Before I start, let me just say that all my opinions are based solely on my own personal experience as a student at Singapore Management University. So take from it what you will, but never forget that proverbial grain of salt.
Anyway, here it is: looking back, I wish I’d taken business management instead of accounting.
When I was 17 and applying to SMU, I had no idea what to major in, but decided to choose accounting because it’s a relatively safe and stable profession (according to everybody). Also, I had pretty decent accounting grades in high school. Accounting wasn’t my “life purpose” per se, but at that time I had absolutely zero idea what my life purpose is. Maybe it was accounting, but it could also be something like marketing. Or sociology. Or, I dunno, the Philosophical Foundations of Physics. (Which is an actual graduate program.)
But the thing with accounting is that it’s very specific. Generally speaking, there are three routes you can take: financial & management accounting, auditing & governance, and taxation. A couple of semesters after starting school, I found out that I didn’t like numbers very much, but it was hard for me to change schools (partly because my GPA wasn’t high enough).
It’s a contrast to my friends who were doing business management. They were able to take a wide range of basic modules in finance, marketing, business processes, human resource management, and so on: all of which are small tastes to the different majors on offer. After two years, they would then choose one (or two, if you’re doing a double major) to major in.
Even though they were all under the School of Business, the majors themselves could be very different from one another, and attract different kinds of people. If you like numbers, you could major in Operations Management, Finance, or if you’re hardcore, Quantitative Finance. If you don’t like numbers, you could go into Human Resources, Strategic Management or Marketing and Corporate Communications. SMU’s business school also allows you to take a generalist route, where you don’t major in any of those in particular, but rather take five courses from across the seven majors.
What’s great about this is that you’re essentially given two years to try everything out and see what you like before making a decision, without having to change schools (which are not always easy). Another great thing is that they have majors for both left- and right-brained students; there are choices for those who like numbers and those who don’t.
Of course, it does depend on your university. There are universities like Harvard, where kids would take general education courses until the middle of their second year, which is when they start choosing concentrations. From my understanding, though, Singapore universities are the opposite: when you first apply, you apply directly to a specific school or faculty, and each faculty may or may not offer multiple majors to choose from.
So my advice is, if you’re someone who hasn’t really figured out what to do yet/what to major in, attend a school where you can try as many different things as you can (which, in SMU’s case, would be the business school). See what sticks. Having said all of that, if you’re like me, don’t worry: things aren’t so dire. I don’t completely regret my decision to go into accounting. I still learned a lot of things during my time in accounting⎯and importantly, figuring out what I don’t want helped me figure out what it is that I do want. It motivated me to pursue my own interests outside of class, like writing a play or editing a student magazine, which eventually helped me to change careers on graduation.
Also, it never hurts to have extra knowledge. What I’ve come to realize is that any experience, no matter how wrong it may seem at the time, would somehow prove useful in the future. Like one of the geniuses of our time once said, you connect the dots backward.
Check out the response post to this piece: “I Wish I Had a More Specialized Degree“.
Feature image oleh Erwin Soo.