A four-year non-specialised degree programme in a Singapore university can easily set you back at least $32,000, even after factoring in the MOE Tuition Grant. But cost isn’t – and shouldn’t be – the be-all and end-all of a university education, contends our writer Budget Babe.
Words by Budget Babe
With the rising costs of university education, many of us can’t help but question if it is still worth pursuing a degree in Singapore, especially when income wages have not risen significantly despite the higher education levels of most workers today.
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Furthermore, some of the world’s most successful (and richest) people did not even complete their college studies. Hardly anyone would label Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs or Oprah as failures for not having graduated with a degree.
But having gone through university myself, here are my top five reasons – not including the higher wages you’ll receive compared to a non-graduate – of why you should pursue a university degree anyway.
Employers still value university degrees
If given a choice between a diploma holder and a university graduate, all other factors being equal, most employers would prefer to hire the latter.
After all, university gives you a rigorous and in-depth knowledge training in your field of choice. Considering you would need to score pretty well in school to even get into a local university, let alone the difficulty of passing all your university exams, employers are reassured that hiring a university graduate would mean he/she possesses a certain level of intellect and willingness to work hard in the job.
[Editor’s note: According to the latest 2011 statistics provided by the Ministry of Education (MOE), only about 26% of each student cohort make it into one of Singapore’s publicly-funded universities yearly. MOE plans to raise this figure to 30% by 2015.]
A staggeringly large proportion of PMETs in Singapore are university graduates. If you’re not one, I’m not saying you don’t have a chance at becoming successful, but that your choices become limited. A university education can open more doors and job interviews than you realise.
University is where you start building valuable networks
The value of your tuition fees goes beyond the theoretical knowledge your professors impart you during lectures and tutorials. Many professors are actually renowned academics who have dedicated many years of their lives to studying a specialised field or topic, and they are sharing those years of research and insights within a few short semesters with you. Some were even high-flyers in the corporate world before deciding they wanted to teach and impart their skills to the next generation of workers instead.
NUS law students, for instance, get to learn from Associate Professor Simon Tay, who still is a lawyer today, on top of being the National Environment Agency’s former Chairman and a Nominated Member of Parliament, and who was previously named by the Far Eastern Economic Review as one of the “Ten People to Watch in Asia”.
Your peers and classmates will also in turn become valuable contacts in the working world after you have all graduated. University courses bring together like-minded people who are interested in similar fields and topics, and these are the kind of people you’re likely to cross paths with again in your future career.
University teaches you powerful soft skills
University is when many of us become more self-disciplined, driven, better at balancing our priorities and managing our time well – in short, honing valuable people skills that will aid us throughout our future careers. For instance, you quickly learn that the friends you made last semester are not always going to be in the same classes as you to do project work with. You would have to quickly adapt to meeting new people and working with them within the short span of a semester (or less), much the same way you would have to to be an effective team-player in the working world.
In fact, university is where many of us learn more about ourselves and what we want to do in life. While the knowledge we gain from our professors and tutors is important, the soft skills we pick up from interacting with our university peers are far more valuable than most people realise.
University prepares you for the workforce
Most universities today have career programmes and modules which teach you things like how to write a good resume or how to dress and present yourself professionally in the corporate world.
Some programmes even offer mentors in your industry of choice to guide you in your career plans or for you to shadow them at work. These resources are getting better each year as universities continue to upgrade themselves to keep up with the changing and competitive work landscape, in order to ensure the majority of their graduates can secure a job after school.
Exchange studies is the “life-changing moment”
When I asked my peers for their thoughts on the one thing they found most valuable from their university days, many pointed to their time spent as an exchange student overseas.
Universities are the only institutions that currently offer students a chance to study and live abroad just like the locals for an extended period of time (usually one to two semesters). While these exchange programmes may be slightly expensive for some, most of the students who have gone through it agree that it was worth every cent.
In my cohort, many of us did our exchange studies in the United States and Europe, where we were exposed to international professors (I remember feeling excited because I got to attend classes by the same professors who had written the textbook I used in the first year of my course), experienced a radically different way of life, and saw different work and living standards.
We not only returned with a matured and global perspective, but also as more independent individuals than we were before.
I owe a lot of my success today to my university education, both in terms of the people I met and the hard and soft skills I learnt. So if you’re thinking twice about whether you should pay and undertake that degree programme, I’ll urge you to go for it. You can thank me later.