If you are on the verge of completing your school studies, or if you have wrapped up and are looking at your next steps, you would have asked yourself the following question many times: What do I do next? This is not an easy question to answer, because the world lies before you: you can study anything, do anything, be anything. Of course, you want to choose the path that leads you to career success, and to the full realization of your potential.
In this article, we will look at the options for post school education, and answer questions in a logical sequence. At the end, you will have all the information you need to chart a structured plan for the first step in your career. Let’s get started with the first question you should ask yourself!
Why is it important to study further after completing high school?
This might seem like a no-brainer, but it is important as context for the rest of this article. A good undergrad degree does three things: it broadens your career prospects, it improves your career prospects (both in terms of salary / pay and in terms of satisfaction), and it equips you with essential life skills; it is the ultimate safety net. Post-school education is a must.
What is the primary aim or goal of a student choosing to study for a bachelor’s degree?
The primary aim of any student embarking on the first phase of study after his / her high school years is to get a quality education, and to learn enough about a particular discipline to be able to decide whether he / she wants to pursue it further.
Secondary aims (which are almost as important) may include: learning how to survive away from home, building a strong network of bright young people, and working towards building a CV so that basic employability is ensured.
What is the most important factor to keep in mind while choosing post school education options?
It seems logical that the most important factor that impacts the quality of one’s undergrad degree is the choice of discipline, or stream, or branch. To some extent, that is important. However, the place (both college / university and country) from which you receive your bachelor’s degree often has a much bigger impact on your success than the exact subjects you studied in your undergrad days.
Yes – you should study something you are interested in, and that you have some aptitude for, and that has good forecast prospects for jobs / research in the 10 to 20 year time frame, but you should be more concerned about finding the best possible place for yourself. In this piece, you will learn a lot more about why this is so important, and how to choose the best possible country and university.
How do you choose the best place to study for your undergrad degree?
The country in which you study should both give you the maximum career options and fit your profile and qualifications.
Broadly, when you choose whether to study in India or abroad, and when you make a choice of country, you are choosing which doors will open for your career in the future. For example, an undergrad degree from a good college in the USA will open most doors for careers in your field (and in many general fields) across the world. It is all about keeping your medium term options open.
Secondly, you need to choose a country that will fit your profile and qualifications. As you will read in the next point, you need to choose a university that is highly ranked. Depending on your school performance and standardized test performance, it might be that you will qualify for the best colleges in one geography, but not in others. It makes sense, then, to opt for the geography in which you will be assured of a worthwhile seat. In addition, ease of admission is often higher abroad, where competition per seat is less due to the sheer numbers.
The specific college or university should be as highly ranked as possible for the particular discipline(s) you are interested in.
This is crucial for you because the ranking of a university is determined by many factors that correlate positively with your long term career success. A highly ranked university usually has a higher endowment (so, better facilities and scholarships for you), a higher quality research output (so, a stronger intellectual climate to challenge you to improve), a larger number of career options (so, a higher median salary for those in the graduating class who look for jobs) and a better reputation (so, an easier path for you throughout your future career). Always make sure that you critically evaluate the best option for your undergrad study.
The geography and university of choice should have a sustained record of good performance on the parameter of career choices by each outgoing undergraduate cohort.
You will need to make sure that your long term career is safe. A good way to do this is to look at history: does your university of interest in your country of interest have a decade of excellence in terms of jobs and research positions provided to its outgoing class every year? If, year after year, median salaries are consistently high, and if 30% or more of the graduating class goes on to the best graduate schools in the world, you have a winner. If not, you will need to probe more deeply. Exit options are very important.
Flexibility of course choice and switching is a key criterion to keep in mind.
Once you secure your long term options, you need to look at the day to day. When you start an undergrad degree, it is unlikely that you will know exactly what you want to / should major in. And that’s completely okay. However, many education systems (for example, large parts of the Indian bachelor’s degree system) lock you into a choice of major that you make even before the first day of your undergrad degree. This can lead to years of mental stress, as you are locked into a discipline that might not be the best for you.
Flexibility is important. For example, in every good undergrad program in the US, you will be able to postpone the decision of what major to choose till your junior year – 2 years after you arrive at the university! Obviously, your decision will be much more informed at that time. This flexibility is another point that makes it clear that you should first choose the best place for you, rather than the course of study (unless you are very sure). The latter is something that you can choose later in most good colleges in the world.
How do you choose the stream / discipline / branch of study?
The following are the main things to keep in mind while ‘choosing’ a major (in some geographies, the choice of major is not binding till the end of your sophomore year).
The stream of study you choose needs to be interesting to you. At this point in your life, you can do anything you want in the world; it would be a shame to be stuck doing something you don’t love, or at least like.
The course you choose needs to be one that you have demonstrated aptitude in. Your undergrad performance will be an important part of your long term career success. Always speak to a career counsellor about how your skills in various subjects and outside the classroom correlate with your choice of undergrad field of study.
The branch of study needs to hold strong career potential for you. Even though many students change their field of study at the graduate level or in their jobs, it is always good (for safety’s sake) that your undergrad major is one that is recession proof, so that you always have something to fall back on. This can easily be determined from a glance at the job market for your area of interest, and by focusing on the growth rate of jobs in that sector.
Speak to someone who has studied in the undergrad program of interest for a few years, and to someone who has graduated from a similar undergrad program. This will make sure that you get two perspectives from people who are in the position that you would like to be in down the line; it will give you a realistic perspective on what the daily routine is like, and about how bright the exit options are. Use your career counsellors (for example, Jamboree) to help you reach out to your seniors in these positions.
At this point, we look back at the flexibility criterion we spoke about earlier. When you choose a place to study at, it would be good if you had the complete range of choices open in terms of major / minor degrees. Always look for a place that gives you a wider array of options.
How do you make sure you make the right decision at each step?
As you would have learnt from this article, a lot of factors go into making the right post school education choice. While it may seem a little confusing initially, you have nothing to worry about. Our experts at Jamboree can tailor a plan for you to choose the best option for your undergrad degree: from the country of choice to the ideal set of courses to the suggested long term careers. Make an appointment today!
This article has only dealt with the tip of the iceberg: we are sure you have many more questions about choosing an undergrad degree, and probably about doing your bachelor’s abroad. Head over to jamboreeindia.com to get all those questions answered!