Seek out alumni when looking at varsity options

One critical element to consider when looking for a suitable university is the alumni ("Which university? Which course of study?"; Monday).

Former students of the university play a crucial role in influencing the decisions of prospective students. This is especially so when parents are also alumni of the university.

In Singapore, alumni from the National University of Singapore's (NUS) medicine and law faculties have done so well that parents will not hesitate to encourage their children to take up the courses there versus competing offers from overseas universities.

My elder daughter, who did law at NUS, was effusive in her praise of the university's adjunct lecturers who are alumni and had returned to teach some of the modules.

Relatives who are alumni also did not hesitate to recommend that my daughter join their alma mater.

When it comes to university rankings, alumni again play a crucial role. Rankings that measure only the strength of a university's research programme, without taking into consideration how well faculty members are able to teach, have no relevance to the prospective student.

At the end of the day, a university's primary reason for existing is to teach. When alumni find that lecturers are highly regarded academics but are unable to teach or inspire, they will discourage their children and other relatives from joining their alma mater. And word gets around.

So, besides talking to professors and current students, prospective students would do well to seek out alumni through the alumni association and speak to them.

When my younger daughter was deciding on her university, besides checking out rankings and the strength of the faculty, she sought out the alumni.

She was touched by the passion she felt when talking to the alumni.

They spoke about the life-transforming experience of their undergraduate days. Many returned to do their postgraduate degrees. One even said that given the opportunity, he would like to be buried on the university grounds.

Liu Fook Thim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2016, with the headline 'Seek out alumni when looking at varsity options'. Print Edition | Subscribe