Are you applying to university in the Philippines? This article’s for you.
With a vibrant culture, affordable tuition, and English as the main medium of instruction, the Philippines is growing popular as a study destination for international students. However, resources for these types of students are hard to come by. So, here is a general overview of the Philippine university application process, including timelines, terms, and tips to help you on your application journey!
Understanding Philippine college applications
Unlike other countries such as the US and the UK, the Philippines does not have a centralized college application system. This means prospective students have to apply to each school separately, although the processes are similar.
Note that the terms “college” and “university” are often used interchangeably in the Philippines to refer to post-secondary studies.
Where should I apply?
Filipino colleges offer a wide variety of 4-year bachelor degree courses, with a number of universities specializing in certain fields. Schools offering robust programs in business include Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) and De La Salle University (DLSU) while the University of the Philippines (UP) and the University of San Carlos are highly regarded for their humanities courses.
For health-related courses, top ranking schools include the University of Santo Tomas (UST), Silliman University, and Cebu Institute of Medicine (CIM). Well-known schools for architecture and engineering include Mindanao State University and Mapua University.
How much would it cost to study in the Philippines?
University costs in the Philippines are relatively low compared to its Asian neighbors, estimated at PHP 120,000 per semester. Combined with a low cost of living, prospective students can look forward to spending only around USD 5,000 per year for college!
Are scholarships available?
Yes! Scholarships are offered by many schools, which may cover tuition, accommodation, and miscellaneous fees (e.g. laboratory fees). For example, the Ateneo Freshman Merit Scholarship awards a 100% tuition and fees scholarship along with an annual PHP 50,000 allowance.
Athletic scholarships are also readily offered in colleges that are members of sports leagues like the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). These colleges include Adamson University, National University, and Far Eastern University.
Students active in a university’s art organizations (e.g. fine arts, theater, dance) may also be eligible for scholarships like the UP Diliman Performing Arts Scholarship or the DLSU Cultural Arts Tuition Discount.
For Filipino citizens applying to STEM courses, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) scholarship provides tuition assistance and living allowances among other benefits. Public universities like the University of the Philippines (UP) and the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM) also grant partial to full tuition subsidies for Filipino citizens.
When should I apply? When will I get a decision?
When applying to a Filipino university, there are three main events in an application timeline: (1) Students select their course of study upon application, (2) take the college’s entrance exam, and (3) receive college decisions.
Application timelines in the Philippines depend on the school and the course you are applying to. This may depend on their location with respect to the capital, Manila.
- Schools in Manila, especially the prestigious ‘Big 4’ universities, open applications from September to November. These schools usually hold entrance exams from November to January, with decisions released around April or May.
- Schools outside Manila open applications much later, running from February of the following year until May. There are exceptions but there are typically no entrance exams for these schools. Decisions are released around June or July.
As an additional general rule, the more competitive a course is, the earlier its application period runs. Courses in healthcare (e.g. nursing, medical technology, public health) typically open the earliest.
What are the requirements?
It can be mind-boggling to gather all of the documents you need to submit for a university application. Thankfully, schools usually have similar requirements, which can make it easier to compile. Common requirements may include:
- Application form
- High school transcript
- Birth certificate (PSA birth certificate, if Filipino citizen)
- ID photo (1×1 or 2×2 inches with white background)
- Application fee (around PHP 300-700)
- Immunization records (for health-related courses)
- Recommendation forms
- These forms are provided by the school you are applying to, and they are usually to be filled up by your school counselor or principal.
- Certificate of Good Moral Character
- This certificate attests your conduct as a student and can be provided by your high school’s registrar. A sample may be found here.
For international students, additional requirements may include:
- Passport scan
- Red ribbon apostille
- This is an official seal certifying the authenticity of international documents, obtained through your country’s Philippine consulate. More information can be found with the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.
- Evidence of high school qualifications, which may include the SAT, ACT, A-levels*, or the IB diploma*. Most schools do not have a cut-off score for international qualifications.
- IELTS or TOEFL scores (for some courses like law)
*Predicted grades for IB or A-levels may be accepted, depending on the college.
Note that these are only the common requirements, so don’t forget to check universities resources for university-specific requirements! Having a spreadsheet like this can also help a lot with noting down which documents are required for which schools:
A sample spreadsheet similar to the one I used for my college applications.
What are entrance exams like?
Entrance exam scores are the greatest factors for determining college acceptance and scholarships in the Philippines. These exams typically take 3-5 hours, testing skills in mathematics, English writing, and abstract reasoning (IQ) among others via multiple-choice and essay-writing questions.
Entrance exam season is an intense period with students preparing weeks in advance through review centers, especially with exams for the ‘Big 4’ universities (i.e. ACET, DCAT, UPCAT, and USTET). For schools that do not hold entrance exams, high school grades are used to determine admission.
Fortunately, IB students may be exempted from taking the entrance exams in some schools. See the next question for more.
Do I have to take entrance exams if I take the IB?
Certain schools allow IB students to submit their IB diploma or predicted IB grades in place of taking their entrance exam. Among the Big 4 universities, Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) and University of Santo Tomas (UST) accept predicted IB grades while De La Salle University (DLSU) only accepts the IB diploma in lieu of entrance exams. University of the Philippines (UP) does not offer any IB exemptions.
From my experience, this was really helpful — it meant that I did not have to worry about entrance exams while preparing for my IB exams. Yay!
Are essays required?
Most Filipino universities do not require essays for admission, with the rare exception of some Ateneo schools. These schools usually require a personal statement of about 500 words reflecting on a broad prompt. For instance, the personal statement prompt for Ateneo de Manila in 2022 was: “Are there any significant experiences you have had, or accomplishments you have realized, that have helped define you as a person?”
Would there be interviews?
Interviews are not common, but they may be held for applicants in certain courses (e.g. nursing) or for scholarships. These typically focus on your motivations for applying to the program, your personal study habits, your long-term goals, and how you can contribute to society after completing that program or course. Interviewers may be done individually or by a panel.
Would my extracurriculars matter in applications?
Extracurricular activities generally play a weak role in the admissions process, as most colleges in the Philippines do not ask for specific information on extracurricular activities.
However — and this is a big one! — extracurricular activities are key in making you stand out as an applicant for scholarships. Many scholarship applications would ask you to list the clubs and organizations you have actively participated in, as well as key leadership roles and awards.
My tip for this is to keep a record of your extracurriculars: name of activity, date joined, a reference person (e.g. coach, club moderator), reference contact details, and a brief description of the activity. Especially if you are applying to multiple scholarships, this will come in handy for logging your activities.
If I am applying to an arts program, do I need a portfolio?
Courses in the arts (e.g. fine arts, creative writing) may require a portfolio of works to be submitted upon application. For some courses like Industrial Design, a portfolio may mean a collection of your past pieces, such as with the UP Industrial Design application portfolio (2023). Other courses may instead ask for new pieces interpreting a list of artworks provided by the college, such as with the UP Bachelor of Fine Arts portfolio. Each school has their own format specifications, so be sure to check out the requirements for your specific school.
Ready to apply to a Filipino university? Here are some more handy tips for a successful application process:
- Follow the school’s social media pages.
This is important! Not only can you explore what each school has to offer, but you can also keep yourself up to date with application procedures. This is particularly crucial when deadlines or exam dates are moved due to inclement weather (e.g. typhoons) or other unforeseen circumstances. You wouldn’t want to show up to a deserted campus for an entrance exam in the middle of a supertyphoon.
- Have printed copies of documents.
Although online applications are becoming more popular among colleges, it is still fairly common for schools to require all documents to be submitted in print.
- Note down your application number.
For schools using online applications, the application number is used to identify your profile in the portal. If any concerns arise (e.g. stuff not saving), your application number is handy for contacting the school’s online help desk.
I hope this article helped you learn more about the Filipino college application process. College is an exciting time, and experiencing it in the Philippines would surely be memorable. Kaya mo ‘yan! (English: You can do this!)