Singporeans make up the second largest group of non-British undergraduates at Oxford and Cambridge, with only students from China ahead of them.
Last year, Oxford had 169 Singaporeans studying for their first degrees and Cambridge had another 221, according to figures obtained by The Straits Times.
In both cases, they are the second-largest group after students from China and ahead of bigger countries such as the United States and India.
"Singaporeans clearly punch above their weight," said James Gold, director of Oxford Summer College, which runs preparatory programmes for students eyeing a place in the most reputed universities in Britain.
"It is remarkable that a small island nation is able to send so many students to the most competitive universities around the world, including the United Kingdom," he said, noting that every undergraduate place in Oxford and Cambridge is fought over by eight to 12 students in and outside Britain.
Education counsellors say that the US universities with the most Singaporean students are among the most prestigious. They include Stanford, Harvard, Cornell and the University of California, Berkeley.
Karen Kaylor, director of the US Education Information Centre in Singapore, said record numbers of Singaporeans are choosing to study in the US as the tuition fees offer value for money. Last year, there were 4,500 Singaporeans in American universities.
"The US dollar is low and Singapore students want brand-name degrees and the US has many top-tier institutions," she said.
Attending a US university generally costs between US$35,000 (S$48,000) and US$65,000 a year in tuition and living expenses. At top-tier institutions, it ranges between $55,000 and $75,000 a year, but an increasing number of Singaporeans heading to the top American universities are on "mom and pop scholarships", said Ms Kaylor.
"I get students telling me that they don't care how much it costs as long as it is a top university," she added. This, they believe, improves their job prospects.
Likewise, Mr Gold said a degree from a prestigious university benefits students in many ways.
"It definitely gives students the edge when they go seeking job opportunities," he said.
"But it is also the social and professional networks they plug into while studying at universities like Oxford and Cambridge.
"Many of their classmates are likely to go on to become political and industry leaders and top scientists, top doctors and lawyers."
National serviceman Adrian Toh, 20, who aims to study at Oxford or Stanford, said: "A garden-variety degree won't do any more. You have to have something more."
His businessman father Y. C. Toh has set aside $500,000 for his overseas studies.
"People ask me why a local university won't do for my son and I tell them, 'What about the top government scholars?' " he said, noting these scholars usually head for top universities overseas.
"I want the best for my son as well," he added.
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