It seemed like just yesterday when you were congratulating yourself on having passed the PSLE and not screwing up your O levels, but now you’ve been slapped with the biggest sucker punch ever—you didn’t make it into NUS, NTU, etc. Or maybe you did, but you didn’t get into the course of your choice.
Unfortunately, one of the limitations of living in a small country is that we also have a limited number of public universities. That means that if your A level or poly diploma grades don’t get you into your first few choices, you can’t choose to pursue your desired course at a university that’s easier to get in, simply because there aren’t any.
If your parents can’t afford to send you overseas, you have three options for getting a degree: to resit your A levels and apply again at NUS etc, to go to poly and hope it buys you another shot at uni, or to enrol in a private degree course.
Now, that comes with its own set of problems. Not only are private degree courses relatively expensive (you won’t qualify for the CPF education scheme), there’s also the perception that they’re not as prestigious as public university degrees. A recent poll revealed that private school graduates find it harder to land jobs and also get paid significantly less upon graduation.
Sure, we all know graduates get paid a lot more on average than non-degree holders. But given the cost of a private degree, some of you might be wondering if it’s worthwhile to even bother enrolling, or whether it would be better to just enter the workforce, perhaps deferring further education to when you’re more financially stable. Here are two factors to consider before making up your mind.
Know which industries / employers will frown upon a private degree and which won’t
Despite all that crap about private degree holders getting paid less, not all employers and industries will place you at such a disadvantage. When choosing your career path and area of study, it’s important to know just how much potential employers value the brand name of the school on that piece of paper you’ll graduate with.
If you want to work in the civil service, you’re probably better off retaking your A levels. The government is notorious for being very particular about the university you graduated from and your class of honours—pay and career progression are often pegged to civil servants’ degrees. So what if you’ve got 10 years of work experience? They sure don’t care.
There are other industries known for being “elitist”, which you might find it more difficult to enter with a private degree, including management consulting and R&D.
On the other hand, portfolio-based industries, or industries where soft skills like communication skills take centre stage, tend to care less about where your degree was from.
In the case of industries where you’ll be asked to show a portfolio, such as design or animation, work hard on yours while you’re still a student. If you have a better portfolio than your peers from SUTD, SIT or whatever, you could still finish ahead.
Know which private schools and courses are more reputable
If we’re going to be honest with you, some private schools are freaking dodgy. I know some students who attended private schools which were filled with wealthy foreign students who paid their way through the course (I’ve even been approached by some of them to do their assignments for a fee).
So don’t just enrol in a random private school course because the centre is near your home or you like way its name sounds.
In general, it’s not a good idea to get a degree from a private school that hasn’t been awarded the Committee for Private Education’s EduTrust or EduTrust Star award. You can use this site to check whether a school you’re considering has received this certification.
There’s a bunch of private schools that are regarded as more reputable than the rest—SIM, MDIS, Kaplan, PSB Academy, East Asia Institute of Management and James Cook University, to name a few. Some schools are also more well-regarded in specific industries—for instance, arts or music graduates can’t go wrong with NAFA and Lasalle. If these schools are running your desired courses, they are a safe bet.
Next, you want to look at the overseas university that will be awarding the degree. Check university rankings online for the school in general and for your specific course. A decade from now when you are no longer a fresh grad, you might be able to conveniently leave off your resume the fact that you got your overseas degree through a private school in Singapore. So choose wisely.
For instance, SIM’s University of London programmes in economics, accounting and finance are quite well regarded, while PSB Academy runs accounting and finance courses in conjunction with the University of Newcastle, the University of Wollongong and the University of Loughborough, all of which have fairly good reputations.
Are you considering enrolling in a private school in Singapore? Share your concerns in the comments!