Study abroad 101: Everything Singaporean students need to know

General COVID-19 updates: Times Higher Education has a helpful travel updates guide that you can check out here.

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!

United Kingdom

COVID-19 updates (as of Feb 2021): The UK is currently under lockdown, with schools set to reopen on March 8. Only students who need to access specialist facilities, take assessments, or practical classes that cannot be conducted online will be allowed back on campus. Currently, the UK has plans to lift its lockdown entirely by late June.

The UK is an extremely popular choice for Singaporeans to go 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 one course of study since your personal statement which will be sent to all schools is tied to the course of study you pick.

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

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. A bridging year and foundation year will probably only be needed if you didn’t do well. So if you multiply $30,000 by four, 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 five and you get about $300,000.


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!

Tip: The Complete University Guide has a handy resource, The Reddin Survey of University Tuition Fees, which you can use to check and compare tuition fees across the various universities.

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 for 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 of 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!

One more thing: if your goal is to find a job in the UK after graduation, you can apply for a graduate work visa that will allow you to stay for up to two years to find full-time employment (long-term).


COVID-19 updates (as of Feb 2021): Australia’s borders are currently closed (and will likely stay closed for the rest of the year). This means that you’ll be unable to study on-campus for some time yet, and a few Australian universities are offering international students tuition fee rebates and waivers to try and remedy this. You can download the ‘Coronavirus Australia’ app to stay updated on the country’s COVID-19 situation. 

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.

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 two times 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.

Australian courses usually last for four years at the degree level and the only courses that are five years long are 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.

Most degree courses require the GCE A-Levels as a minimum requirement and polytechnic diplomas may be accepted on a case by case basis. Since it is not an international qualification, however, 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.

United States

COVID-19 updates (as of Feb 2021): Please be aware that the different US states have different responses and measures for the pandemic. 

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: as of 2020, approximately one-fifth of Singaporeans studying abroad are doing so here. 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 (six or more years required) as compared to the UK and Australia (five years).

Most US courses are four 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 helps you find your passion, which is something I can appreciate about the US educational system.

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’ll 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 their 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 $49,653 (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, FYI.

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 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.

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 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 three countries, the US has the most active student life. The 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.


It is going to be really expensive abroad no matter where you choose to study, 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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