The Ranking Misdirection

Below is a mail I received from JT (names have been changed for privacy reasons):

I chanced upon your blog recently and found it very informative and entertaining. I’ve just finished my NS and am applying to university now (NUS, NTU and SMU – all accountancy). Given my grades, I am confident I’ll be accepted to all three universities.

I’m interested to work in Japan after I graduate and work in the Big 4 accounting firms for a few years. However, I am unsure which university I should choose if I hope to study in Japan.

Currently, I am slanting towards SMU because of its close proximity to my house. However, SMU is not ranked due to it not meeting certain criteria to be ranked. And NUS is consistently ranked 1st in Singapore based on overall university rankings.

So, I would hope if you could offer some advice as to which university would secure me a better chance of getting a good job in Japan.

Thank you and regards 😀

Hi JT,

Let’s clear up some points before I try to convey the fact that I really do not have the answer to your question. In any case, based on the flow of your mail, I’m assuming in “I am unsure which university I should choose if I hope to study in Japan” you actually mean work. So I shall try to reply along that line.

Despite being here for some five years now, I still do not have any clue which content in my resume actually got me interviews and what got me the jobs. I can’t say for sure it is because I graduated from NUS, or if it is because I speak three languages, or that I have an IT diploma and an Arts degree. And frankly, I do not have amazing grades like you do (based on your confidence in being able to gain admission to all three universities in Singapore). My grades are at best mediocre, and my major in Arts isn’t much to boast about either in this world where importance is still placed on technical skills. Just look at entry-level engineering salaries and you would see my point.

Like you said, SMU isn’t in the world rankings mainly because they do not have enough faculties to qualify for the rankings. If I could, and if they offered the courses I wanted to do, I would’ve picked SMU over NUS disregarding the potential they each offer in landing myself a job in Japan. And also disregarding the proximity to home.

On hindsight, while I do not know for sure if the NUS name brought me to interviews, it does work well for me in Japan where national universities in general have a better image than prefectural, city, and private universities. But it working well for me can only be observed in casual chats with friends and colleagues since I never know the thought processes of interviewers before they decide to give me an interview or a job offer. While most foreigners probably don’t know about SMU and the level of quality in education it offers, I personally haven’t met anyone who would give up SMU for NUS.

Here’s a story: I have a friend who applied to do law in SMU and NUS, but he was offered business in SMU and law in NUS instead. At that time, he was inclining toward matriculating into SMU but decided he really wanted to do law. Interestingly, he gave up both SMU and NUS and headed to the University of Warwick in UK for his degree. While the University of Warwick is constantly ranked top ten among British universities, third in Times Higher Education’s fastest rising young university (first being our Nanyang Technological University), it is currently ranked 61st in the world. Frankly, how many Japanese people actually know about Warwick? Forget Japanese people. How many in the world actually know much about Warwick? And he gave up NUS for Warwick because apparently, Warwick offers better quality education in the field of law, and it’s definitely not “close to home.”

He eventually graduated with upper second-class honours and went on to practice with some of the best law firms in Singapore. Even before he got his bar, he received job offers from banks in Japan (as a banker!), who kept upping the offer each time he turned them down. I’m not at liberty to reveal the details of the offers but trust me, they are pretty attractive offers. He still turned them down nonetheless but that’s not important.

Ultimately, since I will never choose a university based on proximity, I would think it’s wiser for you to decide on whether you want to place importance on the quality of education or the quality of the name (although NUS does have both).

But again, this is just a personal opinion. Don’t take my word for it. Do ask for a second opinion, or third, or as many as you can.

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