The school holidays are upon us, and hordes of 17 to 20-year-olds graduating from secondary schools, JCs and polytechnics all over Singapore have a tough decision ahead of them—deciding what to study next. At least, those who are lucky enough to have choices do—those who screwed up really badly can choose between resitting their exams the next year or applying for a job at McDonald’s (we jest—there’s always an alternative route).
While many Singaporean students still take the “go for the most prestigious course I can get into” or “pick a major according to the most lucrative career it will get me” tack, gone are the days when science students in JC all aimed for medicine while arts students aimed for law. These days, there are more than enough choices to go around—which makes deciding what to study a little more complicated. Here are some tips for the class of 2015.
Consider your job prospects and whether they’re right for you
When picking a course of study at tertiary level, you need to also consider the job prospects they’ll offer you. That’s not to say that you should only consider lucrative areas of study like finance.
But it does mean that if you decide to get a degree in Hieroglyphics-to-English translation or the history of comic art, you’d better have thought about your career options afterwards.
You might find that you’ll have to go abroad to work due to limited opportunities in Singapore, or know that you could well end up doing a regular job that’s open to anyone else with a general degree. That’s okay, the important thing is that you’re aware of that if you do decide to go ahead and pursue studies in that area anyway.
On the other hand, if you have three disabled siblings and infirm parents to support when you graduate, considering your career options should deter you from making an unsustainable decision.
When considering the job prospects a degree offers you, try to avoid the classic Singaporean mistake of only looking at them in terms of dollars and cents.
If you have no idea what it’s actually like to work in a profession you’re considering, go and talk to some adults who do it or take on an internship. There are already way too many bankers / lawyers / accountants / consultants / engineers in Singapore who enter their professions expecting a cushy, lucrative day job, only to find that they’re pulling 16 hour days or expected to work 6 or 7 days a week.
Don’t pigeonhole yourself into only considering the courses you’re ‘expected’ to take
Singaporeans like to make life more difficult for themselves by narrowing their choices thanks to self-perceived barriers.
For instance, in JC, most students flock to the science stream because they think it’s going to give them more opportunities in life.
Many students who absolutely hate math and science force themselves to do this, and then end up not doing well or completely miserable. Eventually, they end up taking courses like business or arts at uni, courses which they wouldn’t have had to suffer through two years of chemistry and physics to take.
Students who do well in the ‘A’ levels tend to feel pressured to take up lucrative professional degrees like medicine, dentistry, law and accounting, even if they don’t have much interest in those fields. Eventually, they end up quitting their banking jobs and trying to set up cafes.
Despite the government’s attempts to promote alternative pathways to careers, few high-scoring ‘A’ level grads are willing to venture into areas like fashion design, humanities and IT. That’s rubbish. Don’t put yourself in a box before you’re dead.
Ultimately, students need to think about what they’re interested in on both an intellectual and a professional level, and then consider which courses can help them satisfy both needs without turning them into destitute tissue sellers or suicidal corporate slaves.
What do you think are the most important things a student must consider when choosing what to study at uni? Tell us in the comments!