DSA Application for Secondary School: Is This the Right Option for Your Child?

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If you have a child in Primary 6, and are chatting with other parents about secondary school admissions, you may have heard the tip that it’s now a “must” to try the Direct School Admission or DSA route to secure a place in a desired secondary school.

Should you heed this advice?

The reality is that the DSA is attractive to parents who feel that their kids are better off in ‘good’ schools, but may not be able to gain entry based on grades alone. However, we would like to encourage parents to have a chat with their children before applications begin — typically in May — to find out if the children are equally keen. 

One of our KSP members recently broached the topic with her Primary 6 son, and was surprised when her son said he didn’t want to apply for the DSA despite being in his school’s badminton team. His reason? He felt it would be difficult to keep pace with classmates who were stronger academically, and he preferred to qualify for a school through his PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination) score. Furthermore, he wasn’t certain that he would want to continue with badminton in secondary school, and he wanted the freedom to try a new sport or activity. 

In the above situation, the parents have decided to respect their son’s wishes and forgo the DSA application. But we understand that not all kids will feel this way; we’ve also heard about students who were not academically strong yet were able to thrive in ‘big pond’ environments. Every family will have different views on the DSA and school choice, which is why it’s essential to have conversations with your children about this. 

Here’s what you should know before starting on the DSA application process:

    • The DSA allows students to gain direct entry to secondary schools based on their talent in sports, CCAs, and specific academic areas.
    • If children are admitted to a secondary school through the DSA (also known as DSA-Sec), they are not allowed to submit school choices during the Secondary 1 posting process, or transfer to another secondary school down the road. 
    • Similarly, DSA offers are made to children based on ‘talent areas,’ and the assumption is that these children are keen to develop their talent throughout the secondary school years. You can think of it as a commitment that a student makes, in exchange for a place at a desired school.
    • Many parents have their sights set on Integrated Programme (IP) schools, which admit about 30% to 35% of their Secondary 1 IP intake through the DSA.

For more information, you can browse the DSA FAQs section on the Ministry of Education’s website. 

Who Should Try the DSA, and Who Shouldn’t?

Let’s start with the children who don’t really need to consider the DSA — these will be the academically inclined students who are likely to score AL1 (90 marks and above) or AL2 (85-89) for all their subjects. If they don’t have any strong interests, they can simply focus on preparing for the PSLE, and they should be able to qualify for entry into many top schools.

You should also be aware that there are three schools that only accept students through the DSA process. These are:

If your child wishes to pursue his or her studies in the above schools, then it is a must to apply for the DSA.

Are you worried that your child will have trouble qualifying for the Express stream? Do be aware that streaming is being phased out in secondary schools — two-thirds of our local secondary schools have already done away with streaming, and it will be completely removed next year. So check with your schools of interest if this will have any impact on the DSA entry scores.

Above all, be mindful that the DSA should never be viewed as a way to hack the school system. Its purpose is to facilitate the development of students with interests in the following areas:

  • Entrepreneurship & Innovation
  • Language & Humanities
  • Leadership & Uniformed Groups
  • Performing Arts
  • STEM or STEAM (click here to find out the difference between these terms)
  • Sports & Games
  • Visual Arts Design & Media

Here’s an example to consider: If your child is an excellent communicator who is passionate about global issues, the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme might be a great fit for your child. At the same time, you could be unsure if your child is able to make the cut-off score for the IB programme. If your child is keen, you should go ahead and apply for the IB programme through the DSA.

Similarly, if you have heard good things about a sports development programme in a certain school, and your child is interested in playing for the school, then you should certainly help your child with the application. Even if your child is performing well academically and can enter the desired school via grades, the DSA ensures that your child will have a confirmed spot on the school team. (For children interested in the Singapore Sports School, please note that you can’t use the Ministry of Education’s DSA portal to apply, and applications begin as early as February — get details here.)

How to Shortlist Secondary Schools by Talent Areas

Schools may change their list of ‘talent areas’ every year, so it’s best to refer to the Ministry of Education’s SchoolFinder or the school website for the latest information. On SchoolFinder, you can click on the “Direct School Admission (DSA)” checkbox to select areas of interest, and see which schools have related programmes.

We have previously compiled a list of DSA talent areas that parents may not be aware of, such as forensics, entrepreneurship, and journalism. This list will give you a better idea of the wide range of talents that our local schools are working to promote. However, it’s not a complete list, so we highly recommend that you look at all the options on the SchoolFinder page as well.

If your child truly has strong interests and you have shortlisted schools using SchoolFinder, you can assess the schools as you typically would, by comparing factors such as location, gender profile, school reputation and culture, and so on. Visit the school websites, and look out for secondary school open house events in May that you and your child can attend.

Curious about the success rates of DSA applicants? Here are some statistics from 2020 that you can use as a guide:

  • 1 in 4 P6 students applied for the DSA in 2020
  • 3,600 were successful in their DSA applications (30% of 11,900 applicants)
  • About 33% were admitted to Integrated Programme schools
  • About 67% were admitted to non-Integrated Programme schools
  • 40% of admissions were via sports and games
  • 20% of admissions were via performing arts
  • 20% of admissions were via STEM
  • Nearly 10% of admissions were via leadership skills and uniformed groups
  • About 10% of admissions were across these talent areas: 
    • entrepreneurship and innovation
    • languages and humanities 
    • visual arts, design, and media

At the moment, there doesn’t seem to be much information available about DSA 2022, but here’s what we know: In 2022, around 3,900 students or 10% of the 2022 Primary 6 cohort received DSA offers. The Ministry of Education has also said that it has no plans to expand the number of DSA places for now.

Although many students will not succeed in their DSA applications, it never hurts to give it a shot — for the right reasons. The important thing is that you and your child are able to manage your expectations, and can view the application process as a positive learning journey, regardless of the outcome.

Want to chat with other parents about the DSA? Join the conversation on our DSA 2023 thread!