What Degree Should You Choose

When it comes to choosing a degree, too many people leave such decision to your intuition or social pressure. I admit that I have made my fair share of mistakes in choosing a degree.  Hopefully, you will learn to me wiser decisions through this article.

First off, let me start by saying that if you have set your eyes on a major, then this article is not for you. I recognize that for some of you, you have a burning passion for something. It could be music, sports, computer science or anything that helps you get up in the morning. However, this article is meant for the great majority of you who may not fall in this category. I will share with you 3 tips on choosing the right University degree.

Choose STEM subjects over humanities.

For the uninitiated, STEM stands for science technology engineering and mathematics. STEM subjects typically lead to careers in jobs where you have to build and create. Think about the people who built your MRTs, software and those who developed your vaccines. Arguably, many of these industries form the foundation off modern day civilizations. now compare that two people who study history, geography, and sociology. Humanity subjects like these help us make sense of the world but rarely directly improve our standard of living. It is no wonder that STEM graduates tend to earn more than humanities graduates. Having said that, I must add that not all STEM degrees are the same: some degrees such as environmental engineering and physics tend to offer rather limited career options. I graduated as an environmental engineer, and I was shocked when I found out that environmental companies would rather hire mechanical and electrical engineers.

Become a specialist

Choose a degree that enables you to specialize in one are two things. as a specialist, you are accorded a level of respect in the industry because few people can do your job. In the same vein, you are much less expendable in the eyes of your employer. This is a question of demand and supply. In my opinion, there are too many generalists today and employers are having a hard time recruiting people with expertise. When the Singapore government announces that there is a labor shortage, this is exactly what they mean: there are many job applicants but few applicants with the necessary skills.

What degrees then would come for you specialist knowledge? Firstly, a specialist degree tends to be more rigorous and rigid. If your programme involves more electives than prescribed, required modules, you can be assured that it is NOT specialist. One example I can think of is Liberal Arts studies, where you are free to take anything from Asian Studies to History to Linguistics. You can be sure that the university is not teaching you anything that employers explicitly desire.

Another way to determine this is the granularity of your degree. To illustrate this, Bachelor of Biological Science is not nearly as specialized as Bachelor of Computational Biology. Bachelor of Business is not nearly as specialized as Bachelor of Business (Human Resource). A major in Building Project Management is not as specialized as a major in Architecture.

Remember, do not be a jack of all trades; be a specialist.

Do your research. Use data.

Have universities in Singapore publish a very useful report called graduate employment survey. If you are too lazy to Google them yourselves, I’ve placed the links here for you:

The surveys are easy to understand, and they are very useful indicator of your future salary. I know some people may argue that a fresh graduate’s starting salary is not indicative of their future income potential. I beg to differ. Do you know that many employers in Singapore ask about your past salary to decide how much they should offer you in the new job? If your starting pay is 3500, you may need years to catch up with another person who starting pay is 4000.

Next, short list some degrees that you are considering. do a search on job portals such as jobstreet.com to identify the demand for such degrees. The higher the numbers, the better the odds you have at finding a job upon graduation. Do look into a few relevant job postings to see if the employers hire degree holders or require you to have a Master / PhD. If it is the latter, exclude them from your search because you will not qualify for such roles anyway. Institutions such as A-STAR may hire profusely but most fresh graduates will not qualify.

Now that you are happy that there is a good demand for your degree, you should also consider the supply of graduates. Look at the cohort size from each faculty in all the universities in Singapore. That will give you an idea of the supply of graduates who will compete with you in the job market.

Final Note on Choosing Your Major

Choosing a degree is a serious matter and it takes work. Do not leave it to your whims and fancies because you will be spending four grueling years of your life on this endeavor. If you find this article useful, share it with your friends, your children, or your students. I wish you all the best in your studies and your future career.