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Mr Chen's anecdotes.


Updated: Feb 22, 2023

3 Questions to consider before you make your decision on University selection.

I remember the day I collected my A-Levels Results.

"On the day of the release of the A-Level Results, and ever the chameleon, Yao Le was dressed in a 'hip' white shirt complete with accessories."
- Mrs Mei Chew (Civics Tutor) of 09S19, TPJC PASSPORT 2011

Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah boi.

I'm not exaggerating when I say this is a pretty close re-enactment of me the moment I saw my name on the Honour's roll.

Annnnnnnnd before I went home.

God, I was actually such a dick.

Yours truly was dressed up because, deep down, he knew glory awaits him that afternoon. Although I made it onto the Honours’ list of TPJC for the 2010 A level results, the exhilaration didn’t last long.

I went home, sat down and wondered.



I missed my goal of being a lawyer by the finest of margins and suddenly my results gave me nothing but temporary shots of dopamine and simply satiated my hunger for glory. I didn’t have seniors to guide me on what to consider in terms of university courses. At the same time, I was also in NS, so there wasn’t much time for me to deliberate in depth.

Now that I’ve been through the process, here are some key ideas to consider.

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1. Do I need to have my life figured out right now?

It is incredibly unlikely what you do right now will determine where you land in the future. It will definitely play a significant role in shaping your future but nothing is ever set in stone. I’ve always been an advocator of being ready to catch and receive whatever comes your way. However, for some of you, maybe you have a clear vision of where you want to be and you know that you are going to be happy with that if it comes to fruition.

Firstly, I applaud you and you have my admiration. For you, the answer is straight forward, pick the relevant courses and look for scholarships or grants of any form. College fees is expensive globally. The misconception is that scholarships are reserved for the best of the best in terms of academic. Do your own due diligence and you will realize there are scholarships beyond merit based. I have friends who were awarded a sector-based scholarship even though his A-Levels Results wasn’t the best.

There are, however, downsides to scholarships. You will have to manage the consistent pressure to maintain your grades. You will also have a bond to serve (for most scholarships) which effectively ties you down to a job for a few years. In other words, your education is paid for under the premise that you will transition into becoming their employee. But the latter is effectively negated and the former will simply push you and accelerate you toward realizing that happy ending you’ve been yearning for.

For the students who are not sure, I’m with you. There is nothing to be ashamed of mainly because I was just like you and look at where I am right now! (Eyyyyyyyyyyyy~)

This is your chance to explore and find yourself.

You are no longer bounded by the subjects offered in schools. You have free rein over what you want to be studying over the next 3 to 4 years. Potentially even longer if the major truly resonates with you. Truly deliberate & consider the degree and major that catches your eye and imagination.

However, do keep in mind that you will be given opportunities to take modules outside of your major as electives (2 of 5 modules every semester usually). You need not major in a particular field in other to learn about it. Ironically, some of my best grades came from Film Studies, Economics and the like. Do keep your mind open. Don’t pick a degree simply based on your experience from prior education in it.

The worst thing one can do is pick a degree because it offers you a decent/high-paying job that you have no affinity towards. It’s only going to be a matter of time before you jump ship. By then, it could be too late for recourse and entangled with substantial financial strains.

2. Should I go overseas to look for greener pastures?

Most of us would stay in Singapore given that most local universities offer a wide enough range of degrees that we don’t need to leave. However, some of us might want to take a degree unavailable in Singapore universities. (Taiwan offers Degree in Mahjong & Pornography. I had to, uh... do extensive research to write this article) Or, Singapore universities wouldn’t accept us given our grades while overseas universities would. That is a strong reason to look elsewhere.

Or maybe, you’ve always wanted to see the world. You always felt out of place in the Singapore education system.

"It’s too rigid."

"It’s too content-heavy."

"I want to experience the world in my last 4 years of education."

Indeed, because I did mention earlier, this is your chance to spread your wings and fly.

"That's what she said."

Sorry, I had to.

But is the grass really greener on the other side?

I was fortunate enough to be offered opportunities to study overseas for an extended period of time twice. I am still grateful for the experience, both good and bad. I have friends across the globe who are half way around the world from their family just to pursue an education because the host country provided them an opportunity they could not refuse.

I also have friends who jump from country to country in order to pursue an education, both academically and culturally.

Ruby's (Girl on my right) birthday. She started in Taiwan, then Toronto and now she's in Netherlands.

Still studying. Somehow.

True, the experience of living in Canada and France really opened my eyes and allowed me to reconcile the different teaching styles across the world which I implement today in my own pedagogy. No doubt, it was fun submitting a graded assignment on a Wednesday even though it’s only due on Friday (Because yours truly was going to spend the weekend in New York starting on Thursday night) and having your lecturer hoping you’d have fun.

That weekend in NYC. Taken on Brooklyn Bridge, 2016.

But beyond the excitement and initial high of living alone or with friends, you will have to learn how to live. Laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, studying, home-sickness will require adjustments from you.

Yes, money can solve those problems but is it sustainable?

What about the floating exchange rate?

Is your family able to support you through the fluctuations?

Yes, it will be fun at first but what happens when it comes to crunch time in school?

One does not have to pursue a degree full time overseas in order to get the same experience I did.

All Universities in Singapore offer exchange program or the likes. You will get your Instagram post and likes at a fraction of the risk and cost.

6 months was appropriate for me and I was sure I could have done a year. But beyond that, unlikely.

At some point, we have to be pragmatic and truly consider the cost and potential risk.

Besides, like I always tell my students…

"Just study in Singapore la."

"Hungry? Mummy cook for you."

"Got dirty laundry? Mummy wash for you."

"Ran out of snacks at home? Mummy buy for you."

"Go overseas? Siao uh."

3. What are the careers I can pursue with XYZ degree?

For most of us, we are preparing ourselves for the workforce and university education is the last hurdle before we work for another 40 odd years. (... Shit) Unfortunately, I am not the best person to answer this question. My answer to this would be limited to just a Science degree in Chemistry.

Instead, I suggest students to speak to professors or people who have spent at least 3 years in the industry. Every University will be hosting at least an e-open house in 2021. You will get to see facilities and FAQ will definitely be answered in some way. Furthermore, last I checked, they will be hosting a chatroom for questions directed towards professors and people in the industry. Register, attend and ask intelligent questions.

Ask them questions such as:

1. What is your daily routine like?

2. What are some areas that people in this industry struggle with?

3. What are some of the biggest complains that you have regarding the industry?

4. Do you have friends who left the industry despite having a degree catered to it? Why?

In addition, use this as an opportunity to go on an excursion with your friends. Form a small group of less than 8 (Yup, you know why.) and visit the campus. Most of the campus is opened to public and you can even sit in during a lecture but don’t give yourself away and embarrass yourself.

NUS Utown SRC. I would spend every Tuesday here, 6pm to 11:30pm, catching the last bus home after dance practice.

Personally, the kind of degree and the institute you graduated from will not determine the rest of your life. I have friends who graduated with X degree but went into Z industry eventually and flourishing there. We are growing, perspectives may change, and ideas will waver. Do not base your choice of University course enrolment based solely on job opportunities.

On hindsight...

I’ve always felt lucky in my life. Things always, somehow, work out well for me even though it might not have been what I envision it to be. I went through the last 29 years of my life just following my gut, my heart and my judgement.

Do not base your choice of University course enrolment based solely on job opportunities.

In 4 years, you are going to enter adulthood and this 4 years will give you a whiff of what adulthood could be like and for me, adulthood is about making decisions.

Whatever decision you make, you live by it. Take a detour if you have to. Turn around and cut the loss before it’s too late. But ultimately. get your head down and work hard.

Give it your best shot.

Make it work.

To my students whom I have groomed,

I’ve given my best during my time teaching you and I hope you felt it. Work ethic and growth is what I value most in people. Results is secondary.

You are always welcome to seek help from me or speak to me personally.

I’ve seen you grow and I hope you will continue to share your growth with me in the future.

Cher wishes all four of his 2020 A-Level dents (HY, HL, S, YH) happiness and strength in their final lap of academics.

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