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How to pick foreign uni for further studies

Doing research can help you choose a university that you find compatible

With the release of the A-level results last month and polytechnic graduation ceremonies coming up next month, some students keen on studying overseas may have questions about how they should go about choosing a university. Education reporter Yuen Sin went to the University Advising Team at the United World College of South East Asia to get the answers to some commonly asked questions

Q How important are university rankings when choosing a foreign university?

A Rankings can be highly subjective and have little bearing on your success or happiness at university, according to the team.

Rankings are often based on the quality and quantity of the research conducted at the university, which does not necessarily translate into good learning experiences for students. If you are going to use rankings, look for those that rank the best undergraduate teaching, highest student satisfaction or highest graduation rates.

Q How should I go about researching universities?

A Schools from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada regularly hold higher education fairs here, said the team. You can also book an appointment with EducationUSA, the British Council or overseas education consultants like IDP, which specialises in Australian schools, to find out more.

Q What are the differences between studying in the UK and the US?

A When you apply to a university in the UK, you must apply for a specific course.

At American universities, you will apply for a place at the university rather than for a specific course, in most cases. Many universities insist that students take a variety of subjects before declaring a major. This is the liberal arts and sciences model.

The UK allows you to study professional degrees, such as the Bachelor of Medicine or Bachelor of Laws. In contrast, professional and highly specialised degrees are most often offered in the US as master's or PhD programmes.

Applications to British universities are processed through a central governmental agency known as the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). You can apply to only five universities in the UK, and to only four if you are applying for medicine programmes.

Since you will submit only one personal statement for the UK applications, it makes sense to apply for the same or similar subjects at each institution so that you can write about your interest and suitability in that area.

Applications to US colleges and universities are processed by the individual institution, although there is a private application consolidator known as the Common Application that makes it easy to apply to many popular universities using a single online application, with individual supplemental essays for specific institutions.

Admission in the UK is largely credential-driven, with UCAS publishing minimum International Baccalaureate (IB) or A-level requirements, and offers of admission are made conditional on attaining IB or A-level results that are consistent with predicted grades.

Q How do I find out about scholarships and financial assistance?

A For Singaporean students seeking significant financial aid, focus on the US. Financial aid and scholarships are available in Canada and the UK but do not generally cover the cost of everything.

A number of local companies, government bodies and statutory boards offer overseas scholarships that come with bonds. A few offer bond-free overseas scholarships. You can read up on them at BrightSparks or the Public Service Commission's website.

•For more advice and tips, read the online version of this story at http://str.sg/ZvWQ.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2016, with the headline 'How to pick foreign uni for further studies'. Print Edition | Subscribe