6 Oct 2015

How-To: 5 Steps to Choosing the Right Degree Course

Choosing the right course and pathway can be overwhelming and stressful.

Should you listen to your parents and pursue Medicine, even though you know that your heart is in Digital Animation or Graphic Design? Should you go straight to ACCA, even though you didn’t take Accounting for SPM and feel that you aren’t all that good with numbers?

As someone who has gone through it before, I know that it isn’t easy.

I probably changed my mind 4-5 times before finally biting the bullet and deciding on Engineering. Even then, as I struggled through my classes in university, I constantly questioned myself whether I had made the right decision.

Having gone through all that (and not wanting you to go through the same process again!), I’ve broken things down to 5 simple steps to help you choose the right degree course.

Step 1: Think of what excites you

Do you enjoy dealing with numbers and can perform calculations in your sleep? Or do you love being around young children and have the patience of a saint? Or perhaps you find yourself spending hours doodling and drawing when you were supposed to be revising trigonometry or organic chemistry?

Whether it’s something creative, academic or sporty, list down everything that you enjoy doing during your free time. Go as far back as when you were a kid — you may be surprised that what you used to love doing as a child may not be too different from what excites you now!

But what if you find that you don’t do much except for studying, watching funny cat videos and hanging out with your friends?

Try thinking outside the box! If you enjoy playing strategy computer games, it doesn’t mean you’re destined for a career in designing computer games. Rather, it’s a sign that you may enjoy strategic planning, and should look for courses with such characteristics.

Don’t forget to speak to your friends and family too, as they may give you valuable insights and clues about who you are. But be mindful not to let them pressure you into studying something that you’re not entirely sure of.

Step 2: Examine your strengths and abilities

Ever since you were a kid, you’ve dreamed of being a doctor.

You believe in the depths of your soul that it is your destiny and calling to pursue the medical field — to cure the sick and heal the wounded.

But you’re scoring Ds in Biology, and you’re barely passing Chemistry. It doesn’t matter that it’s your lifelong childhood dream, or if your parents and grandfather are all doctors. If your Science subjects are weak at SPM level, chances are you will struggle throughout your degree and there may be a possibility that you end up dropping out.

Passion and interest can quickly die out if you keep failing or perform poorly.

Which is why it’s critical that you analyse your strengths and abilities, and choose a path where both your passions and strengths interlink.

To help you explore your strengths, think about:

  • What subjects are you good at in school?
  • What kinds of tasks and activities that make you feel most energised?
  • What do close friends and acquaintances constantly praise you for?

Final tip — ask your close friends, parents and teachers for their objective opinions too!

This is because there is a tendency for us to only recall information that confirms our beliefs and ignore those that contradict (called confirmation bias). For example, you may only remember the time you won 2nd place in a math competition 6 years ago, and conveniently forget the fact that you’ve been getting Cs for Math for your past few exams.

So, do analyse your strengths objectively!

Step 3: List down what’s important to you

Now that you have a fair idea of where your passions lie and what your strengths are, it’s time to think about your values.

Values are important because they make up your compass to guide you through life.

If you do not value competition but find yourself in a highly competitive investment banking environment, will you be satisfied with your job? If you value introversion but your job in sales demands that you constantly have to socialise and mingle outside of office hours, will you struggle with the internal conflict and stress?

In these situations, understanding your values and what’s important to you can help you tremendously. These values can help you make better decisions about what you should choose to do, especially in times of conflict.

Look through this list of 418 values and identify which ones resonate strongly with you. Think about all the times where you were filled with pride, achievement and fulfilment, and identify what were behind these moments that made them truly memorable and important.

Make sure the values that you end up with fit with your lifestyle and the vision that you have for your future self too. So don’t choose frugality when you know you want to be able to afford luxurious holiday trips and 5-star Michelin restaurants!

Step 4: Explore relevant degrees and career paths

This is where it starts to get exciting!

Based on what you know about yourself now (and I hope you have been writing them down!), you should have a better idea on what sort of degrees and career paths that are suitable for you.

Go through all the university degrees and possible career paths and shortlist those that match your passions, strengths and values. For example, if you’re a detail-oriented person who likes working with numbers and value accuracy and accountability, you can choose degrees like Accounting or Actuarial Science.

Don’t forget to do a reality check on some of your choices, and ask yourself honest questions. If you’re passionate about educating young children and want to make a difference in the world, but want an extremely high-paying salary to start out, then this pathway may not be right for you.

Keep researching, exploring and evaluating until you have narrowed down to 2-3 options.

But most importantly, avoid choosing something because it’s what your friends are doing. This is quite possibly the worst mistake you can make. You are a grown adult now and will have to be responsible for many of your decisions soon, so don’t just follow the herd!

Step 5: Understand that this decision isn’t forever

Yes, I know — this is quite possibly the BIGGEST decision that you’ve ever had to make so far. And you may feel that once you’ve decided on a particular degree, you’ll be stuck with it… forever!

But the truth cannot be further than that.

In reality, many university degrees prepare you for a range of career paths, and it is not uncommon to find engineers working in banks or accountants working in market research companies. As you gain work experience, skills and knowledge, you will likely find yourself changing careers several times throughout your lifetime, and switching industries too.

So, while this is a big decision, bear in mind that what you study doesn’t dictate what you do for the rest of your life. There will be opportunities for you to switch to a non-related field if you choose to, as long as you show determination, passion and adaptability.

Take this chance to discover who you are, and enjoy the process and the journey!

Pro Tip: If you have just completed your SPM or IGCSE and want more time to decide on which university degree to pursue, choose a pre-university course like A-Level, Australian Matriculation, Canadian Pre-U or International Baccalaureate (IB). These help to keep your options open and can be your passport to pursue various types of university degrees!

We hope that this has helped! If you have any questions, let us know in the comments below. Not sure if you should do A-Level, AUSMAT or CPU? Check out this infographic: What’s After SPM: Are You Choosing the Right Course?

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