Options for poorer non-elite students


Children from rich background have it easy. Many doctors come from rich families. Rich kids go to elite schools. If they work sufficiently hard, they can almost guarantee themselves a good life – get good high-paying jobs, inherit parents’ fortune, and the “virtuous” cycle repeats.

I’ve said before that it takes luck and a lot more hard work for the poorer students to catch up.

But what are the options? Suppose they are not smart and lucky enough to get into an elite school. What should they do?

These are my suggestions:

  • Go to a polytechnic for your tertiary education. Less stress there, and you learn practical skills.
  • Work for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Yes, I know the standard advice from HR experts – one must try to get into an MNC, because your resume will look very nice. My argument here is that you can learn very different things in SMEs. Read on.
  • Learn as much as you can about the business in the company you’re working for. If possible, observe closely how the entire company works – sales, operations, logistics, human resource, accounting, finance, suppliers, vendors, etc. Because it’s an SME, it should not be too hard to know about almost everything about the business.
  • Mix with like-minded people in the company, people who are as hardworking, smart and ambitious as you are.
  • Save up.
  • Together with your like-minded friends, start your own business. Compete with your ex-bosses. (Now, if you think this is unethical, let me say that this is only as unethical as joining a competitor. If you think that is also unethical, I have nothing else to say.)

This is how many “tow-kays” got started.

If you had chosen the MNC path, do you think it’s as easy to start a business? What you would learn in MNCs are corporate things that won’t help you start a business. Your experience in an SME should help make the learning curve much less steep.

You can’t start an MNC, but you can definitely start an SME.

Work hard, work smart, and with a bit of luck maybe you’d be a millionaire in your 30s – as rich as an investment banker.


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  1. Personally, I feel that it doesn’t really matter if one does not come from an ‘elite’ primary school. so long one works hard, one (rich or not) can make it into an ‘elite’ secondary school, and from there if one works sufficiently hard, one can make it to top JCs, and subsequently get into a good university. I have many friends in an ‘elite’ secondary school who come from a ‘non-elite’ primary school. Moreover, they do not come from a rich family and require financial assistance, yet they excel just as well as the others from rich families. My point is, money is not that important as what it seems, to excel academically. If there is a need to, why not apply for a scholarship or a bursary to get into a university!
    And also, being in an ‘elite’ primary school may result in the child being complacent.
    From what I’ve seen, those who excel are those that work hard, not whether they are rich or not.

  2. yy, I agree with you that if one works hard enough, one can indeed achieve a lot in our meritocratic system.

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