I still remember I was in my 2nd year of National Service when I applied for a scholarship, that will pay for my university, give me an allowance, and also guarantee me a job when I finally graduate from university.

After a couple of tests and interviews, I was informed that I was selected. I was ecstatic. The idea of not needing my parents to support me through university, the sense of knowing that I”ll have a job once I graduate. That job is of course a bond that Ill have to serve for 3 years as part of the scholarship’s agreement.

Fast forward to my last year in university:

  • I had part-timed at a number of jobs during my university holidays (and even during school term), and one of these companies also happened to offer me a full time job. It was a dream job for me, just about everything I could ask for in a job and career at that point in time.
  • I had also been actively working on a number of projects, and one of the more notable ones would be contributing to CyanogenMod then.
  • Of course, I still had my school work and was working on my Final Year Project (FYP). I also had a high chance of getting a First Class Honours if I got a good grade for my FYP. Unfortunately, I wasn’t all that keen on the FYP itself as I worked on it.
  • Around the same time, I was going through some interviews for the potential company that I was assigned to for my scholarship. I realized that I did not want to work in that company during those interviews (for a couple of reasons; culture, lack of job roles that I’m interested in, etc.)

All of the above factors got me thinking if I really wanted to carry on with my scholarship, and working at a company that I don’t want to. I tried to ask for a transfer to another company (the scholarship provider has an umbrella of companies that it’s working with), but it was rejected. I was left with either continuing with the scholarship, or terminating it so I can work at the company I actually wanted.

At the same time, I made the decision to drop my FYP. I just couldn’t carry on with it anymore. I still remember almost all of my friends challenging me on my decision, some even felt that it was wrong of me to give up a potential First Class Honours. I went ahead with it anyway. Giving it up meant I could take up some modules I’m actually interested in. Even better, I had enough buffer to afford a few bad grades and still maintain a Second Upper, so things weren’t so bad after all.

Terminating the scholarship was one of the toughest decisions I’ve had to made. It got me into a debt that’s close to $80,000 SGD (actual school fees, allowance, plus a substantial % on top of them as liquidated damages for breaking the scholarship bond), right out of university, before I even started working. Weeks after I made my decision, I still wondered if it was the right thing to do. However, with each passing month, I became increasingly sure I had made the right decision.

Sure, I was still in debt, but I was consistently paying it off every month. More importantly, I was happy at the new workplace I’m working at. Am I still in debt? Yes, but I’m almost done with it :).

There are definitely some scholarships which have more advantages, such as those provided by some of the universities that don’t require a bond to be served. There are also some of us who may not regret taking up their scholarships like I did, and who till today are looking forward to or already happily working at the company. I know of companies who constantly engage their scholars, mine wasn’t one of them.

My point is, the reality is no one knows what life will present you with at any moment in time, that we just have to consistently make what we think are the right choices. To commit to a scholarship and a company a few years in advance may not always be the smartest idea as things are ever-changing, especially if you don’t need the financial support. I can’t count the number of times I did something thinking it was really clever, only to look back on it months later and ask myself what I was thinking. Heck, the history of this blog is proof of that. The sad, emotional posts that I’ve made is proof of that. I look back on them asking myself what I was thinking when I posted what I did :). Either way, I’m sure that was a necessary part for my growth.

To those of you thinking of applying a scholarship, think carefully. Don’t let the security of a potential job (especially in Singapore) blind you from making the right decision. After all, all that matters is now.

Update: I wrote a follow-up (sort of) post here.

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