askST: How to pick the right university

Think about what subjects you enjoy and your future career to narrow down search

The Singapore University of Technology and Design is launching a new undergraduate degree this year in design and artificial intelligence.
The Singapore University of Technology and Design is launching a new undergraduate degree this year in design and artificial intelligence. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Q: I want to go to university and I expect my A-level grades to be average to good. Will there be more places available this year? There are six universities to choose from, with each offering so many degree courses, so how do I pick the one that is right for me? I am particularly interested in the new emerging areas in technology.

A: The Ministry of Education plans to offer more than 17,000 places in the six universities this year.

It had said that it will reach the planned 40 per cent cohort participation rate this year, which means that four out of every 10 people in your age group will land a place in one of the six local universities.

The National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University take in the bulk of the undergraduates every year - over 13,000 in total.

The Singapore Management University (SMU) takes in about 2,000 students, the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) about 2,700, the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) about 880 and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) about 500.

To start with, think about which subjects you enjoyed studying in junior college or polytechnic, and have a particular interest in.

Is there a specific career that you have in mind? This will help you narrow down your search.

Then look for universities that offer degrees in the fields you are interested in.

If there is more than one university offering degrees in the field, see if the courses offered align with your specific interests.

SUTD, for example, is big on design. Its degree courses teach students to design products, services, systems and the built environment for the world. Its humanities, arts and social sciences courses underpin the curriculum to teach designers about societal needs.

You say you may be interested in some of the new emerging fields. Let's look at some of the offerings.

SMU is offering a new degree that combines computing and law which aims to produce professionals adept at bridging technology and law. It will equip students to take on jobs in IT audit and compliance, risk management, and as legal technologists.

There is also a huge demand for workers in artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics. Different universities emphasise different aspects.

SUTD, for example, is launching a new undergraduate degree this year in design and AI. This will help students create human-centred design using data analysis and machine learning. Graduates will be able to go on to work in industries such as urban planning, product design and telecommunications.

Studying subjects that interest you makes university life more enjoyable. But what happens if you have more than one interest?

Universities do offer various double majors and double degrees to accommodate this.

Look at the previous year's grade cut-off score and the admission requirements. If you fall short, then consider applying for aptitude-based admission.

Learning how your degree will translate into a career is important.

Are there services to help polish your resume, improve your interview skills and find job opportunities? Do you want to gain work experience while you earn your degree? If so, find out about internships and work-study programmes.

Many of your best university memories will happen outside the classroom, so find out about the range of extracurricular activities.

Lastly, you have to think about the financial considerations.

Besides tuition fees, look into the other expenses you will have, including staying in the halls.

Universities and the Government have been seeking to make higher education more accessible for all Singaporeans.

Among other initiatives, SIT and SUSS have lowered their fees, and across all six universities, government bursaries for needy students have been enhanced.

Find out about the scholarships, bursaries and loans that the universities offer.

SUTD recently launched a new education grant for students who are not receiving any form of financial aid or scholarships.

Eligible students will receive up to $12,000 each over a four-year degree programme.

It said new grant and existing financial programmes mean that all students who enrol in the university will receive some form of subsidy or sponsorship for their tuition fees.

Ask about part-time work opportunities, on campus and off campus. If the university offers work-study programmes, then find out how much they pay.

Going to university is a big and exciting life decision, so I hope you find a school that prepares you well, both for work and life.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2020, with the headline askST: How to pick the right university. Subscribe