Career Guide

Dear Careernomers: Is it too late for me to get my diploma?

We have a panel of experts on career management, HR and office issues who will address your questions weekly. We refer to them as Careernomers Ė experts in career matters who will help you in your career journey. So if you have burning questions, send them to

This week, Bani Zainal, senior vice-president at Malakoff and Claudia Cadena, director, strategic human capital management, president and group CEOís office at SapuraKencana answer Ahmadís question.

Dear Careernomers,

Iím a university dropout. At 24, I should at least have had a diploma by now, but I have nothing. I studied architecture, but even though I dropped out, I believe that I didnít choose the wrong course.

I still hope to get into a polytechnic or private college to pursue my architectural dream because I really have a very deep passion for architecture and design. I have many ideas that I would like to see take shape. I believe I can achieve that with architecture. I also believe that someday I can make something significant and remarkable in the design field.

At the same time, however, I wonder whether I am in the right path, as Iím already 24 and I will be 30 by the time I get my first degree.

Is it too late to get a diploma? Is this a sign to just give up architecture and go into the working world with just a SPM certificate? I know many people who are successful but who donít have a degree. I would really appreciate your help. Warm regards,


Dear Ahmad,

As with every problem, there are always solutions waiting to be explored, so allow me to share my views on how you should approach your situation.

It is encouraging to see that you know what you are passionate about. Many people at your age, or even older individuals, are still trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives and their careers, so you have the advantage of having clarity on this matter. Take advantage of this situation, and move forward in charting how to achieve your dreams.

If what you really want is to work within the architecture field, donít let the perception that you are too old to pursue your studies prevent you from moving forward. I suggest you do the following:

See what options are available

Research and understand what courses, certifications, diplomas and degrees are available within the field of architecture.

This will help you to understand what will be the best way to obtain the knowledge/skills required in order for you to fulfill your professional aspirations.

A degree is not the only alternative. A diploma or a certification may also enable you to contribute and have a fulfilling professional career.

So, donít think that the only way to advance professionally is by having a degree. Donít limit your options. Consider all alternatives, and then choose the one that is most suitable for you.

Find out how much time it will take

It is important to consider how much time you can devote to your learning. Are you prepared to do this full-time? Or do you need to do it part-time? Have you considered distance learning as an option?

Understanding how much time you have at hand, will also enable you to know how many months/years it will take you to obtain the desired qualification.

If you are financially stable and are able to afford a full time education, this will probably enable you to finish the course in the shortest period of time. However, if you are unable to study full-time, then consider part-time or distance learning. The outcomes will be the same, but it will take you slightly longer to complete the selected course. Determine how you will finance your studies

Time is not the only variable that you need to consider in making your decision. Understanding how you will pay for your studies is also important. Can you afford to complete your studies on your own? Do you need support?

If you need support, then understand what options are available. Find out if there are study loans or scholarships offered by the institutions that you are considering. Find out if you can apply for a study loan from any financial institution.

You may have savings. Ascertain how much of those savings you can use to pay for your studies. It is important to plan in advance, so that you know and understand how you will be able to pay for the entire course. Donít leave it to chance, do your maths!

Understand how your studies will impact your life

It is important to be aware of the fact that studying will demand a considerable amount of time, effort and dedication. Whichever option you choose will demand that you devote time to do your course work, meet your classmates for discussions/assignments and study for your exams.

This means that you will need to make sacrifices in other aspects of your life. You may need to slow down your social activities, you may have not enough time to spend with your family, you may need to leave work early to go for classes. There are trade-offs, therefore understand what they are, and discuss this matter with your loved ones and your working colleagues/boss. You need their support and understanding.

Make a decision

Once you have reviewed all available alternatives and are clear about what are the ones that suit you best, wait no longer! Make a decision and move forward. Donít be afraid of being ďoldĒ. There is no age limit for learning and wanting to improve.

You need to be prepared to make decisions that may not be what you want or expect.

If after considering all matters you conclude that you will not be able to study in the near future, then you will need to focus your efforts in finding a job that enables you to develop and contribute in the areas you are passionate about. You may need to start with a lower level job that only requires SPM certification.

It doesnít mean that you canít work in an architecture firm because you donít have a degree. You may not be an architect, but you may find other jobs that will enable you to work within the environment of an architecture firm, learn and develop. Who knows, maybe with time, you may be able to pursue your education later in life.

I wish you all the best,

Claudia Cadena

Dear Ahmad,

It is never too late when it comes to learning as it is a fascinating journey which is limited only by your imagination.

You are fortunate I would say as you are at the tender age of 24. You have your whole life ahead of you and you can afford to pursue your dreams and aspirations without much constraints.

I would like to quote a famous phrase: ďIf you do not make mistakes you will never learnĒ. I would urge you to learn and understand why you dropped out of university when you are so passionate about the course you were undertaking. You did not share the reasons for this in your question to us.

If you feel ready and willing at this juncture, go ahead and pursue a programme which will lead you to becoming an architect. Do not ever sell you self short by accepting defeat and live with only your SPM certificate. If you do not do it now, you will find out that there is no better chance than today at this age.

These are some tips I would like to share, which I believe are useful and relevant to the youth of today:

Know what you want

One of the key success behaviours of any living creature is the sense of purpose. When you are constantly aware of what you want, you will maintain focus and will always channel your attention and effort towards the cause.

Remaining and maintaining focus is a key ingredient to achieving success. This is relevant to your case in that you know you are passionate about design and architectural work. Hence if that is what you want, you should pursue it wholeheartedly.

Possess ambition

While many possess the right academic background and even strong competencies for a particular profession, many do not have the drive and ambition to take it all the way.

Ambition is more often than not inherent, where you either have it or you do not.

For one, to be ambitious requires hard work because achieve ambitions takes sheer perseverance and dedication. An ambition will remain one until you work towards it. It does not come to you on a silver platter.

Perception also has it that being ambitious is being selfish and brute. Hence, many restrain their sense of ambition so that toes are not stepped on.

In your case, I see that you possess ambition and I sense your drive and motivation to embark into the field of design and architecture.

Donít let any obstacles get in your way. Remain positive and focused towards what you want.

Only by staying that way will you realise your ambition to one day own your own architectural firm and design one of the most admired and relished structures in the country.


Bani Zainal

The opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of