Taking the Leap of Faith: Working Before Enrolling

Written by: Mandy Ngoh

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
— Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

After graduating from Polytechnic or Junior College, some of us opted to advance to university while others ventured into the working world. Yet another few took a detour; we first worked before rejoining academia. In this piece, our editor Mandy interviews three students who took the non-traditional route of first joining the workforce before enrolling in university.

From team bonding to crazy orientation programmes, from a manager to a CCA leader, how did coming back to school affect their psyche? We hope that this post can serve as a source of comfort for our students with similar stories or who find themselves occasionally feeling out of place; remember, you’re not alone.

Rahayu’s Story

A picture of Rahayu.

Rahayu was a Dietetic Assistant at a hospital prior to pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Physical Education and Sports Science in NTU, at the National Institute of Education (NIE). Interestingly, she did not originally opt for a gap year; instead, she decided to further her education to facilitate greater progression in her career.

Mandy: How do you feel coming back to school after working in the hospital?

Rahayu: It is definitely harder to blend in because I face the challenge of studying again after focusing on work for more than 2 years. My background is in nutrition so a degree in physical education is entirely new to me. I also face higher stakes than my peers due to home commitments. This is one of the factors that make it harder for me to assimilate comfortably with my peers.

Rahayu with her favourite colleague

Mandy: Do you feel that you have less time to focus on Hall or CCA matters because of your home commitments?

Rahayu: Yes. Less time for ‘youthful’ matters because I have to be mindful about my spending as I have already achieved financial independence since my first career at the hospital. So embarking on the degree programme without pay meant even less time and fewer activities for myself.

In my free time, I focus on taking up tuition assignments and ensuring that I have ‘x’ amount of cash to stay afloat. I can’t rely on my family because my parents have aged and my brothers have their own families. I have to set aside cash to pay for household expenses in addition to my own while still providing a monthly sum to my parents. So certainly, I feel that I have it rougher than my younger peers but I have to rise up to face these challenges. If I don’t, then I won’t be able to survive and will end up being a burden to my family. So even though I can enjoy being in hall and CCAs, I can also use this precious time to earn money and stay afloat.

Rahayu and her hockey teammates.

Guan Ying’s Story

Guan Ying, a year 1 student reading Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, also shared her take on gap years.

Guan Ying having a great time with her colleagues.

Mandy: How do you feel coming back to school after working for 2 years?

Guan Ying: Taking a gap year is usually not the traditional route that one will take after completing tertiary education. There are many considerations, one of them being the cost-benefit of the decision. For me, my decision to take two years away from school was mainly to build up my portfolio and work experience. I had some doubts before venturing out. Concerns like lagging behind my peers, not having friends and rejection from admitting to schools that I wanted were very real.

However, I put those concerns aside and focus on the present as I knew I had no control over such worries. I do not regret my decision then as I have had the time of my life. I met new people, gained so many experiences and eventually still got a place in NTU. Though I am slightly older than my peers, I am still able to assimilate into the school.

Guan Ying with her friends from Binjai Hall.
UOC camp was a blast for her!

Halim’s Story

Halim is a Year 4 student, also pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Sports Science and Physical Education. Halim is extremely youthful and energetic, so imagine my surprise when we found out that he already has a child!

Mandy: Can you tell us more about your journey from work to NTU?

Halim: My journey to attain my degree is rather interesting. I graduated from SAJC in 2004 before serving NS. For me, it was either the BSc in PE or PGDE (Postgraduate Diploma in Education Programme). I initially chose the PGDE route. In 2007, I enrolled myself in NTU School of Engineering. That lasted for 2 semesters before I realised that engineering was not for me. I then worked for a while before I was offered a Diploma in PE from NIE in 2010. I graduated in 2012 and was posted to a school to serve as a full-fledged teacher. I served for 4 years before I was offered to pursue my BSc in PE in 2016.

Halim and his coursemates in NTU.

Halim: In those 4 years, I started my family and added on further commitments. Hence the biggest challenge was, of course, my financial constraints. Since I would be on no-pay leave for the entire duration of my studies, I had to take up a study loan. The amount was enough to cover my tuition fees as well as miscellaneous expenses.

A man jumping over a view of the sunset horizon.
With his beautiful wife and an adorable child!

Halim: I am blessed to have a very supportive wife who held the fort. I, on the other hand, took up any part-time jobs I could get to cover living expenses. Fortunately, we were successful in managing our finances and got through the 2.5 years with minimal hiccups. Fast forward 2.5 years, I have finally completed my studies and I am glad to ease the burden off my wife. It was eventful, enriching and empowering experience from which I was humbled and blessed to have.


We thank Rahayu, Guan Ying, and Halim for their contributions and having the courage to share their stories, and we wish them all the best in all their endeavours. Each and every student has their own unique story to tell, their personal narrative, and U-Insight is proud to celebrate this diversity in experience with you.

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Featured image credit: Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

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