Admissions and Financial Aid

The days following the release of the GCE ‘A’ Level Results mark the traditional peak season for university applications. I thought it is timely for me to convey some key attributes of the NUS’s policies on admission, and on the related issues of tuition fees and financial aid.




Admission to the NUS is competitive. We receive over 30,000 applications annually, but we only have places for about 6,700 freshmen. Each application is assessed solely on merit. For certain courses, candidates are shortlisted for further assessments, and the Faculty considers each applicant’s achievements, aptitude and personal qualities in assessing the applicant’s suitability for the course and/or the profession.  An applicant’s family background, schooling history or financial circumstances will not have a bearing on the selection process. Essays are reviewed without reference to the applicant’s personal details; interviewers and selection panels do not have access to the candidate’s financial status.


The NUS also sets aside up to 10% of our places for Discretionary Admissions (DA). DA provides us with an avenue to consider applications from deserving students whose high school grades may not meet the entry requirements for admission into NUS, but have the potential to pursue an undergraduate education, and to contribute to the NUS community. For DA applicants, NUS will consider their contributions and achievements in other areas, beside academic grades.


DA students add diversity to our campus and this scheme has increased the opportunities for students with different talents, achievements and experiences to join the NUS community. Many DA students are faring well. Some years back, when I was Dean of the Faculty of Science, I admitted an applicant with weak A level results to the Faculty of Science. We noted something special about her. She had been giving tuition to support her family since she was in Secondary 3, as her father was then retrenched. Her tuition business expanded, and by the time she was in JC 2, she founded a thriving tuition centre. Her involvement in the tuition business was probably one of reasons why her A level grades had suffered. She was also actively involved in community work. In spite of her weak A level grades, she coped well academically at NUS, and was even admitted to the University Scholars Programme. Eventually, she graduated with a Second Upper Class Honours, and was selected as the valedictorian for her commencement ceremony. She is now pursuing a medical degree at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School. I am thus grateful for the DA scheme, which has allowed me to give deserving students like her a chance to benefit from an NUS education.


An NUS education will remain affordable and accessible to all Singaporeans who qualify for admission


Some students have expressed concern that students from lower income families may be discouraged from pursuing a university education due to financial difficulties. I would like to take this opportunity to assure all existing and potential students, that NUS has in place, a robust financial aid framework to ensure that an NUS education remains affordable and accessible for all Singaporeans who are admitted to the university.


NUS is cognizant that society regards university education as an economic leveller and a means of social mobility. For many decades, an NUS degree is an aspiration of many Singaporean families. NUS counts many first generation graduates in each cohort. This is also true for the professional courses; each year, we train many first generation accountants, architects, dentists, doctors, engineers, lawyers and pharmacists. Although the income profile of NUS students does not exactly mirror that of the general national income profile, there is a substantial number of NUS students whose per capita household incomes are at the lowest quintile.


We remain committed to enabling needy and deserving students to pursue their university studies with us. Every needy Singaporean admitted to the NUS will have access to sufficient funds to meet the costs of undergraduate education. Students from middle-lower income families (this applies to about half of Singaporean households) will be able to obtain sufficient funds to meet the full costs of tuition and living expenses through a combination of bursaries and loans. 


Enhanced Financial Aid Framework – Helping the Needy


For AY2012/13, NUS will be extending even more help, especially to students whose families are in the lowest 20th percentile of per capita household income. As explained in my earlier circular to all students, NUS has conducted a comprehensive review of our financial aid schemes and we have made considerable enhancements. The key features of the enhanced financial framework are first, the annual bursary quanta for the neediest Singaporean students will increase from $4,750 to over $8,000.  This will significantly reduce the loan burden for students from very low income families, and more than 1,100 needy NUS students will benefit from this bursary increase. Second, the bursary quanta awarded will be more finely means-tested according to the student’s financial circumstances. The neediest students will receive more financial aid. This acknowledges the different circumstances that the neediest students with very low household incomes face. Third, eligible local students may receive more than one bursary, up to the maximum bursary quantum prescribed for their per capita household income. Fourth, needy Singaporean students participating in academic programmes such as the University Scholars Programme, Student Exchange Programmes, etc., will be provided with proportionately higher financial support. Overall, NUS will be increasing student financial aid by $4.5 million, which will bring overall student financial aid for AY2012/13 to $9.5 million.


Many students have expressed support for and welcome the enhanced Financial Aid Framework. NUS is also working hard at fund-raising, as philanthropic donations will allow us to expand the pool of funds available for financial aid. In the meantime, if you do know of any students who are struggling financially, please drop a note to, and we will look into every case closely. For some students, their family circumstances may change midway through their studies at NUS, and as a result, they may be encountering financial adversity; please encourage them to approach us.


  1. I think Office of Financial Aid can publish (with permission) some successful stories of students who receive Financial Aid and have benefited from it. Not only will it help encourage people to donate more but also helps people understand how/ why some people may need more financial help than others. In addition, Office of Financial Aid can also help arrange work/ part-time work for these needy students within their own office to offset their loans.

    1. Our Development Office, which helps to raise funds, shares stories about students who have been helped, to prospective donors. Our Careers Office can help to arrange part-time work for needy students.

  2. Anyway, to anyone with bad comments about Singapore or NUS. The only reason why they are not giving you the scholarship, grant, bursary etc cld be because you do not matter that much to them( do not treasure you) .

    Just leave if you can and stop complaining. The government might even be thankful that you are relieving the housing/healthcare and other tensions that it is facing.

  3. LOL. Is NUS or the government funding agency immune to criticism? We criticise because we care. People who doesn’t give a hoot would have left without even attempting to improve the system.

    In case anyone wonders, I am a scholar myself. That doesn’t make me full of myself and say stuff like “You don’t matter to NUS as much as I do because you are not hungry enough or what not”. Whatever the case, do spare a thought for the less fortunate or the less gifted. A high IQ is not worth anything if basic empathy is absent.

    My point remains:

    There is money, make no doubts about that. Though NUS not obliged to tell us the state of their coffers and cashflow, increased transparency will only aid them in attracting more sources of funding. If for whatsoever reason that they are not willing to show that they have done their best with their current resources to help the less privileged, they do not have the moral right to ask for “philanthropic donations”.

  4. Dear Water Buffalo,
    Do you have any more information about the scholarship you mentioned?
    “In fact, NUS offers scholarships only to local students to obtain their PhDs in US and UK universities, and these are fully funded, after which they come back to teach at NUS”
    Also any anecdotal information about what qualifications are necessary to obtain these scholarships, which I presume are highly selective due to the high costs involved?

    By the way, I thought most PhDs in US are already funded in the sense that tuition are waived and students earn a stipend by teaching assistantships?

    Thank you for your help, water buffalo. I have been searching for an expert in these areas on online forums but have not met anyone with in-depth knowledge on Singaporeans going overseas for PhDs, except you.

    Sincerest thanks.

    water buffalo:

    @TREmeritus Supporter
    If you’re a Singaporean student who really wants to pursue academia, or have friends who do, you should know that most of us want to do our PhD in US or UK universities. In fact, NUS offers scholarships only to local students to obtain their PhDs in US and UK universities, and these are fully funded, after which they come back to teach at NUS.
    You’re alumni right? There are plenty of professors now who pay students to do research for them, and my friends who do are all Singaporeans. Don’t know what it is like during your time, but I got all the students I’ve heard of who are doing research for NUS professors are all Singaporeans leh.

    1. NUS offers the Overseas Graduate Scholarships (OGS) and the Overseas Postdoctoral Scholarships (OPF). Only Singaporeans, and to a small extent PRs, are eligible for the OGS and OPF. These scholars are paid salaries when studying for their PhDs or doing their post-doctoral attachments. One has to have a good honours degree and would usually have to do a Masters degree at NUS to be eligible. It comes with a bond to serve NUS. Details can be found on the NUS webpages

  5. @Zhaosheng: If you care so much, how much of your scholarship have you ever donated to others? When you were offered have you ever wondered about anyone who may be on the waiting list who needs it more than then you?

    And for the part about empathy. The economy largely does not occur based on it as according to Adam Smith in the Wealth of Nations ,

    “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. “

  6. “For AY2012/13, NUS will be extending even more help, especially to students whose families are in the lowest 20th percentile of per capita household income.”….. may I go one step further to make a suggestion?……. it might be good to go and help Singapore males who are eligible for admissions but are stuck in national service. Based on Mindef policies, it is against their Act for a full-time national serviceman to hold a part-time job. Most needy Singapore males who are in national service usually have to stay in-camp and cannot hold part-time jobs. And their NS allowance of a few hundred dollars is insufficient to support their needs. These are the people which Office of Admissions should help more by giving them a loan first before they start their studies to bridge the gap. They may not have matriculated yet but since Mindef cannot give them a loan, Office of Admissions can give them a helping hand first.

    1. NS pay is pretty good these days. My son’s NS allowance is three times the allowance I gave him when he was in Pre-U two. Anyway, while I am mindful of needy NS personel, the University cannot grant them a loan because they are not yet NUS students.

  7. Actually, this blog and some topics throw up many interesting scenarios and solutions but it would be a loss if there is no person or group to investigate further due to lack of organisation or lack of time/ manpower.

    In SMU, the students have this Leadership Development course and they undertake all interesting projects.

    Since NUS has this Future Leaders Programme, It may be good to tap into this area if some of these topics can be investigated further and solutions can be proposed to the respective Offices.

    It also helps students to feel ownership when they get involved in these decision-making process.

  8. @ Edmund: you might like to go to MCYS if you are that poor. Actually, it is possible to pay for nothing and do not need any money. Volunteer for guards, rifleman, commando or any other stay-in unit, then inform your superior that you wish to stay-in all the way. And you do not really need much cash then.

  9. Actually, MCYS really can’t help you much. They will re-assess you and if you are an university graduate or A level student, they won’t help you unless you are low educated. I know because I had difficulty finding a job after graduation. I went to MCYS CDC counters and they also do not help me much compared to those with only Sec 2 education. That’s why Financial Aid is important for those who fall through the cracks and who do not qualify for MCYS financial Aid

  10. May I propose another radical idea? Since NUS has a shortage of funds and fund-raising has always been a thorny difficult issue, would it be feasible to allow someone who cannot make the ‘cut’ into the Admissions to be allowed to pay full tuition fees without MOE tuition grant and make a generous donation to NUS in exchange for a place in NUS? I am not saying we just let in anybody but the person must be of average B-C grade. If that person can make a generous donation to NUS in terms of $$$, Admissions Office can use that $$$ to help another worthy student. For example, my friend in poly managed to score only C average grades but his family can still admit him to Imperial College in UK because he is able to afford the high fees. Many universities are cash-strapped and if you can get at least C average grades, they will still admit you in, provided you make a generous donation to help the needy students. I am not sure if this will warp the picture. Any economists who can guide me?

    1. Some universities overseas practise your suggestion. But this is risky as it is subject to easy abuse. With limited places in Singaporean universities, this is even more contentious.

  11. Hi Provost

    I thought the recent scheme, NASA, will be very beneficial for the lower-middle and middle class. Hope that more students will start venturing overseas 🙂

  12. Dear Sir,

    May I also comment that admissions and financial aid are lacking at the graduate level, especially at the Master’s level.

    For instance, the only financial aid available at the Master’s level for the Faculty of Science is the NUS Graduate Scholarships for ASEAN Nationals. Despite Singapore being an ASEAN nation, Singapore citizens and permanent residents are ineligible.

    May I humbly suggest that scholarships for Master’s degree (by coursework or research) be also set up for Singaporean citizens or PRs.

    Thank you very much.

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