In 2011, I had to make a choice. Was doing honours in Singapore worth it or not? Yes, or no?
I chose to do honours at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Because I thought it was the only way to get a good paying job.
Today, I wish I could go back in time to slap myself.
1. It is/was really expensive.
Additional annum worth of tuition fees: $6,360
Study materials: $1,000
Allowance my parents gave me: $5,000
All this isn’t a small amount of money. But the biggest cost? Opportunity cost.
An average year of wage for a fresh graduate at the time was $36,400.
Add the real cost + opportunity cost and you’ll get $48,000.
This amount alone, hypothetically invested over the next 40 years was a lot of money. By sixty, I could have the following amounts, assuming the following growth rates:
If 4% – $182,448.99
If 5% – $289,919.46
If 6% – $445,714.46
(I shudder when I think of students spending $25,791 per year on liberal arts degrees at Yale-NUS today)
2. My first employer didn’t care much about my honours degree.
Not going to work in the government, or pursuing a career in academia? My advice is to skip the Honours degree, unless there are CLEAR monetary and career benefits to getting one.
My experience was that it was negligible in my starting pay and career progression. I was pretty proud of myself when I:
– had a second upper in honours
– got an A for my thesis
– made it to the dean’s list, twice. Twice!
– was an extremely active student leader (arguably this was the most useful of the lot)
My starting pay in 2012? $2,700.
Our friends in ‘prestigious’ advertising and accountancy firms: even less.
Between first-class honours and a plain bachelor degree in the private sector, the differences in salary was pretty much insignificant.
(Relevant skills to the job would give you a far better bargaining chip.)
(That said, a good honours degree can help you secure interviews and jobs with less trouble. And to qualify for Management Associate programmes in banks, good honours is a minimum requirement.) It’s all about the job you apply for.
3. Your ideal job may not require an honours degree, or even a degree.
Some of my friends chose lucrative jobs in sales, and the good life chose them.
We have all known acquaintances who have ventured into the world of insurance, property, and even MLM (ew?). Editor’s note: Yes, ew.
There are also a bunch of entrepreneurial friends who kickstarted their start-up or business.
No honours were needed for that. (I’ll make the case that a degree still helps because it still gives you a good network of relatively well educated people, who might be gateways to opportunity)
…for myself, the degree got me into my first job, but that was it. My subsequent jobs were scored based on my work and industry experience.
I’m not saying doing Honours Degree is a waste of time.
I had my best years in school, and learnt valuable technical and critical thinking skills working on tough topical projects and my thesis paper.
But if I had to do it all over again, I’d tell 21-year-old me to not succumb to FOMO and pride.
Why? Because that hypothetical $48k could have went a long way into my financial freedom.
If we had younger siblings, we’d ask them to consider carefully before deciding on doing honours year. Time is a precious thing, and if you’re unsure whether it’s worth it, it’s probably best to start working asap.
After you do that, you’ll probably get a better grasp if your career advancement requires any further studies. (Masters can be an option.)
Stay Woke, Salarymen