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Guide To University Terms In Singapore (Honours, Major, Minor)

University terms can be confusing not only for Singaporean students but include anyone thinking about entering the world of higher education.

What makes matters even more difficult is that these terms do not mean exactly the same in all universities. The meaning of the term is determined by the policy of a specific university. For example, graduating with honors from NUS is quite different from graduating with honors from NTU.

SMU also uses similar terms but they might mean something slightly different than what they do in previously mentioned universities.

So let's dive deeper into these three autonomous universities and see exactly what the terms used in them mean.

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Those who graduated from the National University of Singapore tend to have successful careers with relatively high salaries. The syllabus at the university is mostly focused on theory. As for the general modules they can either be restricted or unrestricted (electives). 

Also, if you are pursuing an undergraduate degree at the NUS, your module may culminate in one of two ways satisfied or unsatisfied (S/U). This means that you can take this module without worrying about getting a specific grade, as long as you pass it'll be fine. 

A closer look at satisfied/unsatisfied options. 

Let’s take a hypothetical situation in which a student takes five modules in one semester each of which is worth four modular credits and gets four Bs and one C. If the student keeps his grades the CAP will be 

(4 x 3.5) + (4 x 3.5) + (4 x 3.5) + (4 x 3.5) + (4 x 2.0) = 3.20

However, if the student chooses to exercise satisfied/unsatisfied on the module in which he got the grade C his CAP will be 

(4 x 3.5) + (4 x 3.5) + (4 x 3.5) + (4 x 3.5) + (4 x 2.0) = 3.50

In an ideal situation, a student will exercise the satisfied/unsatisfied option in order to improve their CAP since higher CAP translates to better honors classification.

Double degree. 

A double degree means that you get an additional degree from a different faculty. So when you graduate from university you will have two separate degree qualifications (for example a double degree in Law and Accountancy). 


Your major is the main thing you’re planning to study and get your degree in (for example Law). 


If you, for example, have a Bachelors's degree in Business and a minor in Statistics this means that you took some courses which familiarized you with the field of statistics. 

One thing to keep in mind is that you cannot choose the S/U option for the electives. 

The second major.

The second major is much more impactful than a minor. In most cases, the second major is given out by the same faculty that gave you your first major. 

The national university of Singapore adheres to the honors class system which looks like this.

CAP 4.50 and higher – First Class Honours

 CAP 4.00 – 4.49 – Second Class (Upper) Honours

 CAP 3.50 – 3.99 – Second Class (Lower)

 CAP 3.00 – 3.49 – Third Class (Lower)

 CAP 2.00 – 2.99 – Pass



Nanyang Technical University is another major university in Singapore. Compared to the NUS it is significantly easier to get a double degree or double major in this university, and it is also easier to obtain a scholarship to attend it. 

So let’s look at some of the terms used in NTU. 

Core modules/general core modules. 

These are the modules that you are obliged to take and you must pass to get your degree. If you don’t pass them on your first try you must retake them. In addition, you do not have the option of exercising S/U. 


Electives can be of two types, unrestricted (UE) and general prescribed (GERPE). 

You can choose unrestricted electives from other faculties and depending on your major you must take a certain number of them in order to graduate. 

The number of general prescribed electives depends on the requirements of your major and, similarly to unrestricted ones, you need to clear a certain number of them to get your degree. 

You have to include one liberal studies GERPE, one business GERPE, and one science and technology GERPE. The remaining electives are up to you as long as you register as GERPE. 

Both unrestricted electives and general prescribed ones can be S/U-ed. 

Double degree. 

Just like in the previous university double degree is in most cases given out by a different faculty and upon graduation, you will hold two degree qualifications. For example, you can have a double degree in Aerospace Engineering and Business. Major. 

Your major is the main thing you’re planning to study at university. 


The definition of minor in NTU is the same as that of minor in the NUS. And similarly, you can't exercise S/U with the electives. 


Concentration is less impactful than a minor and it requires you to pass some electives but you can exercise the S/U options to clear these subjects. 

Second major. 

A second major is more impactful than a minor and it is generally given out by the same faculty that gives you your major. This means you will have a one degree qualification. Honors. 

Nanyang Technological University has a direct honors system for some majors. However, this doesn’t mean that you get a degree with honors automatically. If your GPA is below 3.0 when the time comes for you to graduate I’m afraid you will not be eligible for any honors. 

Read also: Can I use my CPF to pay for my child's university fees?



Singapore Management University is also one of the top universities in the country and students who graduate from it tend to have successful careers and earn high salaries. 

In addition to acquiring hard skills, students at SMU also learn the importance of soft skills that are crucial for the modern-day workplace. 


The definition of major remains unchanged here. It is still the main thing you are qualifying for (e.g. Law). What is noticeable is that at Singapore Management University the majority of students tend to take double majors; meaning they choose two main things to study. And those two majors don’t necessarily have to be related (in a way that economics and finance are for example). Two majors can be relatively unrelated (for example economics and corporate communication). 


Unlike the other two universities, Singapore Management University does not offer a minor. 


SMU electives can be of two types, major electives, and free (otherwise known as unrestricted) electives. 

The modules you are required to take for your major are called major electives. You will be presented with a list of modules to choose from. For example, if you plan to major in psychology you will have a list of 20 psychology modules from which you need to pick 10. Free/unrestricted electives are also referred to as general education; these are the modules that are not closely related to your major. You can take these modules from other unrelated fields such as information systems, law, accountancy, foreign languages, film, dance, or any other field your heart desires. 


These are compulsory modules such as university core, major core, and degree core. University core is a common program and every student studying at that university has to take it (doesn’t matter which faculty you belong to). University core subjects are things like communication, team building, or foundation in writing. 

Degree core is a common program for all students in one specific faculty. For example, if you are in the faculty of Social Sciences you will have to take the introduction to psychology, introduction to political science, introduction to sociology, or introduction to statistics regardless of the major you’re trying to obtain. 

And, last but not least, the major core consists of compulsory modules that are relevant to your major. For instance, if you are planning to study psychology you will be required to take subjects such as psychology research methods I and II.


Track/specialization are more specific versions of your major. For example, you can get a degree in Operations Management with a specialization in Analytics. This means that you will take the same major course as other operations management students but your major electives are modules that relate to analytics specifically. 


Singapore Management University doesn’t use the honor system. Instead, the university uses the accumulative Grade Point Average (GPA) to honor successful students. The highest GPA you can achieve is 4.0.

Cumulative GPA Awards

 3.8+/4.0 Summa Cum Laude (With Highest Distinction)

 3.60 – 3.79 / 4.0 Magna Cum Laude (High Distinction)

 3.40 – 3.59 / 4.0 Cum Laude (Distinction)

 3.20 – 3.39 / 4.0 High Merit

 3.00 – 3.19 / 4.0 Merit

With that being said, SMU does offer its students an opportunity to write an optional honors thesis. This thesis will not have an impact on the degree classification award, however, if you wish to continue your studies and go into research/academia it is important for you to do the honors thesis. 


Hopefully, this article made it easier for you to navigate the rather complex world of university terms. The important thing to remember here is that the exact meaning of the term and requirements attached to it vary from university to university. So make sure to keep your eyes peeled for any nuances.


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Tutor City's blog focuses on balancing informative and relevant content, never at the expense of providing an enriching read. 

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Resident author - Mr Wee Ben Sen, has a wealth of experience in crafting articles to provide valuable insights in the field of private education.

Ben Sen has also been running Tutor City, a leading home tuition agency in Singapore since 2010.