I'm an international student and I'm currently studying pure mathematics in undergraduate level with a relatively low GPA (~3.5/4.0). I've recently read so many positive reviews about the universities in Singapore. I checked the "National University of Singapore (NUS)" on the internet for its international ranking and it was ranked 9th in mathematics!

How much do you think the ranking of a university positively affects my future career? For example, one of my dreams is that I can study in some Ivy-league university in the USA or some grand ecole university in France like Paris Sud 11 in the future, but because of my low GPA I'm afraid that that will never happen for me. Do you think that going to the NUS can help me to get accepted into world top universities in the future?

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    You should select a school because its program is interesting, not its rank is high.
    – Nobody
    Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 3:19
  • @scaaahu: Yes, that is correct, but if the ranking of the university can greatly impact my future admission opportunities, why not?
    – user66733
    Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 3:23
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    @some1.new4u: "Why not" is the same reason you were already given: because you should choose a program you're interested in instead. If you have two programs you're interested in, and one has a higer rank, that might come into play, but you should consider interest first and rank only if and when choosing between places that interest you.
    – BrenBarn
    Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 8:22
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    if 3.5/4 is a low GPA.. Then what is 3/4
    – seteropere
    Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 20:33
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    I've spent some time at the centre for quantum technologies at NUS and it was a blast. Their quantum information/computing program is great, so if you are going into that then I would recommend it. I don't know much about the mathematics department though. However, as so many advised, rank is not the end-all-be-all. Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 23:14

4 Answers 4


Is it a good idea to go to “National University of Singapore”

It may be. I have recently visited NUS, and talked to a lot of smart faculty and some truly outstanding students. Personally, I can only recommend both NUS and NTU Singapore. Singaporean universities are well-funded and offer a reasonable research environment. Singapore itself is also a nice place to live, with a quite interesting mixture of different cultures, lots of food, high standard of living, etc.

just because of its high international ranking?

Oh god no.

If you want to go to NUS, then because of the reasons stated above. It think convincing the world that university-level rankings are a good thing is the largest disservice that the US has done to research. Let me make this clear - if you graduate from NUS and do uninteresting research, nobody will hire you. If you graduate from another reasonable university and do good research, you will find a post.

Do you think that going to the NUS can help me to get accepted into world top universities in the future?

Only for the reasons stated above - NUS has an environment that certainly enables you to do world-class research. For this reason, NUS may certainly help you get into a top university, but it does not make you accepted. The hard part (being a good researcher) will still be required from you.

  • @scaaahu I was not aware of that. I clarified this bit. However, from context I think it should be pretty evident that I was talking about Nanyang Technological University in Singapore
    – xLeitix
    Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 12:45

Rank is not an absolute index, it's relative. University X may have rank 9 this year, 15 next year. University Y may be ranked 16 this year and then rises to 10 next year. Different ranking agencies have different ways to rank universities.

I see those rankings as references. It's a factor. I would put more attention on the programs/faculty when selecting a school I want to attend.

I will not choose a school just because I want to increase my chance getting into Ivy-league universities. One reason for that is, I might have even lower GPA in a high ranking school. Of course, we can argue that better schools may have better professors so I can learn more. The bottom line is still, how hard do you study? In particular, you don't need expensive labs in order to study math. So, ranking may be important, but not a decisive one.

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    Indeed, and moreover, it might be worthwhile to question if such a ranking is reliable. For instance, is it a ranking made up by outsiders or one that is recognized by many serious mathematicians?
    – tqw
    Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 3:58

In my opinion, it is more important who you will be working with, than what university you will be at. There exist productive scientists who are great at supervising PhDs, while working at medium-ranked universities. Likewise, there exist tenured scientists at highly ranked universities, who are far past the peak of their career and lukewarm about PhD students.

After your PhD, what matters most, is your publications and possibly reference letters. If you have great publications and superb reference letters from famous scientists in the field, I don't think you will miss out on this or that post-doc because whoever reads your letter doesn't immediately know the university where you got your PhD.

This is my opinion, based on quite limited experience — having recently finished my PhD at a university that is not top-ranked, proceeding to do a post-doc at a university that is. I don't think the name of the university where I did my PhD is a handicap. In fact, I've always been better at doing research than at writing exams, so if the place where I'll be going for my post-doc would accept PhD candidates purely based on GPA, I'd never have gotten in.


It might be enlightening for you to carefully study how these rankings were formulated. Some of them are based entirely on reputation and subjective opinions. Some of them are based on a suite of detailed metrics – factors which may or may not be of much interest to the typical graduate student. Seldom, if ever, are they formulated by a team that visits university classrooms to evaluate lecturers, or interviews graduate students to accurately determine overall satisfaction with their programs. These rankings don't come close to telling the whole story.

Some schools have meteoric rises in the rankings just because their institutional research department is able to collect all the right data and send it back to the organization doing the rankings.

I'm not saying that most of the highly-ranked schools are not good schools, or that they are undeserving of their good reputations and high rankings. However, you can get a very good education an unranked school, and you can get a below-average education at a very highly-ranked school. There are several factors that determine how well someone does in graduate school and beyond, and school ranking is probably not a very big factor in the overall scheme of things.

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