How do universities decide amongst applicants?

Take note, all upcoming A-level candidates! O-level students, you may be familiar with how the L1R5 system works in grouping you into your junior college. IP students, your PSLE T-score decided which secondary school you were assigned to. Things are much different in the upcoming A-levels - your universities decide on who to admit based on a new point system called rank points (RP). Unlike in O-levels where you can improve your score by taking part in CCA and VIA activities, your A-level RP is based entirely on your academic performance in the A-level exams. Thus, academic excellence is all the more paramount in the last lap of your education life.

How do I calculate my rank points?

While your A-level certificate will display a grade (A, B, C, etc.), that grade will be converted to a number. RP is a summation of all the points you get for each subject. 90 RP is the maximum number of points you can get - should you get straight As, you would achieve the very coveted 90 RP. Most people take 4 H2 core subjects, while some may choose to take 3 H2 and 1 H1 subject. Students with 4 H2 subjects will take their 3 best-performing subjects as H2 equivalents, while their lowest-scoring subject as an H1 equivalent. H3 subjects will not be included in your RP. All students take PW (Project Work) as a H1 subject. Most students take H1 GP (General Paper), while some choose to take H2 KI (Knowledge and Inquiry) in place of H1 GP and another H1 or H1 equivalent content subject.

We’ve included a helpful table to show how many points each grade is assigned.

A-level grade Number of points (H2 equivalent) Number of points (H1 equivalent)
A 20 10
B 17.5 8.75
C 15 7.5
D 12.5 6.25
E 10 5
S (sub-pass) 5 2.5
U (ungraded) 0 0

Here’s an example of how a student with a typical 4-H2 subject combination of Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, and Economics (PCME) would calculate his RP.
Since his lowest-scoring H2 subject was Economics, it would be taken as an H1 equivalent and the number of points would be halved.
Total RP = 10 + 6.25 + 20 + 17.5 + 17.5 + 7.5 = 78.75

Subject A-level grade Number of points
H1 PW A 10
H1 GP D 6.75
H2 Physics A 20
H2 Chemistry B 17.5
H2 Mathematics B 17.5
H2 Economics (taken as H1 equivalent) C 7.5

Indicative Grade Profile

Indicative Grade Profile, or IGP, is a good estimation of the rough A-level grades you will need to achieve to enter each university course based on the intake of the previous year.

NUS Indicative Grade Profile

Below are the IGPs of each course offered by NUS. The 90th percentile represents the lowest grade of the top 10% of students who entered the course, while the 10th percentile represents the best grade of the bottom 10% of students who entered the course.

NTU Indicative Grade Profile

Below are the IGPs of each course offered by NTU. The 90th percentile represents the lowest grades of the top 10% of students who entered the course, while the 10th percentile represents the best grades of the bottom 10% of students who entered the course.

SMU Indicative Grade Profile

Below are the IGPs of each course offered by SMU. The 90th percentile represents the lowest grades of the top 10% of students who entered the course, while the 10th percentile represents the best grades of the bottom 10% of students who entered the course.


Singapore University of Social Sciences, established in 2017, offers not only humanities, business, and arts modules, but also science and engineering courses.

As provided on their website, here are their admission criteria for A-level candidates:

- Passes in at least 2 H2 content-based subjects and General Paper (GP) in the same sitting, a pass in Project Work (PW), and a pass in an H1 contrasting subject.

- Two years of full-time work experience, or currently employed on a full-time basis (applicants who have fully completed their National Service will be deemed to have fulfilled the work experience criterion)

- At least 21 years old

Click to view their brochures for their S R Nathan School of Human Development, School of Business, School of Humanities & Behavioural Sciences, School of Law, and School Science and Technology.

SIM University

Now known as SIM Global Education, SIM may be for you if you wish to enroll in programmes offered by overseas universities, but remain in a local campus. SIM collaborates with other well-known universities globally such as University of London, University of Sydney, University at Buffalo, and Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Check out their informative brochure here to discover more.

Check out their informative brochure here to discover more.

SUTD (Singapore University of Technology and Design)

Singapore University of Technology and Design does not provide specific minimum A-level grades required for admission. Here’s what’s written on their website:

You should possess good passes in at least three H2 content-based subjects, one H1 content-based subject, Project Work and attempted General Paper (GP) or Knowledge & Inquiry (KI). Other acceptable subject combinations include: four H2 content-based subjects, Project Work and GP; or three H2 content-based subjects, Project Work and KI.

While it is recommended that you have taken Mathematics and a Science subject, i.e. Physics or Chemistry, at H2, we do consider your results in Mathematics and the Science subjects taken at H1, O-level or equivalent as well. You may also be encouraged to take bridging modules before the start of term.

In addition, SUTD also has Mother Tongue Language (MTL) requirements. Don’t worry if you haven’t met these requirements, as those who have not fulfilled the MTL requirements may still apply for admission with no prejudice to their application. However, if accepted, they will be required to fulfil the MTL requirements during their course of study.

Overseas: United Kingdom

The United Kingdom forms a large area and comprises England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Application to UK schools is rather straightforward. All applications to UK schools are done via UCAS, a single admissions portal that processes and relays your applications to the schools of your choice. UK schools primarily consider your predicted A-level grades when first considering your application, which would be made by your school tutor based on your exam grades in J1 and J2. If you are selected by the university, a conditional offer would then usually be made, in which you would have to meet the university’s grade requirements in your A-levels.

Usually, UK universities only consider 3 of your best-performing H2 subjects that are relevant to your course. For example, a Chemistry course at Imperial College London will focus primarily on your Chemistry, Mathematics, and Physics/Biology/Economics grades. Applicants would have to craft and submit a maximum 4000-character personal statement in their applications to all schools, in which they describe their motivation to study the course of their choice, any relevant achievements they’ve made, as well as any extracurricular work they’ve done. You can apply up to a maximum of 5 courses from either the same school or different schools. You can’t, however, apply to overly contrasting courses, as the same personal statement will be used for all 5 applications.


The University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge, while having prestigious names, are notorious for being some of the most competitive and difficult schools to get into. This is because they usually have very high academic requirements for A-levels, on top of rigorous extracurricular activities to prove your passion for your course of interest.

Good grades are no longer enough to set you apart; you would be up against very stiff competition who have achieved the same grades. So, you have to show that you have gone a step ahead to pursue your passions outside of school.

Click to check out these universities:

University of Oxford

University of Cambridge

London School of Economics

London School of Economics and Political Science is a popular option among students who are keen on studying Economics or Finance. A highly acclaimed, prestigious school which specialises in the social sciences, it is ideal if you seek to study in a bustling city environment.

Overseas: United States of America

US schools are quite different. Schools will also look at your predicted A-level grades but will ask for many other things as well. Besides most schools requiring you to take the SATs (Scholastic Aptitude Test), you’ll also be required to write and submit common application essays as well as school-specific essays. These can be responses to general prompts such as ‘share your story’ or ‘challenging a belief’, or supplemental essays that are school-specific. You can even approach one of Indigo’s trained English tutors to have them vet through your essay or personal statement for that extra precaution!

Many note this stark contrast between UK and US schools, attributing it to the inherent differences in the two countries’ education styles. Some prefer the UK for their more structured, academic-oriented environment, whereas others like the flexibility and the all-rounded nature of US schools better. Take this time to know yourself better: which style suits you better?

Generally, applying to US schools is a much more convoluted, time-consuming process that differs for every school. So, make sure you research all the schools you’re interested in, make a note of all the deadlines, and start drafting your essays early. Also, be sure to check your JC’s policies about applying to US schools, as some only support you applying to a limited number of schools.

Stanford and Ivy Leagues

Did you know: while Stanford University has selectivity rates comparable to that of Ivy League schools, it is actually not part of the Ivy League? That being said, all Ivy League schools and other prestigious schools like Stanford and MIT are almost just as stringent when it comes to your character and portfolio. All these will give you an upper hand when applying to such schools: Academic excellence (straight As), including passion and involvement in your intended subject of study, leadership experience, community service, extensive involvement in extracurricular activities, great personal qualities, resilient character and good soft skills.

Overseas: Australia

Studying in Australia is also becoming a desirable choice for students who wish for an experience that is not too academically rigorous. Australia is known for its friendly, laid-back nature, excellent education system, and high standard of living. Top choices in Australia include the University of Melbourne, the University of Sydney, the University of Queensland, and the University of Western Australia. We’ve included links to all of their websites - they offer a myriad of courses for all areas of interest.

Overseas (Australia)

Click to check out these universities:

University of Melbourne

University of Sydney

Which university and courses should I choose?

Generally, courses like Law, Medicine, Dentistry, and Computer Science are extremely competitive in all schools, including overseas universities. When competition becomes this fierce, the grades of every single subject will be critical. Getting an A or B in H1 GP can make or break your application into such prestigious courses. On top of that, universities will look at other non-academic qualities like leadership experience, community service, CCA, and relevant experience in the field of your desired course.

If you are considering taking any of these courses, now’s the time to really tighten the reins on your studies. It will not be easy to juggle academic duties and extracurricular activities. Your 2 years in JC will go by in a flash - it’s never too early to start preparing!

Another good point of consideration would be the non-academic aspects the school has to offer. Think about the clubs and activities, the location and environment of the school, or even the quality of accommodation the school has to offer.

A good place to start is through university ranking websites. It is best to collate a list of at least 20 different universities, finding what is special about each of them, and then narrowing your options down to finally about 10.