Why get a university education? To broaden your horizons, explore your passions, pick up life skills that will serve you well in and out of work, or have a great time?
If you’re a Singapore undergraduate, the answer is none of the above, according to some—like this writer who insists that “university is not an extension” of your education journey, but rather the “beginning of one’s career journey.” Apparently, the sole reason you go to university is to get a job.
Try telling that to the many working adults who, having chosen a university course with earning potential as their sole criterion, are now one of the many zombies who make the Singapore workforce Southeast Asia’s unhappiest.
On the other hand, as we in Singapore know so well, becoming a soul-less zombie is to many a less undesirable fate than starving in all your humanity. The economic pressures of young graduates in Singapore are very real, and those who don’t have the luxury of taking their time to “find themselves” in the years following graduation may feel like they have no choice but to throw themselves into a stable but boring job.
While your life and life choices are what you make of them, here are some tips for undergraduates who want a career that fulfills them in ways that go beyond the financial, but who can’t afford to spend years floundering in confusion.
Take up at least one internship out of pure interest, and at least one that’s practical
The mad rush to intern during the holidays is very real. Some kiasu undergraduates try to squeeze in two or three internships in one single vacation just to get those names on their CVs, while not really learning anything.
Don’t do that if you have no idea what sort of job you’d like to do when you graduate—your goal in taking up internships should be to feel out your various career options and see if any of them can open up a path you’re happy and excited to embark upon.
So go ahead and take up that internship at a bank/MNC/stat board if you feel like you need to for the sake of your career. But don’t lose the chance to take up some internships out of pure interest, too. No matter how crazy or how unviable these alternative career paths might seem, you lose nothing by trying them on for size. And they will most certainly help you view your future career from a broader, less blinkered perspective.
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t find your life’s purpose after one internship. Keep trying, and make sure you learn as much as you can and talk to as many people during your internships as possible.
You’ll also get to see first hand how taking the usual bank/MNC/stat board path can differ from the various other options open to you, which is preferable to waiting till you’re ready to make a mid-career switch to find out.
Blend career with interest when choosing your modules
Careerists will tell you to always make the most practical and lucrative choice when choosing your modules. That could mean picking finance over marketing, or economics over psychology.
But if you do this with no regard for your interests, you’re setting yourself up for a very unfulfilling undergraduate experience. What’s more, you might be in a better position to get hired in a job that you feel you “should” be doing, but you’ll be behind the curve when it comes to knowing what sort of career you’d find fulfilling.
So, while you should not avoid modules that are going to be essential in some way (for instance, if you hope to work in marketing, like it or not, you will need to be competent in digital), don’t neglect pursuing your interests either.
Taking modules you are interested in may not translate to a higher paying job when you graduate, but may be instrumental to bringing you closer to finding a career path you’re happy to be on—even if it doesn’t happen immediately after graduation.
So what modules should you avoid taking as an undergraduate? Try not to take too many “filler” modules that you have no interest in but that you know will give you an easy “A”. These modules can be useful if your workload is so heavy you absolutely need to lighten it, but know that every useless module you take removes the opportunity to take another one that could add real value to your life.
How important do you think it is for university undergraduates to pursue their interests? Share your views in the comments!