Educational expenses in Singapore have been growing steadily. The costs can vary--from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars--depending on where you study and what course you are taking, but for most people, higher education is an expensive matter. However, there are many ways to overcome the financial burden that comes with your pursuit of higher education.

Education is like any other investment. You need proper financial planning to get yourself through the entire course of study without getting into major financial difficulties. So, when you are investigating courses to study, it is important to determine the expenses required to complete the entire course, including all the fees (tuition fee, registration fees, examination fees, sports and recreation charges, etc.) and other expenses (computers, books, stationery, broadband, hostel, transport, etc.) required. Once you've figured out the entire cost, you can begin to explore the various sources of financial aid that are available to you.

The best solution is to secure a scholarship that would take care of all your needs. Generally, to be eligible for scholarships, you must have a First Class Honours or Second Class (Upper Division) Honours degree. If you are among this cream of the crop, you have little to worry about, because the chances are that you will win one of the top local scholarships that would support you all the way through graduation. Some even provide support for postdoctoral training as well. Such prestigious scholarships, like the A*STAR Graduate Scholarships for the National University of Singapore and the A*STAR-NTU Graduate Fellowship for the Nanyang Technological University pay generously to support you through your graduate (M.Sc./Ph.D.) studies, or even postdoctoral training. These scholarships come with a monthly stipend of SG$3000, as well as full tuition fees, computer allowance, thesis allowance, book allowance, conference allowance, and--where applicable--full support for overseas attachments. But, mind you, these are extremely competitive scholarships.

There are other scholarships offered by the local universities and private organizations, which pay from $1400 up. Less restricted in terms of applicant's nationality, competition is strong due to the limited number of scholarships available. For example, the Singapore Millennium Foundation, a nonprofit charitable organization, offers approximately 35 Singapore Millennium Scholarships a year to predoctoral and postdoctoral research scientists and engineers in selected scientific disciplines of strategic importance to Singapore's economy and national development. The scholarship includes a monthly stipend of SG$2000, SG$3000, and SG$5000 for M.Sc., Ph.D., and postdoctoral training, respectively, and for international scholars, an additional travel allowance of up to SG$2000 is provided to cover their travel costs to Singapore.

The National University of Singapore Research Scholarships for postgraduate research students carry a monthly stipend of about SG$1500, with a full research fee subsidy. Research scholars may get an additional stipend of up to SG$500 per month after passing their Ph.D. qualifying examination. An additional stipend of up to SG$500 per month may be awarded to selected candidates under an augmentation scheme sponsored by industry and professional bodies. A similar Research Scholarships scheme is offered at the Nanyang Technological University. The good thing about these scholarships is that they are not attached to any compulsory service bonds.

For most scholarships, there are specific terms and conditions. These terms and conditions vary considerably from scheme to scheme. So, do check those out carefully before applying for any of them. The A*STAR Graduate Scholarships, for instance, are open only to Singaporean graduates from local and top overseas universities, and ASEAN scholars. Some may also require you to sign a service bond of 2 to 4 years. Others restrict the area of your studies; so if your area of interest is outside those defined by the terms, think again.

In the event that the course you choose is not supported by any of the scholarships or if you simply do not meet their stringent criteria, do not be discouraged. Most of the local banks offer loans to eligible students. Conditions may vary, but their loan packages are known to be very reasonable with easy payback schemes. In these cases though, you will need one or two financial guarantors, who will be responsible for the payment should you default on it.

If you are opting for a study loan, do your sums first. Borrow just enough for your needs. Do not take more than you need as you may have difficulty paying back later. It is always wise to make do with less so that you carry less financial baggage with you when you leave graduate school, particularly in these uncertain times, when gaining immediate employment after your studies can be difficult. Stretching your few dollars now may be tough, but because you are not earning, you should do with the bare minimum to avoid incurring a huge debt. So, while you're still in graduate school, try to cut down on all nonessential expenses.

Graduate students can support their studies in other ways too, so keep your eyes open for unexpected opportunities. If you are lucky, you may be able to get a teaching or research assistantship in your own department. Your potential income from this work may help defray a large potion of your education costs. It is also not unusual for students to take up part-time jobs, such as providing private tuition to undergraduates. Some even work at McDonald's! As long as these activities do not affect your studies, it should be fine. Above all, be frugal. Avoid the temptation to spend unnecessarily. Make do with the basics. It is possible to keep your costs low without compromising on your education needs.