’ resume that have won them scholarships:
- Do an internship/part time work with a reputable organization and perform very well(it’s a must). You can even get your supervisor to write a recommendation letter for you, while most of your peers only have it from their teachers.
- Start a business. With the advent of new internet applications, even grannies can build a website these days and start an online venture. There are various forms of initiatives that you can kickstart in the internet space such as online stores, blogs or even start a social movement ! An example would be the happiness revolution
- Join a Non-profit Organization. While most of your peers list school’s CCAs in their resume, you will be different by having involvement with an organization outside of school where you work with professionals who are older than you. You will even gain invaluable insights just by talking to them. Examples include Toastmasters International, Singapore Children’s society and etc.
- Join different competitions and win(of course). For students in polytechnic, your final year project provides an excellent avenue for you to be exceptional. Go for the awards !
- Be creative & adventurous! As you can see, the possibilities are boundless. Try something cool that Digital Seniors have not even thought of!
Whichever method you choose to stand out from the crowd, remember to be truly interested in that endeavor. Do not do so just to beautify your resume. Otherwise, you will soon hate what you are doing and be very unhappy. Not only that, the people in the organization will also have a bad impression about you which may result in repercussions later in your career.
2) Low Hanging Fruits
If you do an extensive scholarship research, you will find scholarships that are obscure and no one knows about. If few people apply for the particular scholarship, competition is lower and you chances of getting that scholarship will be higher. This typically applies to scholarships in the private sector that are not so widely publicized.
Alternatively, there are scholarships that attract lesser applicants as they are very specific. For example, scholarships that require their scholars to study in a particular course will also have lesser competition such as University Engineering Scholarship in NTU. Hence, it is wise for you to aim for these scholarships that are easier to obtain.
Conversely, if you go for scholarships that are immensely popular such as PSC scholarship or A*STAR scholarship, you are bound to hit a wall with the intense competition from the top boys.
The objective in this phase is to be called down for an interview. There isn’t a single case of someone who is awarded a scholarship by just submitting a scholarship application. Be aware of what you want to achieve and your chances of succeeding will be higher. Make yourself seem interesting so that they are interested in knowing who you are and how you look like, to call you down for an interview. In this section, we will teach you how to maximize your chances of getting that interview by creating a hook.
1) Law of Average
As you will learn from a salesperson; the more prospects you approach, the higher your chances of closing a deal. This is known as the law of average and it applies to getting a scholarship as well. Hence, send out your scholarship application to as many providers as you can to increase your chance of succeeding. Competition is going to be stiff for most of the scholarships out there and most providers do not reveal how many scholarships they are giving out. It seems that only approximately less than 10% of applicants for a scholarship will be successful on average. Hence, it is advisable that you put your eggs in many baskets and allow law of average to work to your favor. Besides, there are no known repercussions for sending out many scholarship applications, except that it may entail burning some of your weekends. At the end of the day, you can still turn them down if you decide that the particular scholarship is not your cup of tea. For Singaporean guys serving the nation, we have good news for you. You have 3 years to get a shot at a scholarship. This means that the impact of law of average is threefold for you.
Bright sparks is an excellent platform for this purpose, with its congregation of many scholarship providers in Singapore. The marvel of this platform is that you fill in a single form that can be sent to all of them, save for some specific questions that you have to answer for particular organizations. Nonetheless, you may wish to note that most scholarships listed there are provided by government bodies or government-linked organizations. For scholarships offered by private companies, you will have to apply at individual websites. Do note that different organizations have different scholarship application deadlines which you need to be aware of. Start early so that you will not miss out on any scholarship opportunity.
2) Sell yourself
Discard all your traditional beliefs; this is not a time to be humble. When applying for scholarship, take every chance you have to show the organization that you deserve the scholarship. Dig out all the certificates, achievements and accolades that you have garnered and be unabashed about them. Also, recall all the part time jobs, CCAs, community service activities that you have been involved in. The application form will typically require you to fill in all these records with a brief description of them.
Be Concise and Specific
They are not asking you to write a biography , be as concise and specific as possible in highlighting your achievements. As much as you can, quantify them so that it looks more impressive and believable. For example, instead of saying that you have helped a lot of people in your role as facilitator in an old folks home, say : “ I told stories to a group of 50 elderlys every week in Ang Mo Kio old folks home” .
Pump it up
Your writing skill is being put to test here. Make something that is ordinary sound extraordinary. Remember that your objective here is to be called down for an interview. Use powerful verbs or adjectives that not only bring out what you have done but make it sparkle. For example, if you are an In-charge of a community service project, use words such as “Successfully” , “Piloted” and “Spearheaded” As the saying goes, if you have it, flaunt it. No one is going to know how good you are if you do not tell them. Do not downplay your own achievements and think that they are not worth mentioning, at least not in the scholarship application process.
Never tell a Lie
Despite of what we have told you above, never fabricate something that is not true. Not only will you not be able to sleep well at night, you also face legal consequences which will be detrimental for your future. You certainly do not want to risk losing it all for a scholarship. Furthermore, interviewers will ascertain the authenticity of what was mentioned in the application letter/resume by grilling you on your experience. And trust us, they are terrific lie detectors.
Experience or achievements related to the scholarship you are applying for constitute bonus points for you, given that most other applicants who just graduated from JC/polytechnic likely do not have much non-academic involvement. Internships and attachments are typical examples of relevant industrial experience. If you are thinking of getting a science scholarship, then having a stint at A*STAR is certainly a feather in your cap. This is usually an indicator that you have some sort of passion or interest in the organization that you are applying a scholarship from. What if you want a scholarship from a school? Relevance counts as well, as no schools will want a scholar who pledge allegiance to a rival school. Show that you like the school by taking part in activities that are held by the school. There are many of such activities all year round.
If you already have all the elements of a successful application, the last thing you want is to get penalized due to poor impression. Proofread your application for grammar errors and make sure that the language use is consistent. For example, in your CCA description, choose to use either past or present tense and keep to the same format throughout the resume. It can be frustrating to read a resume that is full of grammatical errors and is inconsistent.
5) Recommendation letter
Most scholarship application requires you to submit a recommendation letter or a testimonial written by a referee. This person need not be high-ranking per se , but he or she has to know you well so that the examples provided in the letter can be as convincing as possible. This person can be your form teacher in school, your supervisor in your internship organization or the teacher-in-charge of your CCA. You may also want to jock their memory by furnishing them with concrete examples of your stellar performance in school/work/CCA.
6) Essay Question
Most scholarship application will require you to answer an essay question as well. This is to find out more about you beyond your impressive resume, and whether your answer measures up or not. This is also another chance for you to brag about yourself, subtly of course. You are allowed to save a draft of your scholarship application before submission, so here’s the trick. Write your essay and bring it to your communication teacher in school to vet through it. If you do not have such a teacher, consult anyone who is good with words .i.e. a writing tutor, a good friend etc. They will likely provide valuable feedback that will bring your essay one notch higher. The key is to seek a 2nd opinion to maximize your chances of nailing that scholarship application. The questions may vary greatly depending on what scholarship you are applying for. Some of the common questions include:
- Personal statement (which means write about yourself)
- How can you contribute to the organization ?
- Write about someone whom you respect greatly.
- Explain your choice of intended study
- Other questions pertaining to the industry of the organization.
Acing interviews is a skill that can be honed and perfected, just like many other skills. If you are not born with the gift of the gab, you most likely want to practice your interview skills to increase your chances of success. This is why we encourage you to send out your application to as many organizations as possible in the previous section, so as to clock your practice for interviews. The interview environment is not one that is easily simulated, given that it is conducted at the office with a professional interviewer who is intimidating. That is why you should grab the opportunity to go for an interview if you are given one.
It is always better to overdress than to under-dress. If you are not sure about the dress code, better be safe than sorry. Pick up the most formal attire that you can find in your wardrobe, bare minimum would be shirt and pants for guys and shirt and skirt for ladies. If you don’t even have a set of formal clothing at your disposal, now is not the time to practice your virtue of frugality, we are talking about a scholarship valued at 5 or even 6 figure sum. Dressing smart not only creates a good impression, it increases your level of confidence as well, so do not hesitate to invest in your clothes.
Even if you do not know what are the questions that will be asked during the interview, you are courting doom if you simply wing it. Interviews can be prepared. Bear in mind that the interview process is to find out about your capability & maturity as well as to gauge your level of suitability for the organization. Therefore, your answers ought to impress the interviewers in that regard. Of course, you do not just claim that you are competent and have good leadership skills, which is hardly believable. The best way to go about it is to prepare stories about yourself that bring out certain qualities that you possess. Prepare about 5 or more stories that you can use to answer different questions that may be brought up during the interview. Stories are engaging and convincing as people are naturally drawn to them. Stories can be about past experiences in your CCA, academic life, workplace or even personal life that entails triumphing over certain difficulties and achieving success. They serve to promote you in a subtle way that isn’t too arrogant. It is even more powerful if you can add in figures in your stories to enhance credibility. For example, “I raise an amount of $10,000 in our charity event that has helped over 500 children. “ Of course, you do not answer every single question with a story as they will make you sound like a madman.
There are certain questions that are very likely to surface in a scholarship interview, of which you must conceive responses in advance for.
– Tell me about yourself – Ice-breaking and warming up
This is an ice-breaker question but also a killer question! A new study conducted by psychologists at New York University has found that employers typically know within the first five minutes of a job interview with a prospective employee whether or not they will murder the applicant. So, do not underestimate this simplest question.
That said, you don’t have to start telling grandmother story about your grandeur experiences, but don’t waste your chance to impress the interviewer. Rule of thumb: Do not focus too much about your background or family, but share more about your achievements, academic journey & experience which are more relevant to your future career. Do not only share about your interest or hobby, but also share how this interest changes/benefits you. Eg. I love reading. It does not only widen my views but also make me more skillful in dealing with people…blahblah… you get the idea
– What are your strengths and weaknesses ? – Gauging how well you know your self
This is easy! illustrate your strength with a story that you have prepared. The interviewer wants to know how you make use of your strength in completing tasks . Pick a strength that is going to be useful for your future job, such as communication skill, positive attitude, well-organized etc. They don’t need to know that you are excellent in Dota.
The tricky part is the weakness. The interviewer wants to know how well you know yourself, so be truthful with your weakness, it is not a time to promote yourself nor put down yourself. Typical genuine weaknesses include being disorganized, not meticulous , not patient etc, generally non-fatal ones. You may have more than one weakness, but choose one that can be easily coped with and illustrate what you are going to do/have done about this weakness.
– Why did you choose the course that you apply? Gauging your decision making capability
Be honest. Share the process of how you arrive at your decision. You make have taken into consideration any of the 3 factors below: Passion, proficiency and Prospects. Check out our course selection guide to understand the decision making process more thoroughly. How do you balance this 3 factors and eventually make the decision is what they want to know.
– Why should I give you the scholarship? – Gauging how confident you are
This question is essentially a test of your confidence. Do not talk too much about all your strengths or achievements. Pin point one that makes you stand out from your peers and elaborate with a story. (same as “what is your strength” question above). Delivery of the story counts a lot in displaying your confidence and conviction in getting the scholarship. Make sure you rehearse your answer a few times before you go for it. Practicing maintaining eye contact when you speak is crucial as well.
– Where do you see yourself in 5 years time ? Gauging how ambitious you are
Share your career plan, but it is must be related to the organization you are applying for. A corporate scholarship come with bond and bond-breaking is becoming a trend nowadays. If you are interviewing for a corporate scholarship, strive to research on the career path in advance. Be ambitious and express your commitment to work in the organization for the long haul. Share what you will do in order to achieve the stage. Lastly, ask the interviewer if your aspiration is practical and questions about usual career path in the company. More interactions communicate an interest in the organization that you are applying to.
– What is your greatest achievement and failure ? – Gauging your maturity level
Promote yourself with your prepared story. It should be an arduous journey/story about you working towards a goal. For example, studying a foreign language and preparing for a proficiency test. Choose an achievement wisely that showcases your effort in heading towards the end goal and share the difficulties you encountered along the journey.
Failure is another tricky question. Share a story about the failure and how it upset or disappoint you. And more importantly is that what is the lesson learnt and how you going to prevent it in future.
Other questions for reference:
– How would your friends, lecturers or colleagues describe you? – what is your personality & attitude
– What type of work environment do you prefer?
– Do you do community work?
– Tell me a time when you……
Other interview questions would be those that require you to elaborate on what is written in your resume. This is why you have to analyze your resume thoroughly and be prepared to back up any of your points with real life experiences. For example, if you say that your hobby involves reading books, they will ask you what is the last book you read and why you like that book.
– Last question: Do you have any question? – gauging your level of interest
Do not end the interview without questions! You are going to be a scholar or future employee of the organization. You should have plenty of questions to ask the interviewer. Take the opportunity to ask 1 to 2 questions, for example: how’s the working environment, is there any 2nd interview, how long do I need to wait for the results, etc. The purpose of the interview is not only to assess you as a candidate, but also a chance for you to find out more about the scholarship and how the scholarship benefits/impacts you in future.
Bonus: Smiling & maintaining eye contact are a MUST. Offering a firm & solid handshake before and after the interview will help in deepening the impression as well. If you can, remember the interviewer’s name and mention his name during the interview to establish a stronger rapport. Lastly, do send a thank you email to HR/interviewer after the interview when you get home to get more brownie points.
The Good News
Don’t get too anxious in awaiting the arrival of the good news. There are people who lose sleep, appetite and mood in worrying about the results of the interview. 2-3 weeks of waiting is the norm, so there is no point in living like hell for that period when you can’t do anything about it. You have done your best and let nature take its course.
Congrats! Now you have gotten the scholarship, you realize it is not as tough as you initially thought. Do not let your victory get into your head and forget the people who have helped you along the way, especially the teacher who wrote you the recommendation letter or helped you vet through your application. Thank them by taking him out for lunch or sending a letter of appreciation. Most importantly, they will be waiting for you to break the good news to them!