Study abroad 101: Everything Singaporean students need to know

Studying overseas can be an amazing and eye-opening experience. If you don’t want to study locally for one reason or another, looking at some opportunities abroad is most definitely a good choice. Of course, going abroad is a scary thing. Venturing into the unknown always is. Then there is also the issue with the insufficiency of information that hinders you from doing so. So here at Digital Senior, we are here to help!

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United Kingdom

The UK is an extremely popular choice for Singaporeans to go to to pursue their tertiary education. Applying to the UK requires the use of the UCAS system which can be rather complicated. Lucky for you, I have came up with a step-by-step guide on how to use the UCAS system right here.

The UCAS system is rather consolidated and the thing is, you can only choose 1 course of study since your personal statement which will be sent to all schools is tied to the course of study you pick.

Duration
Most UK courses last for 4 years. Some courses are even shorter(3 years) and some are longer, spanning up to 6 years. The length of study isn’t an indicator on how good or prestigious the course is. Take for instance Economics at the London School of Economics which is 3 years only. The longer courses are clinical science courses like Medicine and Dentistry that last for about 5 years (University of London’s course last 6 years).

Fees
Most UK courses will cost around $30,000 a year not counting your foundation year (which you may or may not need). Assuming you have relatively good grades from Polytechnic or just decent grades from Junior College, you really don’t need a foundation year. Bridging year and foundation year will probably only be needed if you didn’t do well. So if you multiply $30,000 by 4, that comes up to $120,000.

For clinical courses such as Dentistry, Medicine and Veterinary Science, each year can cost about $60,000. Multiply that by 5 and you get about $300,000.

clinical-course

This doesn’t even include rent and living fees, which differ largely between the different cities. Of course, London is absurdly expensive. If you live in London, your living cost comes up to about $25,000 a year. So make sure you have the financial ability to make it through your degree!

 

Study Life
Your study life in the UK is probably going to be fairly exciting. If you live in a big city like London then you would be close to many sources of entertainment and social events that might help you with your career and not to mention recreational life. However, that represents a higher living cost. Even living in a campus town like Oxford will be really awesome and chill. Overseas universities in the UK places a great emphasis on study life balance so generally, you would have more free time to yourself. Please don’t use that as an excuse to skimp on work though.

Getting Help For Your Applications
There are several organisations in Singapore that can help you with your UCAS application, with the most famous one being IDP Singapore. They can help you vet your personal statements and give you career counselling advice. Of course if you need any help or want some opinion, you can just contact Digital Senior as well, we would be more willing to help out with any queries you have.

Student Visas and Accommodation
Universities generally inform you on the proper procedure to secure a visa once you get accepted, so you don’t have to worry about getting one. Just wait for their email and follow the relevant instructions. Add for accommodations, most students will opt to stay in the university whereas some might rent a house with friends. It’s really up to you for the UK!

Australia

The land of the Roo. Australia is another popular destination for students in Singapore. Unlike the UK, Australian universities don’t have a centralised application portal so you have to apply to them individually.

Popular Courses
Most students would go to Australia to pursue the sciences, more specifically the health sciences. Think Medicine, Dentistry, Physiotherapy etc as Australia’s health science courses are world renowned and generally well recognised. Of course do check with the appropriate Singaporean authorities on whether your degree will be recognised.

Fees
Studying in Australia is most definitely costly. The issue is that course fees differ greatly across the different courses and different universities. For instance, studying medicine in a large city like Sydney can cost 2x as much as studying medicine in a smaller city like Tasmania (about $200,000 more). So do take that into consideration. Fortunately for you, course fees can be found readily on university websites. Remember to check the fees for International students and not local ones.

Studying in big cities like Sydney or Melbourne would have your annual course fees come up to around 30-40,000 AUD a year, with clinical sciences course being around 70,000 AUD whereas universities in smaller towns like Newcastle or Tasmania may only cost 25-35,000 AUD for normal courses and 60,000AUD for clinical courses such as Medicine.

If you would like a consolidated table on course fees for say medicine and dentistry, you can check it out with IDP Singapore that consolidates course fees and summaries in a table form, which you have to go down to IDP and talk to their college counsellors about it.

The biggest issue with studying in Australia is the high living cost. Usually students will rent an apartment with friends as it can be cheaper than a hostel. The further the house is from the university, the cheaper the rent of course. Eating out is also really expensive. So learning how to cook will serve you well, really well if you want to save some money.

Duration
Australian courses usually last for 4 years at the degree level and the only courses that are 5 years long is medicine, dentistry and veterinary science. However, if you are required to take a foundational or bridging year, then your course duration will take an additional year.

Admission
Most degree courses require the GCE A Levels as a minimum requirement and polytechnic diplomas may be accepted on a case by case basis. However since it is not an international qualification, such diplomas must be checked with the respective universities individually. If you don’t take GP in the A levels, you might need to take the IELTS and score about 6.0 as proof of your English language proficiency.

Study Life
In Australia, where you study affects your study life…a lot. If you live in the suburbs, you will lead a very quiet life, mostly. Supermarkets and sources of entertainment might be quite far apart and some of our seniors have quoted many Australian cities to be “boring”, but I choose to see it as being calm and relaxed. If you crave the constant buzz of the metropolis with events happening all around you, then try going to the larger cities s like Sydney which will be more exciting.

Universities of course have sporting events, clubs and societies which you can join, so I don’t think that differs too much across cities or even countries across the globe.

Student Visa and Accommodation
Student visas have to be applied with the Australian government but universities will send you the necessary procedure via email and you get something called the eCOE which you will need for the application. If you get into a university, there is no need to worry about it since the university will help you out mostly.

Accommodation wise, it is cheaper to rent a house than stay in a hostel. As mentioned before, rent prices depend on the distance of the house to the school. However, that also means no catered meals like in hostels, so you have to be really independent should you choose to live in a house in Australia since eating out costs a bomb.

student-visa

United States

The land of equal opportunities, or at least that’s what they claim to be. The USA is another popular place for Singaporean students to study at. Applying to the US may be a little more difficult and troublesome as compared to the rest. Here’s why.

Popular Courses
Most would apply to the US for courses such as Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) or courses like Law, Business or Engineering at the Ivy Leagues. There is a huge range of courses available in the United States. That being said, not many students choose to pursue clinical courses such as medicine and dentistry due to the fees and duration (6 or more years required) as compared to the UK and Australia (5 years).

Duration
Most US courses are 4 years, that’s pretty standard. The only thing different about the US (vs SG, UK, AU) is that you don’t have to choose your course of study upon applying for the university. Most students will do the same thing in the first year and then decide on their major in the second year onwards. This gives you exposure to more courses and help you find your passion, which is something I can appreciate about the US educational system.

Fees
Unlike the UK but similar to Australia, the US doesn’t work on a consolidated system whereby fees are generally the same across universities so you have to figure out the cost yourself by calculating it on the university’s website. It depends on how many credits you take per semester since universities such as New York University charge its fees based on credits (modules) per semester. Of course, in cities such as New York and for schools in the Ivy League, course fees tend to be higher than community colleges. For instance, a year at Harvard costs an estimated $45,278 (USD not SGD) and with the appreciating value of the US Dollar against the Singapore Dollar, this could amount to a huge cost for students to bear.

This doesn’t even begin to include living fees just FYI.

Admissions
Unfortunately for Singaporeans, most schools in the United States do not recognise the GCE Cambridge A levels certificate or even the O level certificates. Hence, students who wish to study there are required to take the SATs to qualify for tertiary education in the United States. The SATs, unlike the ISAT, UKCAT, BMAT or other international exams, is not an aptitude test but rather a content test that can and must be studied for. There are several SAT guidebooks out there, all of which have the pros and cons as well as many preparatory classes. Many of my classmates have taken the SATs without external help, but some who did attend preparatory classes also do say that they help, at least a little. You can find out everything on the SAT here.

In addition to taking the SAT and getting a good score, you need to write a personal statement that reflects who you are as a person, not so much as why you should get the course of choice but what makes you…you. Getting advice from teachers and college counsellors (if your school has one, will go a long way in helping improve your chances of admission into your dream school).

Unlike the UK and Australia, Admissions into the US rely heavily on your extra-curricular activities as the US seeks students who are all-rounded and display holistic development in their studying years.

Application
Applying to the US is somewhat complicated and you need external help from your old junior college counsellors or get help from external parties such as www.studyabroad.sg because you need them to set up a Naviance account for you and help you with your personal statement.

Study Life
Perhaps out of all 3 countries, the US had the most active student life. US places a huge emphasis on holistic education so you need to be good in your sport, club, community services and so on. College life is probably a huge part of education and since most students will live in hostels, you still have a blast with your friends over there.

Conclusion

No matter where you choose to study it is going to be really expensive abroad, so make sure you get the money well spent by working hard. If you are pursuing a tertiary education right now, then you are probably a grown man or grown woman. Work hard and the future is yours.

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Seah
I’m Seah Yi, a graduate from Raffles Junior College, Class of ’14. My subject combination was Biology, Math, Chemistry and Economics (4 H2s) and of course General Paper and Project Work (H1). Studying was never an easy thing for me. I don’t consider myself to be a smart kid and I don’t credit my grades to my intellect either. In my opinion, the greatest asset I have is hard work and the knowledge on how to work smart and hence my motto, “Never Maximal, Never Minimal, Always Optimal”.