So you’ve made it through MOE’s education system alive, and this year you will finally be embarking on your tertiary studies. Congrats.
Now, if this were 10 or 15 years ago, your parents’ advice would have been to simply get into the most so-called prestigious course you qualified for. This would have meant gunning for medicine/dentistry/law, failing which you would try for business/engineering.
These days, students have more choices than before. Before you sign your life away to 3 or 4 years studying something that could well decide your future, here are some things you should know.
Studying overseas in certain countries isn’t as expensive as you think
In case you haven’t realised, studying at local universities isn’t as cheap as it used to be. Even with the MOE tuition grant for Singaporeans, a year at NUS will set you back between $7,500 and $10,000 a year (and more than double that if you’re in medicine or dentistry). If you’re an SMU student, you’ll be paying more than $11,000 a year.
The tuition fees and living costs (even if you live with your parents) can add up to roughly the same amount as it would cost you to live and study overseas at certain universities.
Many European universities charge very low fees or are free, and it might surprise you to find that living costs can be quite affordable, especially now that the euro is down. Check out this article elsewhere on Moneysmart if you’re considering going abroad.
One of the main disadvantages is that you can’t use your parents’ CPF funds to pay for your university education under the CPF Education Scheme if you study abroad (although even under the scheme you have to repay the money when you start working).
Of course, the experiences you can enjoy studying abroad are unlike anything you will have in Singapore. Most student visas will entitle you work part-time for a certain number of hours while you study, and you might be pleasantly surprised to find that salaries for part-time jobs in retail or F&B (assuming you have the requisite language skills in your country of choice) are way higher in all developed countries than they are here.
Networking is just as important as studying hard
You might be enrolling in a super competitive course, where everyone is from the same few JCs and guards their notes jealously.
But before you disappear into a sea of muggers, know that many of the people who have an easy time finding jobs are those with lots of friends and connections.
In fact, a shocking percentage of the people I know got their first job through someone they knew. It didn’t necessarily have to be a friend of their parents’. Someone I knew got her first job at an international bank through her tuition student’s mother.
University is a great time to hone your social skills, get to know new people and, most importantly, learn how to form relationships with others. If your only friends are from your primary and secondary school, learn how to move out of your comfort zone and interact with unfamiliar people.
It’s never too late to build a larger network, but you’ll have an easier time of it if you start when you’re still a student. There are too many working adults who go home after work every single day and spend their weekends in front of the computer. That does not bode well, for their careers or their sanity.
Don’t consider only the courses or career paths your friends are considering
Few people realise just how extreme the streaming system is in Singapore. You’re bunched together with other kids who have PSLE or O level scores so close to yours that by the time you’re ready to go to university, your options can appear painfully narrow.
For instance, when I graduated from JC (I was in the arts stream), it seemed like the only credible options were law or business, or arts if you didn’t get into the first two. Of course that’s not true. But when you’re 18 and all your friends are trying to get into just one or two courses, it’s easy to lose sight of your other options.
When you just follow the crowd and apply for the courses all your friends are applying for, you’re failing to consider your own career aspirations. You can’t possibly hope to copy your friends when it comes to deciding which jobs to apply for when you graduate.
Months before your applications are due, it’s a good idea to start thinking seriously about what you’d like to do when you grow up. You’ve got months before the A level results are released, so use them wisely. Undertake internships and talk to grown ups who lead the kinds of lives you admire.
Remember that most working adults in Singapore are unhappy with their jobs, which suggests they didn’t choose well when they had the chance to.
You’ve got the chance to decide your future. So make sure you’re the one doing the deciding.
What other advice do you have for students who are about to embark on tertiary studies? Tell us in the comments!