It’s not uncommon to meet accountants who are sick to death of looking at numbers and engineers who want to get an MBA. And then there are the lawyers, 3 out of 4 of whom stop being lawyers within the first 10 years of their careers in Singapore.
Clearly, the first thing you study at tertiary level may not be what you end up doing later on.
Making a career switch can be tempting, especially since so many Singaporeans are unhappy in their current jobs. Hell, it might even sound like an actual life-saver, considering how fast the suicide rate in Singapore is climbing.
But can you really afford to forgo three to four years of your salary on top of paying exorbitant school fees to get another degree? Here are some things to think about.
Know the difference between upgrading yourself and starting from scratch
Before you enroll yourself at a university next semester, it’s important to first determine whether your new qualification is going to be an upgrade of what you already have, or if you’ll be starting from scratch.
I am by no means saying that one of the above is better than the other. But the risks for the latter are greater, and it’s important to be aware of that.
If you intend to remain in the same industry but climb the ladder faster and higher, a master’s degree in a specific area, often related to your original course of study, might help you to do just that. If your highest qualification is a diploma, getting a bachelor’s degree is also a common way to “upgrade” your skills. Your main concern will be whether such skills upgrading will actually be beneficial and worth the trouble.
On the other hand, if you’re thinking of switching positions or industries altogether, you will often be thinking of either getting a masters degree in a completely different area or getting another diploma or bachelor’s degree. In this case, the risks will be greater as you’ll need to start from scratch in a new career.
You’ll therefore need to do enough research to know not only that you’ll be happy in your new field but that you’ll have a good shot at getting a job.
If you’re simply upgrading your skills, that might mean you’re hoping to have a shot at entering upper management in your industry. In the science and research industries, skills upgrading can be a very practical option, as your job depends on your having very specialised knowledge in a particular area.
In other industries, it might just mean having another qualification that can edge out the competition. If this sounds like you, you might want to make sure you do your homework to ensure that getting another degree is really worth the cost and effort.
For instance, most lawyers in Singapore need only a recognised bachelor’s degree in order to do their jobs. While some do obtain more advanced degrees in specific areas such as intellectual property law, in general this has little impact on the pay or progression of rookie lawyers. Practical experience in a particular area is considered more valuable than an advanced degree in the early stages.
On the other hand, as we’ve all seen on Suits, going to law school will considerably boost the salary of a paralegal who only has a diploma if it enables him or her to become a lawyer, and can thus have an attractive return on investment.
When determining the usefulness of upgrading your skills, it’s useful to compare the earnings and marketability of an experienced hire who doesn’t have an advanced degree and someone who does.
This study conducted in the US shows that while holders of graduate degrees in science earned on average US$33,000 more than experienced bachelor’s degree holders, language and drama educators with a master’s degree did not experience such great benefits, earning only US$12,000 more per year than their counterparts with only bachelor’s degrees.
Besides performing a cost-benefit analysis, you should also ask yourself how you honestly feel about your job. If you spend every Sunday willing God to make the office burst into flames on Monday morning, getting a promotion with a shiny new degree won’t necessarily make your misery at work go away.
Trying something new
If you hate your present job so much you’re ready to try just about anything else, you have a lot of soul searching to do.
Many people view an entirely new degree as an opportunity to escape a job they loathe, to change the course of history and turn things around for themselves.
I hate to break it to you, but in your desperation to escape a bad situation, you might be inflating the benefits of getting another degree.
Of course, there are those few people who’ve had a burning desire to embark on a certain course of study all their lives and finally have the means to do so. But you should think twice if your main reasons are that you hate your job or think you’ll be able to earn more money by doing something else.
It’s important to gain enough experience and contacts in your proposed field before you commit yourself to a course of study. Talk to people in the industry, take on an internship or two and make sure you have a very clear idea of what the job entails and the opportunities available in the industry.
If possible, you might even want to take on an entry-level job in your new industry for some time just to see what it’s really like. The working culture in Singapore, being what it is, there’s a high chance you’ll realise it’s just as bad as your previous job, or that a higher salary comes with longer working hours.
Many of my friends who didn’t make it into medical school after their A levels went on to do biomedical science in hopes that they would later be able to enroll in a graduate-entry medicine course later on. Unsurprisingly, most of them later decided against it.
Can you afford it?
If you’ve been working for a few years, the cost of the degree isn’t the only expense you’ll have to consider, but also the income forgone by having to drop out of the workforce.
The unfortunate truth is that getting another degree is going to cost you, and you’d better be prepared. Other than the option of taking up an education loan, you might want to also consider if there are part time options open to you that will enable you continue working as you study.
In addition, you’ll also want to assess if your personal sphere is one that supports you in your quest to take time off to go back to school.
If you’ve got a mortgage to pay and a spouse and kids to support, unless you’ve got a whole lot saved up it might not be practical to become a student again.
If you’re looking to upgrade your skills in a manner that benefits your company, I would strongly encourage you to speak with your boss and see if it would be possible to get your company to pay for the cost of your degree.
Many Singaporeans are too afraid to speak up and ask for things, but if you don’t ask, you don’t receive—and there are companies in Singapore that will pay for your education.
Have you ever thought of going back to school and did you go ahead with it? Share your experiences in the comments!