Education

Can’t Afford to Go to University? Here are 9 Options for Getting Those Fees Paid

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Joanne Poh

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Remember when you were in primary school and you prayed fervently for the day when you could be all grown up and never have to go to school again?

Now the tables are turned, and you’re a fresh O level grad / A level grad / poly diploma holder who wants to continue your studies at at tertiary institution, whether locally or overseas. The problem is that your parents can’t afford to pay your way through school, and you need to find a way to finance your education.

Listen up young padawans, don’t get discouraged. Take a deep breath and then consider all the following options for financing your education.

 

1. Check if you qualify for the CPF education scheme

Your parents may not have enough cash to pay for your education, but if they have money locked up in their CPF accounts, you might be able to loan enough cash to pay most of your tuition fees and pay it back after graduation as part of the CPF education scheme.

The catch is that only students of certain education institutions are eligible for the scheme. You have to be a full-time student of a diploma or degree course at a local institution—NUS, NTU, SMU, SIT, SUTD, UniSIM, NAFA, Lasalle, NAFA, and one of the polytechnics or ITEs.

 

2. Check for scholarships

Singaporeans tend to think of scholars as those high flyers with not only flawless grades but also a stellar CCA record. So fierce is the competition for grades that many students with a single B do not even consider the fact that they might eligible for scholarships.

But guess what. You might be out of the running for the PSC scholarship, but there are many bursaries and scholarships dispensed by other organisations that can defray the cost of your education. Some of these scholarships are so obscure that you’ll be one of just a few applying.

For instance, the Singapore Federation of Clan Associations doles out scholarships to Singapore citizens who wish to study in China, while Mendaki offers quite a few awards too. Whoever does the most research wins. Also check with the institutions you wish to apply to, as some might offer their own scholarships.

 

3. Consider signing on with the armed forces

Okay, we know, you might never in your darkest nightmares have imagined yourself an SAF regular. But hear us out.

When you sign up as an SAF regular, not only does the state pay for your school fess, you’ll also receive an allowance of about $2,000 a month while you’re studying. That means that during the course of a 4-year undergraduate degree, you’ll receive $96,000, plus have your uni fees of $30,000 to $40,000 settled.

In exchange you’ll have to serve a bond of 6 years. If you sign on before or during NS, your NS time will be put towards serving the bond, which means your remaining bond is effectively only 4 years long after you complete your studies. In addition, you might also get paid a proper SAF regular’s salary rather than a meagre NS allowance during your two years of National Service.

The army isn’t for everyone, but the financial benefits are quite great. If you save and invest aggressively during your university days, you’ll find yourself at a distinct advantage to your peers who graduate in debt and without a cent to their name.

 

4. Consider applying for the MOE teaching scholarship

Okay, so the army isn’t your thing. You’d much rather be screaming at those younger and weaker than you, than being screamed at yourself.

The MOE Teaching Scholarship, if you manage to get it, will cover the cost of your undergraduate education, whether in Singapore or overseas. If you’re studying overseas you’ll get even more money to pay for things like airfare.

In exchange, you’ll have to serve a bond—this is 4 years for those studying in local unis, 5 years for those studying abroad in non-English speaking countries and 6 years for those studying in English-speaking countries like Australia and the UK. You’ll also receive an allowance during your studies.

As with the army, this is not for everyone, and it’s understandable if the bond makes you uncomfortable. But if teaching is something you’ve already been considering, definitely have a go at applying for the scholarship.

 

5. Take out a tuition fee loan

If you’re not eligible for the CPF Education Scheme or your parents don’t have enough money in their CPF accounts for whatever reason, you still have the option of taking out an education loan.

It is important you approach banks that are offering loans specifically for educational purposes, since the interest rates tend to be much lower than those of regular personal loans. Compare interest rates so you can get the cheapest possible loan. You can do that for free using MoneySmart’s education loan wizard.

Don’t just run to the bank and then borrow a huge lump sum, plus some extra so you can shop for cool clothes to wear to uni. Loans are not free—you pay interest on them, which can really add up. So you only want to borrow as much as you need.

Also make sure you ask about repayment terms when you’re considering a particular loan. You want to know when you need to start paying back the loan—some loans must be paid back once you graduate or get your first job, others will give you more of a buffer.

 

6. Check with the school’s financial aid office

Most universities have a financial aid office where students in need can get help. Make an appointment with them—and yes, that means actually speaking with someone, rather than just browsing their website—and assess your options.

This has to be done months in advance, before the semester commences. For instance, at NUS applications for financial aid must typically be sent in by April for the academic year starting in August.

The local unis offer tuition fee loans and study loans in conjunction with local banks for those who aren’t able to produce the cash while they’re still at school. At some overseas institutions, you might be able find work at the university itself, which can defray the cost of your tuition fees, although this is admittedly hard for non-citizens.

 

7. Check if your family can get financial assistance from the government

If your family is really really in dire straits financially, you might also want to check if they can receive financial assistance from the government.

Make an appointment with the closest Social Services Office and see if your family qualifies for any assistance.

 

8. Work part-time while in university

I cannot stress how much I encourage uni students to get a part-time job. Graduating university with your university fees totally or partially paid, some basic investments or a nest egg all saved up really, really makes a difference.

Most uni students just give tuition, which is the easiest way to make a pile of cash fast. If you’re really serious about making money you might want to consider becoming an insurance agent after you turn 21. Otherwise, there are all types of part-time jobs and holiday contracts that are open to students.

I know someone who used to build websites for a hobby, and by the time she graduated university she was making about $2,000 per month on the side as a freelance web developer.

 

9. Take a year or two off to work and save up

I can understand why this is an unpopular option with Singaporeans, since everyone is so afraid to lose out, and many students probably don’t want to have to admit shame-faced that they’re working with their A level cert when their friends have all moved on to uni.

But if you can find a full-time job, just a year or two of working and saving assiduously can go a long way towards paying for university. Let’s say you work as an administrative assistant for $1,500 a month. If you live frugally and save half of that, you’ve got $9,600 in the bank, which can pay for a year at most NUS courses.

If you become a private tutor during your gap year, you can earn even more. In fact, a former secondary school classmate of mine took a year off to earn money as a private tutor before enrolling at university. She made so much that she ended up never going to uni, choosing to become a full-time tutor instead. She now drives a big car bought with all those tuition earnings. Okay, not the point of this article, but yeah, saving like crazy for a year or two can improve your financial situation considerably, so you’ll be able to breathe easy when applying for uni.

How are you planning to finance your university studies? Tell us in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.