For some of us, it all comes down to this.
Do I take my dream course in a private uni, or pursue a course I’m ‘meh’ about in a local uni?
In 2020, I stood at a crossroads and made my decision. I applied to pursue Computer Science at the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM). It was my first and only choice on the application form. I had done decently for the ‘A’ Levels and would have been able to get into a local uni, but not for a Computer Science degree because suddenly now everyone wants a slice of the IT pie.
Fine by me, I thought, I’ll just go into SIM then.
And now, it’s time to share why I did what I did and whether you should follow my example.
1. I wanted to chase my dreams.
I thought about how this really was my last stretch before heading out into the workforce. Finally, I was getting the chance to decide the specific course I wanted to take, not simply filing myself into either the “arts stream” or “science stream” in JC, or debating which science to take alongside Chemistry in secondary school. So, did I want to settle for a course I probably wouldn’t enjoy and set myself up for a career that I wouldn’t like?
My answer was no. Some people consider prestige and their future income to be the most important things when choosing their courses, but I knew I wouldn’t be happy studying a course that I didn’t like. Private universities certainly aren’t as prestigious, but I didn’t want to let that stop me.
We’ve all heard of the adage “be careful what you wish for”. Before you chase your career, reconsider if it’s really your dream. Is it something you really want to do or something your parents have convinced is the only path for you? Can you see yourself working in the industry, or can you only see yourself studying for that degree for the next three to four years? You may love the idea of being a lawyer but what about the reality? Think about it before you find yourself on the verge of a mental breakdown with a pile of papers strewn around you.
As a suggestion, you could look up interviews of people working in the profession that you’re aiming for. There are articles and blogs out there written by professionals and many videos of interviews you can watch on Youtube. Quora is also a useful platform if you want to look at what professionals have to say about their line of work. Lastly, if you know anyone working in the job you want, you could also approach them personally with a few questions of your own.
2. I need that degree.
If I wanted to do something programming-related or software-related, it would be in my best interests to do a degree so that I can find a full-time job afterwards. My other wish is to be a writer. And if I ever changed my mind and wanted to jump into the writing industry, I could still find a job without a relevant degree. Sure, it would be harder; competitive job openings might not even take a look at my application, but the barrier to entry would be significantly lower. But applying to be a software engineer without a technical degree? The odds would be stacked against me greatly.
Think about what industry you’re dealing with here. It might not be a must to get that degree in graphic design if you’ve already got a diploma, a portfolio, or internship experience, or some combination of the above. But if you’re looking at medicine or law or some other profession that requires a whole lot of theory and practice, you would definitely have to get that degree.
So take some time to consider if you really need that degree and whether there are other ways to get experience and break into the industry. Do you already have a portfolio? Are you able to get an internship easily? Does the industry care more about your portfolio or your qualifications?
3. I’m able to afford it.
It’s not a secret that private uni degrees are expensive and can be downright exorbitant. I used up all my savings and had some help from my parents to pay off the rest of my school fees. Understand that you won’t have a tuition grant from the government if you pursue a private uni degree. Chasing your dream may come at a big price, literally, but there are ways to work around it.
Think about if you have the resources available to afford the education you want. This starts with looking at the course fees and comparing them, then asking your parents about your financial situation. If you don’t have enough, don’t worry, you can always borrow from the bank if you’re going the private uni route. Try not to stress out about it because you will have opportunities to find work in uni and even more ample time to pay off your fees once you graduate and get a full-time job.
4. I thought about school culture and hall life.
This extended to CCAs and dorms. I decided I was fine forgoing all of that to pursue my dream course. I felt that the dorm life wouldn’t suit me because I wouldn’t have the discipline to stop hanging out with people and study. It was harder to come to terms with the CCA aspect because I would clearly have a greater variety if I went to a local U instead of a private U. Well, guess what? COVID-19 made all of this pretty much irrelevant for me.
Many people enjoy hall life but it’s important that you can balance your responsibilities and not be tempted by the many opportunities to procrastinate and hang out with your friends, or sleep in because you’re tired and you can always watch the lecture recording later, right?
Firstly, I suggest thinking about the necessity of staying in the school dorms, which starts with considering the distance between your school and your house. Sometimes it’s better to stay in the dorms if you have to waste 2 hours of your day taking the MRT every day. If there’s a CCA you definitely want to join, keep a lookout for which schools offer that. Understand where your priorities lie and hold yourself accountable for studying when you really just want to let loose.
5. I had my parents’ and friends’ support.
I involved my parents in my decision, telling them I wanted to do Computer Science in SIM and that I was considering some other choices. Eventually, when I settled on one decision, they approved of it. This made me feel more confident that I was making a wise decision. Finding the ‘right’ university to go to can be a time in our lives where we feel especially lost and confused. Don’t forget that you’re not alone and that many people in your life are willing to help and support you through it.
Actually, the people around us can even help us see our blind spots. Asking for your friends’ opinions can be useful. They might be able to assuage some of your fears or give alternative suggestions on courses or schools that they already know of. Seniors may be able to give advice, especially if they’re enrolled in the course you’re thinking of applying to. Even your previous school teachers may be able to lend a hand, not just with your testimonial but with their years of knowledge working in the educational industry, they probably have some good advice.
Getting to uni is no easy feat, so congrats for getting thus far! You have many decisions to make ahead of you, with deciding on which uni to enter being one of the very first. Have fun exploring what you want and remember there isn’t a wrong or right choice. Things can go in unexpected directions but that’s the beauty of it all. That dream course may turn out to be something that’s great in theory, but not in reality, and that “meh” course may turn out to be your passion.
Good luck and enjoy the ride—because undergraduate life doesn’t come twice!