View Full Version : liberal arts colleges and singaporean employers =/

03-22-2008, 12:40 PM
is it true that the typical singaporean employer thinks poorly of liberal arts degrees, and that many of them have never even heard of the likes of Amherst, Williams and Swathmore? I think LACs offer great undergraduate education, but i'm just worried about whether or not i can find a job when i return. LACs are being truly shortchanged here - they're way better than any singaporean university in terms of the educational experience, but singaporeans know only brand name.

03-22-2008, 09:44 PM
agree that lac are slightly less well known here. But it also depends on the type of employers you are going for. If SME's, firms used to hiring local then they will not know. But if you are applying for global firms, govt positions I believe many know. We do screening for mgmt trainees for many top MNCs and 1 stat board, we do include in top LAC in our list of good universities. So not to worry too much about this.

04-28-2008, 01:30 AM
We do screening for mgmt trainees for many top MNCs and 1 stat board, we do include in top LAC in our list of good universities. So not to worry too much about this.

Possible to disclose exactly how many top LACs are there on the list? Just out of curiosity.

05-22-2008, 01:08 PM
Hi ortho: dershing is on vacation so i'd thought i reply to your question. Can't quite say which LAC on on our list but you can get a very good hint from this list.. http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/usnews/edu/college/rankings/brief/t1libartco_brief.php

Bottomline, we do recognise the value of an education in good LACs. But unfortunately, many SMEs simply don't know any better. For that matter, many larger campanies may not be that far off from the SMEs either. Sometimes it can really come down to the individual recruiter's knowledge base.

05-23-2008, 07:26 AM
Oh I was just wondering how far down on that list would it be safe to go?
Mount Holyoke? Barnard?

05-26-2008, 03:35 PM
Oh I was just wondering how far down on that list would it be safe to go?
Mount Holyoke? Barnard?

You do know that there is no definite answer to your question right? :) No recruiter will be able to tell you they strictly only look at resumes from a certain list of schools or rankings. It's the overall package you offer, some shortcomings can be mitigated by certain strengths, etc.

Here is my personal advice given that I am a pragmatic person. :) Go to the best school you can, given your financial and academic standing. And as a rule of thumb, a top 20 school is considered most desirable - you just ask this question to yourself, would you be impressed with a school that is ranked 45th? or 35th? How about #25? Yes? Most people will draw the line at 20+ placings. So a recruiter is no different. Rarely will you have a recruiter that is super strict about the schools they hire from. At the end, they are hiring the person...

09-15-2008, 12:52 PM
Taken from a MOE report:

Features of Liberal Arts Colleges

Focus on undergraduate teaching
14. Liberal arts colleges (LACs) do not offer graduate programmes. Faculty and
resources are focused on undergraduate teaching and learning. This focus provides
students with many opportunities not available to undergraduates in a larger
comprehensive university. For example, undergraduate students in an LAC have the
opportunity to participate in high-level research that would only be available to
postgraduate students in a comprehensive university.

Developing critical thinking and love for learning
15. Liberal arts college students acquire a good foundation in Natural Sciences,
Mathematics, Humanities and Social Sciences through a broad-based education.
They are encouraged to think critically and to synthesise knowledge. This is further
reinforced through the low student-to-faculty ratio. The close interaction between
students and their professors, on- and off-campus and within a small college
environment, instils in students a love for learning and knowledge.

16. Students are also given time and space to decide on their area of
specialisation. They are often able to design their own courses if these are lacking in
the LAC’s offerings. With this nurturing and grounding, a high proportion of LAC
graduates proceed to top graduate schools to pursue postgraduate degrees, e.g. in
medicine and law.

Networks and collaborations
17. Due to their small enrolments, LACs collaborate with other institutions to
share physical as well as academic resources. Potential partners include other
LACs as well as larger universities. One example of such a network of partners is
the Claremont Consortium, of which Pomona College, Harvey Mudd College and
Claremont McKenna College are members. Each member in the Consortium has its
own Board, management and finances, and over time would develop its own unique
character and strengths. For example, Harvey Mudd College specialises in science
and engineering, Pomona College focuses more on broad-based education, while
Claremont McKenna College focuses on business and management courses. The
close proximity of the member institutions enables cross-registration of courses by
students across the member institutions. This arrangement also allows students to
experience learning in their own small college setting, while living amongst a larger
community of students. The extent of collaboration across different Consortiums
varies. For example, the member institutions of the Five College Consortium (of
which Amherst College is a member) mainly share library resources.

18. LACs also forge joint degree programmes with larger universities. For
example, Williams College offers joint degree programmes with Columbia University,
offering students the option to graduate within five years with two bachelor degrees –
one in liberal arts and one in another discipline, such as engineering.


Value Proposition of Introducing Liberal Arts Education in Singapore
7. Many Singaporeans misunderstand the concept of a liberal arts college (LAC).
Often, they mistake an LAC to be an institution that offers only the Humanities, or
even Fine and Performing Art degrees only. A few individuals who have studied in
US LACs have attempted to clarify this misunderstanding on online forums. They
believe that there is value in introducing a broad-based model of education that
offers a wide range of disciplines from the Sciences to the Arts, and “education for
education’s sake”. However, these individuals also acknowledged that increasing
the mindshare of liberal arts education among Singaporeans would be a major

10-12-2008, 02:14 AM
hey thanks for posting it, it's pretty interesting. i'm afraid, though, that even if LACs are eventually accepted and appreciated by Singaporeans, they will continue to go by rankings. many great and "different" schools aren't favoured by such rankings.

for some unknown but "life-changing" LACs, check this out:


03-08-2009, 12:33 AM
I agree that liberal arts colleges (LAC) are definitely not very well known to many Singaporean employers, and for that matter to most other employers around the world ><

But as the teaching pedagogy evolves in Singapore to become one that is less based on rote-learning and more focused on skills and knowledge synthesis, I think more and more people are appreciating the merits of a LAC education. In fact, as far as I know, there are now more scholars heading for LACs.

For your information, our Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong studied at Williams College, one of the top LACs. Wang Lee Hom also studied there :D

03-08-2009, 12:34 AM
GCT was a scholar though. He went there for postgrad

09-05-2009, 11:25 AM
"People all think that in a bad economy, they need skills for a job," said Christopher Nelson, president of St. John's. "What they don't realize is that a liberal arts education will give them skills for life, and that will get them a job."


06-25-2010, 10:18 AM
From what I read in ST and also heard from my US friends, Liberal Arts is suffering from bad publicity and image issues now. This is due to many colleges jumping onto the wagon to offer "liberal arts" and even more students jumping into many feel good marketing resulting a drop in overall student quality and education content.

So please choose your colleges carefully if you want to do liberal arts. Not all are good, and sadly, most who carry a liberal arts degree now are viewed unfavorably by employers.

06-25-2010, 03:32 PM
There's an article in the Straits Times about two months ago about a Liberal Arts degree.

Liberal arts is for pragmatists (http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_518800.html)

08-11-2010, 09:42 AM
Straits Times: Why a liberal arts education is useful
By Kishore Mahbubani

ONE of the most stupid decisions I have made in my life also turned out to be one of the wisest decisions of my life. What was my most stupid decision? It was to give up studying economics and sociology at the National University of Singapore (NUS), repeat a year and start studying philosophy as a single subject. Friends and family thought I was committing an act of total folly by giving up one year of income and graduating a year later, and studying an impractical and 'useless' subject.

So why was it wise? Simple! We are moving into an era of great uncertainty. Frankly, no one has a clue about the nature of the new world order which is emerging. Experts are clueless. No one predicted the Lehman Brothers crisis of 2008. Many more such crises are forthcoming because we have never experienced the kinds of historical changes we are experiencing now.

And how does one prepare for uncertainty? The only way to do so is to take nothing for granted. We must learn to question every assumption in our minds. How does one acquire the facility to do this? The answer is a Western liberal arts education.


Though I specialised only in philo-sophy, I imbibed the liberal arts culture of challenging and questioning assumptions. This habit of questioning assumptions did not stop when I graduated from NUS in 1971. Indeed, it has intensified over the years. And this habit of questioning gives me the confidence to predict with certainty that we will be encountering uncertainty on many fronts.


So how do we deal with these multiple waves of uncertainty which will inevitably come to our shores? We should learn a lesson or two from the surfers of physical waves. They train their bodies to immediately seize and take advantage of a new wave and try to ride it before it swamps them. In Singapore, we should all learn to become mental surfers, ready to ride the next wave of uncertainty before it swamps us.

The art of mental surfing can be best learnt through a liberal arts education. Singaporean parents are congenitally conditioned to push their children to learn something 'useful', like engineering or accounting. Yes, these are worthwhile professions - my son is studying civil engineering. At the same time, Singaporean parents should not despair if their children opt for a 'useless' liberal arts education - as my two other children have.

Such an education may actually provide the most useful education young Singaporeans can get.

04-01-2011, 11:23 AM
I posted something similar in another thread, but since this is a sticky, I'll repeat a little of it. I attended a top LAC as well as a top University and who spent many years in the U.S. I think there is a general misunderstanding of what LAC actually means. There is a standalone LAC like Swarthmore or a LAC within a University, like Harvard College is within Harvard University or Yale College within Yale University. It can be even more complicated as Columbia University has two colleges, a LAC for women called Barnard and Columbia College, which is mixed. Its easier to get into Barnard College than Columbia College. Barnard Graduates are graduates from Columbia University. Harvard University used to have a similar women's college called Radcliffe, but it merged with Harvard College some time ago. Dartmouth College is an Ivy League institution, and is much more selective than Duke University, but still calls itself a college.

If the TS's question was about "liberal arts degrees" rather than standalone LACs, then the Ivies such as Harvard, Yale etc grant liberal arts degree, typically an A.B. rather than B.A. (In fact, after I graduated and started work for a Stat Board, they actually made me get an official latin translation!) Anyway, TS's point should whether Singapore employers think more highly of Ivy League institutions compared to top liberal arts colleges. In the U.S., bulge bracket Investment banks do recruit at Amherst, Williams and Swarthmore and they would probably consider them less reputable than Harvard, Yale and Princeton, but equal to Penn, Dartmouth and better than Cornell (those 3 standalone LACs are far more selective than Cornell). Since Investment Banks recruit globally, it wouldn't make much difference with their Singapore office, but certainly local GLCs, banks and other employers here would have heard more about Cornell or Berkeley than the top standalone LACs. However, its really only certain professions that require top degrees - bulge bracket investment banks and management consulting - so getting a degree from a top LAC shouldn't make that much of a difference with most other jobs. Plus, you will probably interview better after going overseas.

A much larger proportion of Americans go to graduate school compared to Singaporeans and in the US both law and medicine are postgraduate, while business is mainly postgraduate. There are a few good undergraduate business schools like Wharton, but those headed for top investment banks typically go to a top LAC and then do a MBA at to business schools like Harvard or Stanford. Businesses find such students more rounded and more interesting than those with a undergraduate business degree.The top medical schools generally take in graduates of top LACs (standalone and integrated) who did a pre-med program while they were at the LAC. They occasionally take in some engineers too.

04-10-2011, 12:16 PM
The problem is that Singapore is filled with hiring managers who think like her...

Is it worth having a liberal arts college here?

THE deal is set for the Yale University and the National University of Singapore to set up a liberal arts college here ('Yale-NUS College gets faculty, alumni backing'; April 1).

But the question I want to pose is: Is it worth it?

The college will be offering a degree in liberal arts, which is not exactly a commercially viable qualification.

The fact is, to live and succeed in a competitive country like Singapore, there is more pressure on students such as myself to get a degree that will help us get a stable job, rather than something we would like to do.

The unfortunate truth is that students go to university for the degree, and not for the experience.

Also, the liberal arts 'scene' in Singapore is virtually non-existent. Students who want to actually apply what they learn in the programme will have to migrate to a country with more liberal arts opportunities, something conservative Singapore cannot provide.

Therefore, having a course that binds Western and Eastern cultures becomes moot.

Also, why not go straight to Yale, or any other university in a liberal arts savvy foreign country to study since they will have to migrate anyway? How useful will the students find this programme?

Dhaneesha Ratankumar Chugani (Miss)


04-10-2011, 04:33 PM
The problem is that Singapore is filled with hiring managers who think like her...


Not all, such as those who will ultimately employ these graduates, think the same way as her.


04-16-2011, 08:47 PM
concrete business skills tend to expire in five years or so as technology and organizations change. History and philosophy, on the other hand, provide the kind of contextual knowledge and reasoning skills that are indispensable for business students.


07-09-2011, 12:15 PM
Nothing is ever conclusive vis a vis education-career.

Some industries acquire highly specialized workers to meet operational projects or research. Others internally develop workers to handle both core competencies as well as organizational management.

The former comprises of a bulk of focused-degrees like law, engineering, science, etc whilst the latter may refer to LAC graduates who pursued focused-degrees for postgraduate studies.

It depends on self, ultimately. There's no need to procrastinate about our local employers' mindset or hiring practices. Just do what you love and bring it to success.

10-09-2011, 08:07 PM
An undergraduate's major doesn't factor into hiring decisions at Morgan Stanley, says Keisha Smith, global head of recruiting for the investment bank. Between 60% and 65% of the company's undergraduate hires have a business-related major, while most of the rest carry liberal-arts degrees, she says.

from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903285704576556553753330210.html