By Andrew Wong      7th Jan. 2004

What Course to Study?

Another perspectives for college / university study decision making


As teenagers approach college or university level, a decision has to be made on what course to pursue for further 3, 5 or 7 years of study. In this world of diverse specializations, it can be an overwhelming task to make such choice for both the children and parents.

In the olden days, it was not too much a problem to make a choice as 1) there were not so many diverse knowledge domains to choose from, and there were a few distinctive professional careers like doctor, engineer, accountant, nurse, teacher, etc. to think about, 2) in the old world of stability and certainty, most higher learning led to successful economic life, 3) the cost of education was not so prohibitively high.

Today world is entirely different from what was just described.

Selection Criteria

There are many variety of career talks, university / colleges open days, well organized student counseling workshops to guide and help teens made up their minds to pursue a course of several years to completion.

Again in the old world, the selection criteria were simple : what is the teenager’s interest, which course will have more jobs opportunities in the future, what type of jobs can make more money?

Although the criteria can still be applied in today world, it is not so straightforward. Most teenagers have difficulty to identify their own interests, current job scenario is a constant changing landscape in the sense that jobs can become redundant overnight with new type of jobs most academic institutions do not yet have the syllabus to teach, what sunset industry may wipe of certain types of jobs, let alone making more money or higher salary.

There are other techniques used beside the usual road show, talk or student counseling sessions. A psychological profile mapping is also used whereby certain instruments like questionnaire, survey, interview, computer-software are used to determine the thinking preference, interest-inclination, or learning types of the students.

Another Perspectives

With best intention and efforts, students made their choice of study. Over years, as happened to today professional or vocational employee, there are much regret, misfit, loss of jobs due to retrenchment, downsizing, or simply obsolete knowledge and skills, or changing technology or industries. This is not only a regretting situation, but miseries after years of study and high costs of education fees invested, affecting current live-style and livelihood.

This requires another perspectives or frame-of-mind to make sense of the matter of earning for a decent living.

  • Time-Frame of the Future

Generally, students, parents, counselors, career-talk speakers have a future time-frame that is focusing on the career life span. This itself presents a problem that is usually realized when the career-person reaches older age, say, before or during retirement.

The underlying thinking is that : my choice of course to study, with all the discipline and high education costs, is to secure a good job for a decent living.

Looking at the time-frame again, if we take average retirement age as 55, then there is 30 years of career life, and 20 years of retirement life.

Then an important question needs to be raised: Should we invest with 5-7 years of study and high education costs to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills, just to cater for 30 years of career life? What about the reminding 20 years of post-career life?

Today we also witness much instability and uncertainty during the 30-year of career life. We also observe many highly educated retiree do not have the appropriate knowledge and skills to manage their 20-year of retirement life creatively, productively and meaningfully.

If only at an earlier age, children are guided by adults to ponder the future scenarios with larger time-frame as one of the factors for decision making in choosing the course that has the generic skills to carry through the complete life!

(Likewise, today working adult, near-retirement or retiree will have to put in more effort in thinking and acquiring relevant knowledge and skills to complete their intended fulfilled life.)

  • Making-living Model

Another frame of mind which is not prevalent among those who have to decide on making a choice of course to study, nor among the parents / guidance helping the teens to make such decision is a more complete making-a-living model.

Typically most are thinking of choosing a course to study in relation to what are the future jobs demand and prospects. Hence the thinking model is more of earning a living as an employee.

This is a limiting thinking model, which may lead to many regret experienced by today adults.

Here, Robert Kiyosaki’s 4-quadrant living model is useful to be introduced to children at earlier age, namely:

1.      Employee

2.      Self-Employed

3.      Business Owner

4.      Investor

(Note: elaboration of the above is in another article)

When the above thinking model is used, a larger horizon is open up for exploration and investigation.

Each quadrant needs not be a fixation by itself. One can migrate from one to another over different phases of life, or one can combine the different quadrants strategically.

An important point is, at the earlier exposure, one can expand their mind in trying out the different quadrant of making a decent living, paying attention to acquiring the necessary knowledge and skills.

An Example

A teenager has inclination to science, logic and rational thinking. He chooses automation engineering as his course of study. It can be satisfying for him to carry out project and experimentation on say, automating a manufacturing process in an assembly line. With good degree or doctorate, say, he gets hired by a large manufacturing company. Again there is much job satisfaction in term of technical challenges.

Then a few scenarios set in :

As he gets more and more engrossed in the technical world, he tends to neglect on human skills and management capability. There will be limiting career advancement. As age catches up, he feels a great disadvantage especially seeing other in non-technical field become more successful financially.

Or, he somehow also picks up some management skills, and climbs up the career ladder to fairly high position. Suddenly there is economic downturn or closing down of that particular industry. Job security gets threatened.

Or, he somehow gets through the career life successful, and retires with handsome economic benefits. He soon realizes that he has been in the corporate world too long, accustomed to the corporate language and rituals which are not so relevant in the day to day social and community life. There is no more higher career ladder as goals in life to climb. He finds himself a misfit in this universe for the rest of his life, wondering through life without a goal and purpose, and waiting for the final day!

(The above sounds too negative a picture. But, do make a careful observation around in today world. Will tomorrow world for our children be more uncertain and unpredictable?)

Alternative Scenarios

The same boy still chooses automation engineering course. Well guided by adults on timeframe of the future and making-living model. While he enjoys the day today technical work with logic and rational thinking, he also ponders on different living-quadrants.

While still an employee, he will be mindful of paying more attention on what competency to establish to be self-employed, business owner or investor in the related field, technology or know-how or divert to totally different areas.

He may also think of picking up generic skills that can still propel him into his retirement life.


When action, behavior, decision making and energy are vision driven, mapping the future scenarios and acquiring the necessary competency, one will have better ability to take control of his or her life and destiny.

One cannot be too naïve to use the above concept with one or two briefing sessions to a teenager to help him to make a intelligent choice of course to study. The above suggested thinking framework needs to be regularly applied by stakeholders throughout the various phases of life to crystallize the desired visions of the future.

The message is, the sooner one develops into such reflective habit, the better the chance a person can create the type of future he or she sincerely desires.

{Note: This QuaSyLaTic writer is applying the above concept to his present life, after having lived 50 years. Life long learning indeed, with the view of accelerated learning for the younger ones)


QuaSyLaTic, Andrew,

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