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by Su Ching Lim

Something as simple as a name has the power to change a person’s impression of you. The prestige that comes with being associated with name universities has drawn many a student to come knocking on its gates. However, when attaining access to these name schools becomes the end in itself problems brew.

Titles and certificates don't tell the whole story. What drives you?  (Image: ©Florinmihai)

Titles and certificates don’t tell the whole story. What drives you? (Image: ©Florinmihai)

It might be a case of exhaustion, but the number of students who lose interest and direction upon entering the university is a constant concern for name schools. Some would assume that no matter how the four years is spent, buoyed by the name, the job markets would simply accept these graduates first, and have them trained later. In the international arena however, competition is turning up a notch. The name might not be enough – education, experience, skills, and more importantly – the right motivation, have to be lined up if one is to distinguish oneself.

Despite its achievements, Todai’s academic-focused curriculum might only indirectly equip its undergraduates with the skills for a world outside academia or the jobs of the big four professions (Law, Medicine, Economics and Engineering). Without an active desire to search beyond the bare minimum, there are few requirements in place to stop students from graduating with just an academic transcript. An issue of motivation also comes to play. Drawn by the prestige of the name, not all law students are eager to enter the trade, and medical students might not be as dedicated to saving lives as one would like to think.

Students, who have been solely focused on scoring high marks on examination papers, have to now decide for themselves how those marks translate in reality. Better now than later, they will have to ask themselves, what they want to pursue next. There is little doubt some students will come up with blanks.

This brings us to the next point. What IS next? If the quality of the students it attracts is high in the first place, the success of students exiting a school is usually a weak indicator of the schools’ performance in educating its students. A better measurement of performance would be the improvement between the day a student enters the school and when he or she leaves it.

Adding value to one’s education, and making the best out of it is crucial. In that sense of the word, PEAK students have the work cut out for us. Without front-runners to mark the trail, one inevitably has to get creative in exploring the activities to pursue beyond the classroom – seeking out internships, attending talks, taking on exchange or summer programmes, travelling and meeting new contacts- whatever it takes. The extra effort is not always easy, but for many of us, it is necessary to make an education worth the weight of the name.

The small classroom size is an opportunity to be heard and even demand for improvement. The fact that we are here, rather than in universities of English-speaking countries, is but the first step of a wish to carve a new education path that will suit us. Believing that hard work will solve everything is insufficient. Making the best of one’s opportunities requires careful planning and quite a lot of gall to pull through. Between deciding which topics to pursue or how the school breaks should be utilised, there is little space of complacency. Even without a clear direction, moving forward, one step at a time remains preferable.

The ability to pursue opportunities is a skill that does not come naturally. However, what we can do is to at least try to avoid the path of least resistance, be a little reckless and attempt to make university life more difficult. With more thought put into it, one’s time at the university is the best chance to prepare oneself for the next stage in life. Passing the screening and getting into a name university is not an end in itself, but simply a tool among others to move forward in probably the only examination that matters, life. Things end when life ends, and in a country known for having the longest life expectancy, this is just the start of one, hopefully crazy, examination.

Su Ching is a 2nd-year PEAK student at the University of Tokyo. 

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