In the book “David & Goliath”, Malcolm Gladwell wrote about a student by name of Caroline Sacks. She had been interested in Science all along and did very well in high school. When she chose the Ivy League Brown University over her back-up choice of University of Maryland, that was when she struggled with her study at Brown University. She finally gave up her dream of a STEM (Science, Technology and Maths programs) student and moved into the arts. The Ivy League university was not suitable for her. She was like a Little Fish in a Big Pond. There are too many smart individuals strong in the subject competing with her. Caroline could be better off in her second choice university, where she can be a Big Fish in a Little Pond and this comes without a psychological disadvantage one faces in the Ivy League school.
Choosing an appropriate school is therefore important. Parents and kids tend to go for the best schools with strong academic performances. Is this really wise? It depends on the psychological and intellectual make-up of the kid and the on-going additional support he is going to get while in the school.
Take my case. I was a double mathematics and double sciences student in my secondary school. I got 4 distinctions in all four subjects in “O” Level. I took a leap of faith and chose NJC and pursue Pure Mathematics, Applied Mathematics and Physics at “A” Level. NJC was the first JC in Singapore and during my time Hwa Chong JC was just starting up.
Let me say that the competition in NJC was very keen. I was like a Little Fish in a Big Pond. I struggled on my own without any support. Pride did not serve me well as I did not sought help from the tutors. So what happened? I turned to Accountancy in the university, giving up my dream of becoming an engineer.
I knew that choosing NJC was a tough decision. I came in without my usual friends from my secondary school days. Cliques were formed around former secondary schools. It was not easy to break into these cliques and their support mechanism.
Don’t get me wrong. I am still proud of NJC. It had nurtured me to be independent under these trying circumstances. I think my educational journey might be different had I gone on to a different post-secondary school.
In summary, choosing a top-ranked school may not be for everyone. Think carefully when choosing a school. Would you rather be a Little Fish in a Big Pond or a Big Fish in a Little Pond?