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.