Decision Making

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Prior to this year, I never thought that choosing a university and a course to study would be this difficult. In hindsight, it does seem a little strange that I barely even prepared myself for this. Afterall, what I choose to pursue over the next four to five years largely determines what I'm going to do for the rest of my life. Well, not entirely, but picking a certain path does shut some doors for myself. And even if one chooses to believe that such things aren't exactly set in stone (which I think is true to a certain extent), making a decision that pertains to university does entail one committing a substantial amount of time and investing a substantial amount of money into it, at the very least.

Even as I was applying to schools, I was never fully certain of what I wanted. It was a truly daunting and disorienting experience. To add to that, I didn't get a perfect grade for A Levels, and thus had to adopt an "apply-and-see-what-I-get-before-deciding" mentality. To protect myself from rejection, I didn't really want to set my mind to anything. Thankfully, I didn't have any childhood ambition that I was absolutely determined to fulfill, so "failure" to get into any particular university or course wouldn't actually crush me. My confusion and lack of concrete plans even led me to suddenly toy with the idea of studying overseas.

There are many reasons why I've never seriously considered going overseas to receive an education. Although I cite cost as the main reason (it's really not just expenses alone, but is it worth it to attain a degree abroad if I can get one of a similar or better standard locally?), a huge part of me didn't want to leave the comfort of my home country, and the company of my family either. While I consider myself fairly independent and able to take care of myself, I do think that the emotional weight and burden that comes with being alone in a foreign land is extremely heavy, and incomparable to anything I've ever felt before. And to have to deal with academics on top of that would be a challenge. So, I threw out the prospect of being an exotic foreign student. Of course, I am in no position to discount the amazing growth and life-changing moments that'll come with such an experience, and I'm incredibly excited for my peers and close friends headed to various parts of the world in the months to come.

Speaking of peers, seeing so many of them knowing exactly what they want only added to my stress, although I only begun to understand the severity of it all when I was forced to make a decision. I was envious of those who seem so sure of their "true calling", most of them relating to distinguished professions such as medicine or law. Sure, I knew what I enjoyed doing and would love to do as a job--something to do with journalism, media, or the creative industry (especially after my 6-month internship)--but these areas didn't fit the conventional "practical" criteria that'll make typical Asian parents (i.e. mine) happy.

That said, I knew it wouldn't feel right if I were to choose a course I was entirely disinterested in. I'd be short-changing myself for sure.

As I was studying for A Levels, there was only one school I wanted to go to. I wouldn't say it was my "dream school", but for someone who hadn't really made up her mind on what she wanted to do in future, it came close. It was Yale-NUS, and I told most of my friends (and even colleagues) that it was my eventual goal to make it there. As an overseas education was out of the question for me (apart from long-term exchange programmes which I'd love to go on), I felt like this local liberal arts college would offer a good balance, giving its students a glimpse of the world while still remaining in the comfort of home. Reading about the subjects that were being taught there thrilled me, and at that point of time I felt like it was the school most suited to my interests and strengths.

While I didn't apply for early admission because I didn't think my terrible preliminary results (and possibly, terrible predicted grades) would carry me far into the selection rounds, I worked on my essays following the completion of my A Levels, and applied for a place there once I got my results. Eventually, I secured one. However, I found myself at a complete lost when the moment came for me to decide.

I was torn between a liberal arts education at Yale-NUS and a double degree programme at NUS to read Business Administration, and Communications & New Media. For one, I knew that my parents preferred the latter, which to my understanding is based primarily on pragmatic reasons. Both options offered starkly different experiences, with Yale-NUS requiring me to stay on campus, and go through the Common Curriculum for the first two years of my studies there before deciding on a major. If I chose NUS, I wouldn't have to stay on campus, and I'll probably be more involved in planning the modules I'd take. These were just a handful of the many considerations I had to deal with.

Ultimately, the decision was mine and mine alone. In the end, I chose relative stability, a more proven school system, and less risk. Forgoing my place at Yale-NUS was heartbreaking, especially since I've definitely put in quite a bit of effort in the attempt to get one (writing essays, gathering recommendation letters from teachers, and getting interviewed). All that as opposed to simply submitting a generic application on the NUS portal indicating my course preferences.

With that said, I can safely say that my final decision was made taking into account the most important consideration: my interest. I'm very lucky to have been offered a course that aligns very well with what comes the closest to my "passion". Communications & New Media is definitely something that I will enjoy studying, and hopefully find joy in pursuing in the future. In fact, I recently learnt that I'll get to (rather, have to) study several exposure modules of my choice at FASS such as Literature and Theatre Studies, and that's something I'm genuinely looking forward to. Though I'd have to admit that choosing to study Business is largely due to practicality, I am truly keen on learning more about marketing and the creative aspects related to this course/ industry.

I won't ever know if I'd regret the choice I made, because I'll never have an accurate basis for comparison. What I do know, however, is that I do still have the ability to take active steps to ensure that my decision is the right one. It is slightly intimidating embarking on the double degree programme, but here's to strength and persistence to pull through all five years (yes...five). 

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