Do Public University Graduates Go Further in their Careers than those from Private Universities?

Private vs Public University

How many universities are there in Singapore? Six?Not really. The tertiary education sector here is bigger than you may think. While we have six public (autonomous) universities, there are many private universities or colleges. While choices are plenty, students still try their best to get into one of the “big six”, because there has been talking that students graduating from one of the six will do better in their careers compared to students from lesser-known private schools in Singapore or even from overseas. Is that true?

What does an HR think?

Suppose you are the HR in charge of reading resumes and selecting the good ones for further interviews. You are faced with a huge pile of papers, each telling you how brilliant the person behind the paper is. While you have tons of other work to do, you still need to fork out time to make a selection. You feel a headache.

Hence most HRs rely on some quick method to speed up their resume reading. They most often use grades and education background as the first layer of screening. For people with grades or schools that HRs feel do not fit into the company, they are not likely to progress further in the application stage.

This is where the private-versus-public university debate comes in. For students coming from a well-known university, they are more likely to receive attention from the HRs. Since everybody is not more than a piece of paper at this stage, one of the most commonly used indicators of the quality of applicant is the quality of their universities.

HR Choice


Now you may shout, “This is unfair! I may be working extremely hard in a lesser known school and get good grades and other stellar achievements, and I still can’t compete with someone from a public university just because he is from a public university?”

It’s about signalling

While the selection process may not be entirely fair, it may still be reasonable for HRs to look into your education background. It is all about signalling effect. A good university is more likely to have a more rigorous curriculum and competitive student population. Hence a 5.0 GPA in a public university may mean more than a 5.0 GPA in a lesser known school. Students in public university are more likely to have more resources and larger platforms to develop themselves and have more desirable traits for the work.

On the other side of the coin, companies are generally risk-averse. Inviting a student from a public university seems to be a safer choice. Since students on average are better in a public university( note: average), companies are more likely to recruit the people they want from a public university, and therefore reducing their cost of recruitment which includes training. It ultimately comes down to dollars and cents in a company.

Now you know the large picture and how the mind of the HRs works. Hence it is reasonable to expect that students from lesser known schools to face disadvantage, especially at the initial stage of recruitment. If you are thinking about going to a private school, this is a factor that you need to consider. Before the students from public universities start throwing a party, this is not the end of the career story. Let Digital Senior elaborate more.

I’m coming from a private school. How?

How about students who are applying for jobs as private school graduates? Should they just resign to the fact that they won’t be valued as much? The answer is a resounding “NO”!

As you may have noticed, Digital Senior has only been talking about the initial stage of recruitment. But what determines if someone can get an offer is his performance during the interview. And how does the mind of an interviewer work?

How does an interviewer think?

It works very differently from the mind of an HR. An interviewer is mostly in a senior position in a company. He knows the best what kind of candidates can really do the work. He conducts the interview with the assumption that whoever that passes the resume screening stage is reasonably good. Hence resume doesn’t matter that much to him.

Resume Doesnt Matter

Resume is more like a conversation starter. Your interviewer may look at one activity on your resume and ask you to talk about it. This is where you can shine. If you have done a lot of activities and gained real experiences in a private university, your interviewer will be impressed. Such impression is much stronger than the name of one’s university and can effectively determine a candidate’s chance.

What about after I get the job? Will my promotion opportunities be affected?

Essentially what happens after the 1st phase of resume screening is based on your own merit. You are not in any ways being handicapped or advantaged by your type of degree anymore( of course, unless you are in a government job). Your attitude, aptitude and aspirations are everything that will help you to climb the corporate leader. You can pretty much keep your piece of paper in your safe until you decide to change job.

Overcome the initial disadvantage

So by now, you should realize what you should do as a private university graduate is to pass the initial screening stage, where odds are not in your favour. There are a few ways you can do that.

1. The first way is to network. Go for the information sessions( there should be plenty in your school) held by the company and introduce you to the representatives there. Or find out connections among your friends or your university career office. Send them an email, give them a cold call and ask for an information interview. As you build a connection with the person, he may just endorse you to the HR and your interview is secured.

2. 2nd way is to go online. According to Nicole Vargas, a social media lecturer at San Diego State University, 93% of recruiters look at LinkedIn to discover talent, 66% use Facebook, 43% use Twitter. Social media is no longer just a platform for you to tell the world what you had for lunch. The job hunting game has changed. A staggering 42% of recruiters have reconsidered a candidate due to online branding (both positive and negative). Build a strong and professional profile online and connect with potential hirers.

Social Media - Search Online

3. Or you can look for opportunities to put recognizable names on your resume. You may choose to intern in a good company. Though you may still face some disadvantage in application, companies generally hold lower bars for intern than full-time application. Applying for less competitive positions may also increase your chance. Or else, you can choose to take a graduate program at a more recognizable university if your time and finances allow.

In a sense, you need to create the signalling effect that is already being enjoyed by public university graduates. Yes, you will need to do more work to overcome the initial disadvantage. There are different roads that lead to Rome. Yours may be longer, but probably also more rewarding.


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