Unless you really know what you want to do with your life, choosing a university or higher education institution can be quite a daunting task, even if you’ve decided that you want to study overseas. If you’re unsure of the major to go into, you can always do a Holland Code test to assess the ideal career – and therefore educational path – for your personality.
Before you embark on your university journey – be it the UK, US, Europe, or Australia – the system of higher education can be different from the one you’ve been used to in Singapore. Here’s a rundown of the different higher education models:
The different systems of higher education
Singaporean undergraduate education essentially follows the English (not Scottish) model, which is based on a three-year discipline-specific courses designed to prepare graduates for employment. The English system presumes that you already know what you want to major in, with an option for a minor, and you stick to that until graduation. When you apply for a university in the UK (via UCAS), you should already know your major along with your schools of choice. Changing majors is almost unheard of, which often requires starting over from Year 1.
The European education system is similar to the British system, but they’re enhanced with hands-on industry apprenticeships in a system known as Applied Learning. This means most students who go through a degree programme will be attached to a company that’ll train them, making sure they’re job-ready upon graduation.
In contrast, the North American university/college liberal arts system offers the greatest flexibility. It works on the basis of a four-year bachelor’s degree where you spend roughly two years on different subjects before selecting a major. These subjects are known as prerequisite courses, which include literature, science, history, and so forth, to build a higher level of general knowledge to help you make a more informed decision when it comes to choosing your major. Once you’ve decided on your major you can change your mind multiple times – it’s very common in the US (you just have to bear in mind that there’ll be more courses and time/money).
The Scottish system is similarly flexible as the American one: in the first two years, you can study up to three different subjects from within the same faculty, and then by the final two years, you specialise in one. The interesting thing is that older Scottish universities (Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, St Andrews, and Aberdeen) award their undergraduate students with an MA (Masters of Arts) instead of a BA (Bachelor of Arts) – the title sounds like it’s more advanced, but it’s actually the same level of qualification.
Basically, this means English/European undergraduate systems prioritise depth of specialisation, while the North American (and Scottish) system prioritises breadth of general education.
Which model works best?
The general rule is if you’re sure of what you want as a career, an English or European model (as well as the Australian model) will help you get there in the fastest time. Immediate employability and affordability are the arguments for this style of education. However, professional accreditation requirements within three-year degrees leave little room for elective subjects.
If you prefer to explore your options, then a general education style in North America (or Scotland) may work better as imparts students with a well-rounded, general knowledge of a wide range of subjects and mastery of a range of transferable skills. Some schools focus on global citizenship, which gives students a more informed view of the world – this is why this format is adopted in many Asian institutions, including Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China.
Some universities in Singapore adopt a North American general education system: Yale-NUS College and Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), where students can take a year of common curriculum before declaring a major. Meanwhile, Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) follows the European model of applied learning.
In addition to finding the education system and/or courses that fit you, you’ll also need to find a place where your personality fits perfectly so that you can make the most of your talents. You can find out what your Holland Code is, and how it can help you find your ideal career – and what degree path to take to get you there.