Finance a Bond-free Overseas Education: It’s Possible!

Yes, even for students in Singapore! I’ve been exploring my options for funding an overseas education, and I’ve been talking to people. I was introduced to S, who took her own route to the US, and we had a great chat about going overseas.

I realised that you have more choices beyond paying entirely out of your own pockets, or getting a bonded scholarship. Far too often these look like the only options for Singaporeans. There’s actually a comfortable in-between: pay parts of it yourself, and then make up the difference with other methods.

But first, why overseas?

S told me that her local options weren’t very good because she was from a polytechnic, and she couldn’t stand the Singapore education system any longer. It’s biased towards JC grads: an average kid from JC has better chances at local universities than a top polytechnic student.

During her undergrad years in the US, professors invited her home for Thanksgiving, and another time everyone carpooled and played basketball together. How cool is that? It’s not something you’d get in Singapore. S is also doing very well now, and going overseas was the right choice for her. She learnt to be more ambitious, confident, and independent. She learnt to fight harder for her rights and her goals.

Here’s how S paid for a US education:

NB: A message from S herself:
I’ll be very clear these are ways to fund only part of the overall education costs. I would say at least a good half of the funds need to be paid for out of pocket.

-She called the university to see if they can finance her more. She said something like, “I really want to go but I need a better scholarship. I’ve siblings and my parents can’t afford it.” She negotiated her financial aid offer.

-She built a good relationship with the Dean and other people by being active in student clubs. This helped with getting her more aid.

-In the next few years, she made sure she got good grades so that she was eligible for the merit scholarships each semester.

-She went to a smaller, less well known school to increase her chances. It was a small private liberal arts college in a conservative state. This allowed her to clinch more scholarships and gain exposure being a diversity candidate.

-She took a loan from a bank in Singapore. (you can do this with American banks too, like Wells Fargo, but the requirements are a bit different.)

-She lived off campus to save money.

-She made sure that her student job was arranged before she got to the US, so that she could start work from day one. In addition, she tutored her schoolmates on the side.

-Not something she did, but she suggested that we could go to community college (CC) first, especially if you’re interested in a school in California. Because tuition is so expensive there, many people opt to go CC first so the environment isn’t too bad. Santa Monica Community College is a good one; in other places, the CCs aren’t that great. You can then transfer afterwards. This is easier than transferring from Singapore.

Bonus: Staying On in the US After

STEM graduates have a longer time to look for work before they have to return. But as other majors, you can find work too – S did and stayed on in the US:

-Remember to find a job in your last year in school. Find a company willing to sponsor a OPT/H1-B visa for you. Use your summers wisely + brush up on job hunting skills! I like Ramit Sethi’s advice. (He has stuff on personal finance, too. Worth a look!)

As I’ve heard, the options are similar for the UK as well: a mix of loans, scholarships and hard work. Perhaps there’s less wiggle room for financial aid, but the UK is cheaper in the first place.

Hope this was helpful! Remember that we have options. Good luck!

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