Which Course Should You Choose in University?
I am a successful student that made it out of the Singapore school system; 12-year (P1 to JC2), and 4-year local university (Year 1-4). My first job (in finance) paid me >S$10,000 despite being an average student throughout secondary school and junior college. Here are my two cents:
In the bustling city-state of Singapore, the choice of a university course is not just a step towards higher education. It’s a leap into the future. The course you choose is a significant determinant of your career trajectory, influencing your job opportunities, professional progression, and earning potential.
This article aims to serve as your compass, guiding you through the landscape of university courses in Singapore, and highlighting those that pave the way for better career progression and higher starting salaries.
Key factors included for consideration are:
- Starting salary
- “Study time” – Time taken to graduate & get licensed
- Career progression
Remember, though, while your course can shape your future, it doesn’t define it. Keep your interests and passions at the core of your decision. After all, your university experience should not only open doors for your career but also fuel your intellectual curiosity and personal growth.
Understanding the Singapore Job Market
Before diving into the specifics of university courses, it is crucial to understand the larger picture – the job market of Singapore. In recent years, Singapore has steadily grown into a global hub for various industries, with technology, finance, healthcare, and engineering leading the charge.
1. Current Job Market Trends
Based on the recent uptrend in salaries and bonuses received, these are current jobs that pay very well in Singapore:
- Finance – investment banking / private equity / sales and trading (global markets) / wealth management (private banking)
- Computer Science – software engineer / quantitative trading / quantitative development / quantitative research
- Medicine – self-explanatory; private GP, cardiology, neurosurgery, ortho, plastic surgeon, radiology, ophthalmologist
- Dentistry – self-explanatory; general dentistry, orthodontics, private clinics
- Law – corporate law (M&A, capital markets)
2. Career Prospects and Starting Salaries
Taking into account the factors discussed above, including starting salary, “study time”, career progression, and headcount, there is further divergence in which careers make sense. Here are the rankings for each career:
1. Finance (at foreign banks)
– High starting salary (>S$12,000/month for IB & markets) and good bonus (average 4-8 months)
– Great career progression – promotion every 2-3 years, yearly base salary increments of 5-15%, all the way to managing director
– Lowest “study time” – students can earn high base salaries directly out of university, without further studies, licensing, or examinations
– Largest headcount for undergraduates out of university = highest chance of entering
2. Computer Science
– High starting salary – quant trading / development / research up to S$20,000/month (up to S$80,000 at HRT, though is an outlier 1 of 1 case), software engineering @ FAANG (S$6,000 – 8,000)
– Ok career progression – significantly harder to make it to senior levels for CS careers, most SWE roles top out at L5
– Low “study time” – students can earn high base salaries directly out of university, without further studies, licensing, or examinations
– Low headcount for undergraduates out of university for the better paying roles (quant / SWE @ Meta or equiv.), though have been decreasing due to recent tech layoffs
3. Medicine / Dentistry
– Low starting salary – starting salaries are extremely low (S$4,000 at residency), while your peers in finance and computer science are earning upwards of S$10,000. However, this gap minimises later on in your career after specialisation
– Great career progression – ability to specialise later on in your career, including charging exorbitant medical fees to extract most out of the insurance money
– Longest “study time” – average age to earn the big bucks 35-40 years old; university (5 years), residency (4-7 years), specialisation (>5 years)
– Ok headcount – fixed headcount for every university batch
– Low starting salary – trainee and associate lawyer salaries are low
– Good career progression – once in, you would be able to rise quickly, making partner in 15-20 years
– Long “study time” – 4 years university + studying for the Bar
– Low headcount – oversupply of law graduates with limited headcount at the better companies (Big 4 law / international law firms), also competing with law graduates from overseas. Only select specialisations such as corporate law would pay well
Choosing the Right University Course
Here are the courses to choose in each local university in Singapore for the recommended jobs above:
- Finance: NUS BBA = SMU BBM > NTU NBS ACBS / business
- Computer Science: NUS CS > NTU CS > SIT Computing > SMU IS
- Medicine: NUS YLL Medicine > NTU LKC Medicine
- Dentistry: NUS Dentistry
- Law: NUS Law = SMU Law
Other courses available (with their starting salaries):
- FASS / Economics: S$2,500 – 4,000
- Engineering: S$2,500 – 6,000
- Business (marketing, HR, ops): S$2,500 – 5,000
- Nursing: S$2,500 – 3,500
- Pharmacy: S$3,000 – 4,000 (depending on grades)
NOTE: If you are looking to correct any of the values above, please comment in the article below or email us at [email protected].
Balancing Passion and Pragmatism
There is a notion that your career should be something that you are passionate in. But to be frank, 90% of people in the working world are not working at something they are passionate at:
A simple test would be this: If you are suddenly given S$10 million now, would you still continue working in your current job?
Sure, you might have those outliers that would continue their current day job (most likely business owners), but the large majority working a 9-5 would most definitely not continue.
A better approach would be to separate your passion / hobby, and your day job. You can work purely for the purpose of putting food on the table, and excess cash for a better house, car, and some holidays. Hobbies and passion can be done outside of your 9-5, such as playing games, volunteering and etc. The truth is, most “passion” related jobs don’t pay very well; social work, nursing, and the Sciences.
Though with that in mind; careers are a marathon, and not a sprint
However, do remember that careers are also a marathon; 30 years long, and not a sprint. If you sprint the first 1km, you would definitely burn out as quickly as well. Your peers that have been pacing themselves would overtake you at 2-3km, despite not having as good a start compared to you.
In terms of earning power, climbing the corporate ladder would always be slower than starting your own business
It is important to note that while we aim to have the highest starting salary and best career progression, the unfortunate fact is that we are limited by the glass ceiling above us and (relatively) fixed pay structure / progression. Being risk-averse is unlikely to payoff in the grand scheme of things – we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the finer things in life purely by climbing the ladder.
As such, we are seeing more and more small businesses pop up – some of them make it and most don’t. However, this doesn’t stop the fact that we can make extra side income to supplement our day job. Whether it truly becomes large enough to outearn our job, that would depend on the business model, your marketing prowess, and the amount of effort you put in. You would be paid for the risk that you take on, though the risk has to be very calculated and precise.
Other Factors to Consider
- Soft Skills: Technical expertise is important, but don’t underestimate the power of soft skills. Communication, teamwork, problem-solving, leadership, and emotional intelligence are among the skills highly valued in the workplace. Cultivating these skills can set you apart and enhance your career progression.
- Internships and Work Experience: Gaining practical experience through internships or part-time jobs can be invaluable. Not only does it provide a taste of the real world, but it also lets you apply what you’ve learned, builds your resume, and expands your professional network.
- Networking: Building strong professional relationships can open doors to opportunities that may not be widely advertised. Attend networking events, join relevant societies or clubs, and don’t hesitate to reach out to people in your field of interest.
- Further Studies: Postgraduate studies, such as a Masters or a PhD, can further boost your career, especially if you’re aiming for specialized roles or academic positions. However, they require a significant investment of time and money, so it’s important to consider your long-term career goals before diving in.
Conclusion: Your Future, Your Choice
Deciding on a university course is a significant milestone in your life, laying the groundwork for your future career. In a thriving educational and economic hub like Singapore, the opportunities are diverse and plentiful. From Finance and Engineering to Healthcare and Computer Science, there are numerous pathways that can lead to prosperous careers.
Nevertheless, it’s essential to remember that no university course guarantees success; it’s what you do with your education that truly counts. Focus on building a strong foundation of knowledge, but also remember to cultivate crucial soft skills, gain practical experience, and build a solid professional network. The road to career success is not a straight line but a journey filled with learning, adaptation, and growth.
In the end, the best course to choose is one that aligns with your interests, passions, and ambitions. After all, success is not merely measured by starting salaries and job titles, but also by the fulfillment and joy derived from your work. May your university course be the first step towards a future that you love and a career that you are proud of.