The myth that constantly follows scholarships is that they are provided to a chosen few, who have been blessed with extraordinary talents or have already climbed Mount Everest at 15 years old. This is simply not true. The reality is that scholarships are open to everyone. The sheer number of scholarships available also means that it is not as scarce of an award as you are made to believe. Rather, there is plenty to go around.
At Scholarship Guide, we have compiled a comprehensive guide on scholarships in Singapore and how you can acquire one for yourself.
The first section of the guide includes simple definitions of what complex words like ‘scholarships’ and ‘bonds’ are to alleviate any confusion you may have about the basics of scholarships.
The second section of the guide looks at all the different types of scholarships available so you can find one that suits you, from merit-based scholarships to government scholarships and everything in between. Use this section to figure out which scholarship is perfect for you. Finally, we have provided a quick run-through of the entire scholarship application process. As scholarships can be daunting to apply for, we want to make this process as easy and clear as we can for you. Included in the guide are tips and tricks for acing interviews alongside critical information for submitting applications.
Table of contents
- Introduction: Scholarship Basics 101
- Types of Scholarship
- Types of Scholarship Providers
- Categories of Scholarships
- Applying for a Scholarship
- The Application Process
- The Scholarship Interview
- Post Scholarship Application Process
- More Articles
Introduction: Scholarship Basics 101
What is a scholarship?
Every year, hundreds of different types of scholarships are made available to students of different ages, career stages, and subject interests. Whether you are a budding university student or a working professional looking to upgrade your skills, scholarships can go a long way in helping you towards your goals.
A scholarship is generally a financial grant made to a student to support them throughout their studies. They reduce the financial burden that you incur from sometimes exorbitant university fees and can be an essential step in potentially fulfilling your dream of studying at a prestigious university overseas. Being a scholar can also be extremely helpful with finding a job in the future as it provides additional validation for your personal capabilities.
Aren’t scholarships just free money?
Scholarships are different from college loans which will need to be repaid in the future. Once the money has been given to you, it is yours to keep. However, one of the biggest misconceptions about scholarships is that it is free money. Rather, most scholarships also come with bonds attached to them that can also be considered a form of repayment. Scholarships can be a great way for organisations to recruit high-performing individuals to industries that are constantly looking for talented people.
Scholarships are also extremely important for any society seeking to reduce inequality as they have shown to be an effective method in easing the attainment of a bachelor’s degree, especially for students from lower-income households.
What are scholarship ‘bonds’?
Most scholarships come with a requirement that you serve a ‘bond’ once you have finished your studies. Bonds are the minimum amount of time you would need to be contracted to your scholarship provider after you graduate. They can range anywhere between 1 to 12 years. While the idea of a free ride to university sounds enticing, you should also think about whether the scholarship provider represents a potential employer that aligns with your own individual and career goals, especially if the bond length is substantial.
Conversely, bonds can be beneficial because they guarantee you a job after you graduate which may be extremely convenient, especially in the middle of a financial crisis when the job market is saturated. Singaporean graduates broadly consider job security as one of the top priorities during job hunts. Bonds should be considered a double-edged sword and must be one of the key considerations when weighing up your scholarship options.
Bond-free scholarships are also available. Look up this list for the most updated bond-free scholarships for undergraduate studies in Singapore.
Who can apply for scholarships?
There are many different groups of students who are eligible for a scholarship. Whether you are a graduating Junior College/Polytechnic student or an undergraduate knee-deep into your degree, there are plenty of scholarships for you to choose from. Just be sure to check the requirements of each scholarship that you are interested in.
Generally, scholarships are given to outstanding students—students with good grades, proven leadership, exemplary skillset, good sportsmanship, community involvement, and more. Consequently, an important aspect of acquiring a scholarship is to ensure that you can show scholarship providers that you are deserving. They are also not limited by specific career fields. The variety of scholarships available today allows you to pursue your career goals no matter what field you intend to go into.
Types of Scholarship
Merit-based scholarships are offered by a plethora of organisations and usually constitute a full sponsorship of your studies awarded based on excellence. The logic of merit-based scholarships is to reward highly talented and accomplished individuals who display immense potential to progress further in their studies. Merit-based scholarships tend to be highly competitive but are certainly worth applying for because they provide you with a lucrative financial boost to your life as a student and present to you formal validation that your efforts have been worth it and that you are on the right path.
Merit-based scholarship examples:
SAF Merit Scholarship for Female Applicants
National Parks Board (NParks) Overseas Merit Award
If you are one of the lucky few who have their mind set on a specific career path, career-specific scholarships are perfect for you. Some scholarships are offered by highly-regarded corporations guaranteeing you a prestigious job at the end of your studies but there are other industry-specific scholarships such as the DesignSingapore scholarship that assists designers who are passionate about pursuing design in university and as a career.
The costs of improving yourself so you can progress further in your career can often come in the form of exorbitant school fees or even the lost income from pursuing your career early. Scholarships are a great way to alleviate these costs.
Many colleges offer subject/major-specific scholarships that come in the form of lump sums awarded to students. These awards are sometimes funded by alumni of the particular college that wish to reward undergraduates who have excelled in their particular degree or have displayed outstanding achievements in other aspects of their university life.
These scholarships tend to come without a bond which means you have almost nothing to lose by applying for them.
College-specific scholarship examples:
NUS (National University of Singapore) Merit Scholarship
Live Outside Your Comfort Zone (by NUS Merit Scholar Aaron Tan)
Need-based / Financial Scholarships
Need-based Scholarships or sometimes known as Financial Scholarships are defined as financial aid given to students on the basis of financial need. Students may qualify for need-based scholarships if they come from low-income backgrounds.
Need-based scholarships are also called donated scholarships as they are awarded by a number of funding sources. These can include businesses, religious groups, individuals, community organisations, college departments, or alumni. The scholarships are often named after the donor, company, or organisation or to honour parents, professors, or other important people in one’s life.
Eligible students can apply directly to their respective universities. Recipients of such scholarships are usually not allowed to hold other scholarships/bursaries/awards concurrently unless otherwise informed. Most times they are not required to serve bond, but some would have to serve a number of hours of community service. Depending on the donor, some scholarship recipients may be required to intern at the donor’s organisation.
As eligibility to receive need-based scholarships is determined based on family income, this means that you will have to furnish scholarship providers with declarations regarding your parents’ income. This is thus a process you would want to consult your parents or guardians before applying.
Scholarships, Tuition Grants & Financial Assistance Schemes for Singapore Students
Singapore is proud of its diverse population and the vibrancy that every culture adds to the fabric of Singapore’s society. In the same regard, ethnicity-based scholarships are offered mainly by different ethnic ‘self-help’ organisations in Singapore to students of the respective ethnicity. For example, SINDA provides scholarships to students with at least one parent that is of an Indian sub-ethnic group.
Ethnicity-based scholarships can be crucial in ensuring that universities’ and corporations’ makeup resemble the diversity of the country they reside in.
Types of Scholarship Providers
Government Organisations / Statutory Boards / Ministries
Some of the most sought-after scholarships in Singapore are provided by government bodies and ministries. They generally guarantee a job at the end of your studies. Graduate government jobs tend to pay well but its biggest advantage is that these jobs will always exist, unlike corporate jobs that may fluctuate from time to time according to economic trends. Government scholars also benefit from Singapore’s relatively stable and predictable political environment.
As the Singaporean government highly values students with world-class educational backgrounds, government scholarships tend to be extremely lucrative, especially if you secure one that sponsors your education overseas. Further, these scholarships may come with monthly allowances that cover your accommodation while overseas. This, of course, comes at the ‘cost’ of having to commit your nascent career to public service, although as mentioned earlier, for some people, may not actually be a bad thing at all.
Government scholarship examples:
The SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) Scholarship
Singapore Sustainability Scholarship (National Environment Agency)
Universities / Institutions
Should you already have your eye on a particular university, keep an eye out for scholarships offered by that university. Outside of being educational providers, universities themselves can turn into scholarship providers to attract higher-quality students to their programmes. There is an abundance of such scholarships available especially in Singapore.
At NUS, there are the NUS Global Merit Scholarships and even NUS Sports Scholarship. Overseas private universities have also made scholarships available to attract Singaporeans to study overseas, such as the one offered here by Waseda University.
Examples of scholarships offered by universities:
NUS (National University of Singapore) Sports Scholarship
Waseda University Emergency Scholarship
Besides the scholarships offered by government agencies and universities, students can also land scholarships with private entities. For many reasons, a plethora of corporations and private organisations pump millions of dollars a year sponsoring future employees ensuring they get the best education. In return, companies are investing in an excellent employee in the future that could be an amazing asset for them while also allowing them to fulfil Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) duties.
In addition to a free ride through college, scholarships with private organisations may even allow you valuable internship and mentoring opportunities during holidays. Just be sure that the organisation is one whose values you align with, and that it is somewhere you can see yourself working in the future.
Why You Should Intern
Categories of Scholarships
Full-term scholarships are given prior to the start of your bachelor’s or master’s programme to support you almost completely throughout your period of study. They are often able to cover your university fees fully but can also come with monthly stipends or allowances to support your expenditure for food or even university accommodation.
If you were unsuccessful in your application for a full-term scholarship, you can still apply again in the middle of your programme for mid-term scholarships. These scholarships consider your performance during the time you have spent in university so far.
They are offered to those in the second, third, or fourth year of studies. You may opt to backdate your scholarship award to the start of your degree programme and your bond will be the full duration: 6 years (for overseas) or 4 years (for local), and you shall be awarded the full scholarship benefits. If you opt to not backdate your scholarship award, your bond will be pro-rated. The short amount of time you have spent in university might have already assured you of your career path allowing you to make a more informed decision on what scholarships to go for.
Short-term scholarships generally consist of either overseas exchange sponsorships or awards to high-performing students as a reward for outstanding results throughout the year. They are only awarded to students as a one-off payment.
Studying overseas should not be limited to just the wealthy. Even if you are unable to afford the exorbitant fees that come with overseas study, there are a few scholarships available in Singapore that can sponsor tuition fees, overseas accommodation, and even provide a stipend. However, these scholarships are understandably extremely competitive.
One source of overseas scholarships in Singapore is through the government ministries or statutory boards. However, there are also other options available. For example, certain overseas universities such as UNSW offer scholarships to international students. Prestigious scholarships such as the Chevening Scholarship offer complete funding for study at any UK university.
Studying Overseas: An Honest Reflection
Applying for a Scholarship
When can I start applying for scholarships?
The most important thing to note during scholarship applications is knowing exactly when the opening and closing dates are. You would not want to go through the painful realisation of having missed the application due date only after a long list of preparations.
In general, the main application cycle for government scholarships is from February to mid-March (opening the day A-Level results are released and closing two weeks after). There is also an early application cycle from July to January, where applicants can use their preliminary results if available or predicted A-Level/IB Programme results to apply. Male applicants who will have to enlist for National Service may also prefer to apply during the early cycle.
Meanwhile, corporate scholarships have varying application deadlines. While some tend to align with government scholarship deadlines to ease the process for applicants, there are others whose deadlines are much earlier, meaning you must prepare your application ahead of time.
Mid-term scholarships also have different deadlines.
Use Scholarship Guide’s scholarship finder function to help you keep track of the various application deadlines.
The Application Process
While this guide provides you with general information on what kind of scholarships are available in Singapore, it is important that you do your own research, especially on the expectations of individual scholarship providers. Researching scholarships should take into consideration your own goals and how you can benefit from the scholarship programme. Remember that not all scholarships can be good for you especially when they inhibit your ability to pursue what you truly want to do.
Crucially, research also gives you a clearer understanding of how to tailor your scholarship application towards convincing providers that you are the right fit. For example, when applying for scholarships in the government sector, you must signal to the panel that you feel passionately about working in the public service or that serving the community has always been a natural part of your overall character. If you are applying for a sports merit scholarship, you might have to centre your application and your personal essay towards how sports have helped you throughout your studies and how you could potentially contribute to the community through your sporting achievements.
These days, with platforms such as LinkedIn or Facebook, it is possible to track down former scholarship recipients and ask them personally about their experience at interviews or what they feel they did to differentiate themselves. While it may seem intrusive to do so, often people are happy to help if you ask politely. If they do not reply, you can visit websites like Glassdoor to find reviews on scholarship applicants’ interview experiences with the specific organisation.
The best piece of advice we can impart to you is to start thinking of scholarships early. Scholarships can be a life-changing opportunity so you wouldn’t want to risk missing a deadline because of an unforeseen technical issue on the application website.
While it may not be a dealbreaker, submitting applications early might give you an edge over other applicants. Further, not leaving such an important deadline to the last minute reduces your overall stress levels as you juggle between schoolwork and your extracurricular commitments. This also gives you more time to do research and perfect your personal statement essays.
How to Apply?
Once you have shortlisted your scholarship options, it is time to apply! Most scholarship providers require you to submit your applications via their websites, especially ministerial scholarships, which only accept applications via the PSC Scholarship portal. Other scholarships may have simpler processes, such as applying via email.
While much of the form-filling is entering data, you would most likely be asked to also introduce yourself, your passions, and your ambitions through essays and personal statements. Invest a significant amount of time on these to do them well and start on them as early as possible.
Should You Apply for Multiple Scholarships?
Scholarship applications tend to be extensive, as providers want to make sure they know as much as possible about you before they potentially invest thousands of dollars into your education. One of the key things they require is a detailed track record of your academic history.
Therefore, it is important to retain as much of your academic records as possible, especially the major national exams. Be ready to provide your grades for every subject at A-Levels, O-Levels, and even PSLE. If you have misplaced those certificates and forgotten what your results are, you can access these results online on your SingPass mobile app.
Outside of school examination results, your academic awards such as bursaries or merit awards to top students in school can help differentiate you from everyone else.
Other Common Scholarships Application Requirements
- Volunteer Work
- Leadership Qualities
- National Service Information (Male)
Outside academics, your success within extracurricular work can also convince scholarship providers that you are worthy of being part of their programme. In fact, being excellent in athletics or any skill can be a valuable resource for attaining a scholarship.
One of the key qualities that scholarship providers look for in applicants is leadership. Many organisations want their scholars to be able to hold key leadership positions in the future and contribute meaningfully to the workplace. Consequently, student government positions or even the ‘Captain’ title on your school’s badminton team will go a long way towards that.
Scholars are expected to be role models in their community and take up a visible role as leaders. In addition to providing you with valuable life experience, volunteer work outside of school can show how passionate you are. Taking time to give back to the community is seen as a desirable quality. Besides proving your compassion, it also displays your ability to balance the rigour of academics with other responsibilities.
To aid in your applications, include formal reference letters or testimonials from people you have worked with or who have mentored you in the past. These testimonials provide further validation that you are someone the provider should invest in. Always remember to put yourself in the shoes of someone on the scholarship panel. How can you be sure that this person deserves this opportunity? Seeing someone else put their seal of approval on your character will do a lot to alleviate this worry.
But how do you go about getting a reference letter?
While it may seem a bit self-indulgent (and a bit “paiseh”) for you to ask someone to write you a letter singing your praises, you would be surprised at how many people would be willing to do this for you. Many bosses and colleagues understand how important this piece of paper could be for you and your career and would gladly take time out of their day to pen down a few words if you ask appropriately. Write them a detailed email about the opportunity that you are applying for and why it matters to you or simply call them up and explain everything on the phone.
That said, reference letters are not a compulsory component of every application, and the provider might ask you to list out the contacts of your references instead. Remember that this still means that you require their consent.
Who should you ask?
Prioritise people who you have more than just a strictly professional relationship with. While it may seem a lot more impressive to have a referral letter from someone who has a higher position in the company, it is much more important that the letter is specific and genuine. Such details can only come from someone you have worked closely with.
Likewise, if you are applying for a sports scholarship, a referral letter from your secondary school coach will be appropriate.
What should you include?
If possible, have a short discussion with the person that you are asking to write you a testimonial.
Testimonials should begin with your relationship with the person and the projects or endeavours you worked on together. These can include the teams that you were a part of or even an event that you helped plan together. Help the panel understand the position this person holds and why their opinion should be highly regarded.
Then, ask them to describe why they think you are a great candidate for the scholarship and the qualities they have seen you display while working with you. Stories or detailed examples are always useful for the scholarship panel to visualise the kind of person you are. Finally, if the person is comfortable, they could also offer the panel their contact details in case they want to contact them for more details.
A personal testimonial should only be 400-500 words. While it is important to be detailed, scholarship panels can run through hundreds of testimonials during the process, so being as concise as possible can make your application bearable for the panel.
A personal testimonial should not be too long and should only take up 400-500 words. While it is important to be detailed, scholarship panels can run through hundreds of testimonials during the process so being as concise as possible can make your application bearable for the panel.
Personal Statement Essay
Prior to the interview, the personal statement essay is the first opportunity you get to speak directly to the scholarship panel. Before you start writing your essay, think about all the qualities you are confident you possess and the skills you want to display in the essay and list them down. Then, think about key moments in your life you believe have impacted you the most and have contributed to the person you are today.
Finally, think of the ‘why’s! Why are you applying for this scholarship? Why is this opportunity important to you? Why are you so passionate about this particular field of study? What are your goals in the future and how would this scholarship help you achieve them?
When you have all these answers well thought out, start thinking of the flow of your essay. While there are personal statement templates you can find online, referencing them may cause you to lose the individuality of your statement. Instead, just remember some basic guidelines for structuring your essay then think of how best to include all the key details while creating a unique flow that makes your statement truly personal and more memorable than others.
For example, you can tell a story about your childhood or begin your statement with a quote from your favourite book or speech, explaining how it has shaped your life or inspired you to apply for the scholarship.
Finally, be sure to get a second opinion on your essay. Have a teacher or friend whose writing capabilities you trust vet your statement. Ask them if they think your essay stands out and what else you could add. An outside perspective is always useful in pointing out mistakes you may not always be able to see yourself.
The Scholarship Interview
If your application gets through the preliminary rounds, you would normally be asked to show up for an interview with the scholarship panel. This will be the first time the scholarship panel gets to see you and is probably the most intimidating part of the application process. Even if you are extroverted, it is completely normal to feel the jitters before any interview.
“The confidence comes from the preparation.” Kobe Bryant
The reason why interviews can be scary is that it involves putting yourself out there. To do this, you need self-confidence. And the best way to gain confidence is through preparation. A huge part of our worries during interviews are about encountering unexpected tests or questions. To rid yourself of this anxiety, you should prepare as much as possible.
When asked about how he always felt ready to take the game-winning shot at the end of any game, the late and great Kobe Bryant said it was because he had taken the same shot during practice thousands of times before. Hence the main point: Prepare, prepare, prepare.
What can I do to prepare?
1. Read through your own scholarship application again
Recap the things that you mentioned in your personal statement and the details you included in your application. This is the information that the panel has been given about you and you want to make sure that you do not forget any of it in case they bring it up during the interview.
Make sure to also take note of the details of the scholarship itself. This is also something that the panel may ask you about as the amount of research you have done can be an indicator of how much you care about earning the scholarship.
2. Stay up to date
Keep up to date with current affairs or any area of interest that seems to be taking up airwaves on social media. This makes conversation easier as you have common references you can bring up. The panel may also choose to ask you a question directly related to an event that took place recently just to get a feel for your critical thinking skills.
3. Pick out formal attire you feel comfortable in
Part of being confident is looking the part. Leaving a good impression on a panel also has to do with how you present yourself. Generally, it is safe to stick to typical business or office wear. It is also important that you do not pick out clothes that are too tight or ones that you do not feel your best in. Being physically comfortable is an important part of acing an interview so pick out your outfit early and make sure all your clothes still fit.
4. List out common practice questions
Every scholarship interview is different and for that reason, you should prepare for each one differently. There are, however, questions that are compulsory to know by heart because they are foundational to convincing the panel that you should be selected. Some of these questions are also questions commonly asked during interviews. For example:
- Why are you choosing to pursue this major? (Interviewers are gauging your purpose. Answer this question by mentioning your plans for the future.)
- Tell us of a time when you endured difficulty and what you did to overcome it. (In other words, how can we be sure that you possess resilience?)
- Who is the most influential person in your life? (Questions like these are ones you can answer creatively. While you can use it as a way to pay tribute to someone who is meaningful to you, this is also an opportunity for you to think out of the box by surprising them with someone outlandish. Remember to provide good reasons, of course.)
- Why do you think you deserve this scholarship? (This is a brilliant question because interviews can test you on multiple fronts: How confident you are as a person and how much you want the scholarship. This is your chance to give them a compelling argument and leave them with a lasting impression.)
Remember, these questions may not necessarily be asked during the interview, but many of the thought processes that you go through while preparing for them are transferable for most of the curveballs they may throw at you.
5. Organise practice interviews with someone
Find a friend, family member or colleague to role play as an interviewer and make it as realistic as possible. You might even want to be in formal wear and find a room in your house that looks almost like an office space. It might be awkward at first, but this will help frame you in the right state of mind for an interview.
6. Interviewers are real people too
Interviewers are real people as well so remind yourself to not make the interview solely about yourself. It is easy to get carried away trying to impress the panel by making the conversation only about yourself and your achievements. Make time to show curiosity in their work and lives too. It also helps with creating rapport. The panel does not want to just be hiring a robot; they want to know you are someone easy to work with.
7. Have fun!
Each interview is an opportunity to learn. If you plan to have a long and successful career, you will have to undergo many different types of interviews for all sorts of positions. Do not be too hard on yourself if you mess up your first one.
Take the time to interact and network with other applicants in the interview room. Keep in touch with them and ask them about their own experience.
8. Be grateful for the opportunity
After the interview, no matter how it went, send an email, or drop a note at the reception for the panel and thank them for taking the time to talk to you. Even though it may not seem like a big deal, it still gives you a chance to leave a lasting impression. Establishing contact post-interview also allows the panel to offer you feedback about what you could possibly improve on in future interviews should you not be selected.
Scholarship Interview: The Rule of Six
Unique Scholarship Interviews to Be Ready For (And How to Ace Them)
Handling the All-Important Scholarship Interview
Let’s Study Interview Body Language
What to Wear to a Scholarship Interview: Him & Her
How to Prepare and Succeed at Online Interviews
Post Scholarship Application Process
Scholarship applications are a marathon, not a 100-metre dash. Once you are finally done, you might already be extremely exhausted. That said, continue to take note of when the scholarship results are expected to be released. If it is not available online, feel free to send an email to the respective scholarship providers.
If your scholarship application is rejected:
Maybe it was just not meant to be. You probably spent a lot of time on the process and rejection is hard to stomach. However, this should not be the end of your scholarship journey. If you are already joining a university next year, keep an eye out for mid-term scholarships. Acquire more achievements along the way and put forward a stronger application next year.
If your scholarship application is accepted:
Congratulations! I bet you’re feeling extremely proud of yourself, and you really should be. However, do ensure to take note of what steps you must take to confirm your acceptance of the award. Some acceptance processes may be more elaborate and involve a lot of paperwork, especially since large sums of money may be involved.
Also, note the expectations for scholars that you are expected to abide by throughout your scholarship period. Some providers may enforce strict expectations, such as maintaining a certain GPA throughout your study or requiring you to complete an internship during the scholarship period. Either way, the point is that you can lose a scholarship as easily as you may have secured it. Making sure you are cognizant of all the rules and regulations set by the provider is key.
Otherwise, this is a momentous occasion for you and your family. Take time to let it sink in and appreciate all the doors this opportunity has opened for you. With your scholarship success also comes great responsibility to give back to your community and especially to your providers.
For many of you, scholarship applications can be the most daunting and intimidating part of your life. However, scholarships are not the be-all and end-all. This is a process that offers you a lot of chances to grow and harness skills that you will consistently use in the future. Applying for jobs, fellowships, or even Built to Order HDBs will also require you to provide similarly strong and persuasive arguments as to why you should be given the opportunity over someone else.
We hope that this “Complete Guide to Scholarships in Singapore” has made your scholarship application journey easier. While the tips and tricks we have provided are not exhaustive, we believe that this guide will provide you with a good foundation to build on your scholarship applications and equip you with transferable skills you can apply in all other aspects of your life.