Career

The Truth About Degree Holders

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Ryan Ong

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It’s cool to diss education these days. Every other week, I find at least one tweet espousing the glory of ignorance. It’s bad advice. And hypocritically, it often comes from people with degrees. Take my word for it: what they’re really thinking is “You don’t have a degree? Lucky I’m not you.” The same way rich people tell poor people that money isn’t a big deal. In truth, a degree makes all the difference, as I found out…

1. Degree Holders Make More Money

Forget the stories about PSLE drop outs who get rich. They’re the tiny minority. Literally one amongst tens of thousands. Odds are, you won’t be one of them. Deal with the practical reality of the situation: a degree means a higher median income. These are the numbers:

*Report on Labour Force in Singapore. Ministry of Manpower (2010)

Age

Median Income (Secondary)

Median Income (Post-secondary, non-tertiary)

Median Income (Diploma)

Median Income (Degree)

25 to 29 years

$1750 per month

$1800 per month

$2400 per month

$3500 per month

30 to 39 years

$2250 per month

$2250 per month

$3080 per month

$5200 per month

A degree holder earns, on average, $1100 more than a diploma holder every month. In later years, this jumps to a gap of $2120 a month. That’s enough to cover a car loan in the early years, and a home loan later.

 

2. Degree Holders are More Employable

A lot of companies claim a degree isn’t the most important thing. Which is funny, considering a lot of job ads in CATS read “min. 2 years experience with Degree in…”

Think of your degree as a foot in the door. The degree alone may not get you employed. But if you don’t have one, your butt won’t even touch the chair in the interview room. I have a friend who’s worked in HR for almost a decade, and she swears by the importance of a degree:

“The degree is not the last thing we look for, but it’s the first. In my experience, jobs beyond the supervisor level will require you to have a degree…

…In nine years, my company has only retrenched two employees. For one of them the reason was that, because she didn’t have a degree, there was no way to promote her. The other was supposedly for different reasons, but I know his qualification was only O levels.”

 

Man with "you're fired" pasted on his head
He only found out when he looked at the washroom mirror.

 

Which means that, besides making you employable, a degree might keep you from getting retrenched. Think about it: Nine years, and only two out of a hundred odd people got retrenched. It’s probably not a coincidence that they both lacked degrees.

 

3. Degrees are the Easy Way to Learn

Pure experience is a good teacher, but it isn’t the easiest or fastest.

What you might figure out in 15 years, a degree course might teach you in three. Maybe you’ll learn a valuable lesson when your first business collapses. But maybe if you’d done your MBA, you could have stopped it from going under in the first place.

Lose any romantic illusions about the school of hard knocks; those people succeed in spite of not having a degree, not because they don’t have one.

 

Surgeons operating
“Nah, no medical degree. We’re into experiential learning here. Trial and error stuff.”

 

But Does a Degree Cost Too Much?

Assuming you study at the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), or Singapore Management University (SMU), your costs are subsidised. Some other institutes are under the same scheme.

Private Universities (Informatics, Stansfield, etc.) have fee structures that vary significantly. Such Universities try to match their government counterparts as closely as possible. However, because their student numbers and costs are more variable, they tend to be more expensive.

*Based on averaged rates. 

Government (Subsidised):

 

Type of Degree

Fees Per Annum

Estimated Total Cost

 

Arts and Social Sciences

$7170 per year

$21,510

(3 years average)

Business

$7940 per year

$23,820

(3 years average)

Computing and IT

$7940 per year

$31,760

(4 years average)

Engineering

$7170 per year

$21,510

(3 years average)

 

Private (Unsubsidised)

 

Type of Degree

Fees Per Annum

 

Estimated Total Cost

 

Arts and Social Sciences

$12,500 for either first or final year

$6,800 for other 2 years

$26,100

(3 years average)

Business

$15,800 for first or final year

$5,500 for other 2 years

$32,300

(3 years average)

Computing and IT

$17,800 for first or final year

$5,600 for other 3 years

$34,600

(4 years average)

Engineering

$21,600 per year

$64,800

(3 years average)

 

Ticked "sleep" on paper
One of the more important things I learnt in school.

 

A quick comparison:

Say I’m in IT, 25 years old, and a diploma holder. The cost of my getting a degree would be $34,600 + $115,200 (from not working for 4 years) = $149,800.

Assuming a difference of $1100 – $2120 a month in salaries, most degrees pay for themselves in under 10 years. That’s a solid investment, since the average working life is 40 years. Also, we’re assuming that no work is being done while studying. That’s rarely the case, and there are degree courses for part-time students.

Image Credits:

DanHawesIheartitAndroid SpinGemzies, Sleep Apnea Testing

Are you going to get your degree? Or did yours land you a good job? Comment and let us know!

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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.

  • in the last part (cost of a degree) you might want to consider that the difference between incomes increase, so by the 10th year its almost 2.5k