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Overseas Exchange VS Summer School: Comparing Cost, Modules, Duration And Destinations

Not all of us can get the best of both worlds, so we help you figure out how to choose the best option for you.

Universities in Singapore are increasing their emphasis on students gaining overseas exposure during their term of study. According to The Straits Times, a huge majority of university students have some form of overseas exposure. Local universities like SUSS, SUTD, and SMU have also made overseas experience a mandatory criteria for graduating.

The most popular ways for local university students to experience studying overseas are through exchange programmes and summer schools. For the uninitiated, exchange programmes are where students study abroad at another institution during the school term. Summer school, on the other hand, is basically attending lessons during the summer vacation.

Some people may opt to do both during their school life, but if you had to opt for only one, there are some factors you need to consider before you make the decision.

Read Also: 5 Common Money Mistakes Students Make Overseas (And How To Avoid Them)


Exchange programmes typically last for one semester (about six months), although some universities and faculties also give students the opportunity to extend their exchange term to two semesters (about one year).

Going overseas on exchange for a few months can be really exciting, especially if you are adventurous and enjoy exploring different lands. For example, many university students on exchange in Europe will take the chance to embark on long road trips across the region.  However, if you have never been away from home for an extended period of time, you may have to think carefully about whether you will be okay with living on your own for almost half a year.

Summer school, as the name implies, is held during the summer vacation and usually last for about 1 to 2 months. It allows you to earn extra credits in a shorter period of time, and is perfect for first-time travellers who may be wary about how they’ll adapt to the experience.

The downside is that you will definitely have less time for travelling – not just because you are overseas for a short period of time, but also due to the fact that you have to spend a fair bit of time attending classes and cramming in study time for your exams. After all, the professor is squeezing a semester’s worth of course work into less than 2 months, and you really do not get that much time to digest all that material.

Another thing that you may lose out on if you decide to enrol in summer school: the opportunity to complete internships during your vacation time. Many full-time internship programmes prefer candidates that can work for at least 3 months, which is typically the duration of your whole summer vacation.

Read Also: Internship Or Exchange: Here Are Some Questions To Ask Yourself Before Deciding


Students going on exchange typically pay the same amount of tuition and student fees, as these are paid directly to their home university instead. This means that you technically incur no extra costs for school fees when you go on exchange.

SMU’s website provides an explanation for this: at your preferred exchange university, a full-time student is also paying an equivalent amount of tuition and student fees at home. This equal exchange of enrolled students who have already paid for their home university’s fees allows the waiver of tuition fees at both ends.

On the other hand, summer school is not held during the school term, and considered as ‘extra’ classes that you take during the holidays. The number of students attending summer school is not ‘controlled’ or guaranteed by the universities, and it is held outside of usual curriculum time, meaning that the schools pay extra for professors to teach during vacation time. Hence, you are usually required to pay the full programme fees directly to the summer school.

Certain universities may offer fee-waiver summer school programmes, but these tend to be very limited.

Most summer school programmes charge by the number of modules you opt to take, meaning that if you choose to take 3 modules overseas, you pay more than someone who takes just 1 module. This is different from exchange programmes, where you pay the same amount of school fees (to your home university), no matter how many modules you choose to take.

Another factor to take note in the comparison of costs is the duration that you are spending overseas, hence you are likely to spend more on exchange.

NTU’s expenses guide to exchange programmes in different regions is as follows (these vary based on individual spending habits).

 Region  Expenses
 Asia  SGD 8,000 onwards
 Oceania  SGD 12,000 onwards
 Americas & Europe  SGD 15,000 onwards

Source: NTU

To compare the costs with those of summer school, we pick one popular summer school from each region. Expense estimation is taken from NUS website, and excludes airfare & travelling:


 University  Expenses
 Korea University Approx. SGD 5,670 – SGD 6,400
 The University of Sydney Approx. SGD 9,190 – SGD 9,490
 Yale University Approx. SGD 12,847.31

Source: NUS

Read Also: Here’s How Much 3 Singapore University Undergrads Spent On Their Overseas Exchange


The upside of studying overseas on exchange and at summer schools is that you get to map modules that are notoriously difficult on a pass/fail basis, meaning that all you have to do is make sure you pass your classes. Even if you get a bad grade, it is only reflected in your home university’s academic transcript as a “pass”.

The clear advantage that exchange programmes holds over summer schools is that they offer more modules that you can map back home. You are usually also given the option to map the same number of modules that you take in your home university over the same duration, i.e. if you are going on exchange for 1 semester, you get to map 1 semester’s worth of modules.

Summer schools typically offer fewer options when it comes to modules, and you have to take take note that not everything offered may be mapped back home.

However, an advantage of summer schools is that they have the flexibility to focus on different topics since most of them are not constrained by academic year or college credit modules. For example, many summer schools offer the option of taking foreign languages, which may not be offered at your home university. You could take these classes as extra learning, even if you are not able to map the credits back home.

Read Also: Watch: How Much Do Exchange Students Really Know About Their Overseas Expenses?


Generally, there are more destinations that students can choose from for exchange programmes.

Global partners differ from university to university – even within the same faculty, your choices may be more limited than others because your major is not offered in certain countries.

School Number Of Partner Universities And Countries
NUS > 300 partner universities in more than 40 countries
NTU > 350 partner universities in more than 40 countries
SMU > 200 partner institutions across various continents
SUTD 25 partner institutions, mostly in Asia
SUSS Not publicly available
SIT Compulsory Overseas Immersion Programmes with 9 Overseas University Partners


When it comes to summer school programmes, students have fewer options in terms of universities and countries available.

School Number Of Partner Universities And Countries
NUS 26 countries
NTU 20 countries
SMU > 200 partner institutions across various continents
SUTD 25 partner institutions, mostly in Asia
SUSS Not publicly available
SIT Not publicly available


Some universities also offer students the option of doing exchange locally, meaning that you essentially study at another university in Singapore for a semester. This is a good option for students who wish to continue pursuing a part-time job/internship while studying, or do not want to incur the extra costs that come with living overseas.

However, the same cannot be done for summer school. Certain universities explicitly ban students from taking summer courses in local universities. For example, NTU’s website clearly states:

“As Summer Studies aims to provide participants with a meaningful overseas experience, applicants will be not allowed to select an university located in their home country. This applies to both exchange and fee-paying applications. If participants proceed to apply to universities in their home country, NTU reserves the right to terminate any credit transfer arrangement and not recognise the courses taken for credit overseas for such participants.”

Read Also: 18 Platforms University Students Should Be Using To Find Internships, Part-Time/Temp Jobs, Freelance Gigs

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