Choosing between a junior college and polytechnic: Advice from seniors

With the 'O' Level results set to be released in less than a week from now (on 12 January 2018), the number one question lingering in the minds of those who sat for the examinations last year would probably be their choice of institution post secondary school: junior college or polytechnic? Numerous factors must certainly be considered in tandem - academic aptitude, future aspirations, the individual's emotional and social temperament among others. A significant number of folks who have been there, seen that, done that descended upon Reddit Singapore to narrate their personal experiences, and dispense advice on how to go about making a properly informed decision. While sharing is indeed caring, one should also bear in mind no single perspective can account for a wholesome prediction of things to come. That being said, regardless the final choice made, hard work is still very much required for achieving eventual success.

By CatAct:

"If you feel inclined to settle for a polytechnic, do make sure that it's because you are pursuing a course you enjoy. I know it's hard, especially given that many students do not meaningfully explore their interests when they are only 16 years of age but you should try and REALLY spend time thinking about such stuff anyway. Do not pay attention to those who tell you to take up a particular course because it can make you rich or for other superficial reasons-- it's hard to keep your GPA up in a discipline you do not find interesting.

And speaking of GPA, not everyone thrives under the GPA system. Take me for example... I have always been a last minute student. I always liked to do my own shit outside, be it finding an interesting gig or working on a personal project. Not to brag, I am also decently good at taking tests, so that means I wouldn't study until a few months before the actual examination takes place (I attempted my 'O' Levels with only 3 months of studying, and fared pretty all right). I am hardly unique in this regard, however if you're like myself, perhaps you should consider studying at a JC. Everything turned out quite okay for me in the end, but point is, attending a JC would have been much easier.

If you are considering the JC route, keep in mind that it might be your big break even if you didn't do very well for the 'O' Levels (I'm talking about a L1R5 score of perhaps 14~19; I'm not terribly familiar with the JC cutoff points so don't let my ballpark figure offend you). I know people who did horribly for their PSLE and the 'O' Levels, yet go on to shine at the 'A' Levels after having attended one of the less prestigious junior colleges. Once you have attained your 'A' Levels, no one cares about how crappy your 'O' Level and PSLE scores previously were. At least for the aforementioned people, JC was their big break. If you somewhat surmise a late bloomer possibly lurks within the deep recesses of your being, going to a JC might just do wonders for you.

JC is definitely the way to go if you are seeking a place in our 3 most prestigious public universities (namely NUS, NTU and SMU) -- it's A LOT harder for polytechnic students to gain entry into one of these and it's an undeniable fact.

In a nutshell, go to a polytechnic only if you are very, very certain about what you wish to do ie participating in largely project-based learning and having a desire to gain relevant working experience (my internship has given me quite a thorough understanding of business processes truth be told). On the other hand, if you want to become a doctor / lawyer / some other highly-paid professional in the future, JC > university is definitely the route you want to take. The tried and tested game plan of keeping your head down, study hard and achieve good results > graduate from a reputable university > secure a well-paying job may not be quite effective in other parts of the world anymore, but in Singapore today, it still works pretty well.

I shall leave you with these words of caution: entry into polytechnics is often taken too lightly by prospective students. Too many of my friends who did well for their 'O' Levels and decided to attend a polytechnic course ended up doing not so hot, and graduated with shitty transcripts. You will find the 'A' Levels more aligned with the PSLE and 'O' Levels style-wise. The 'A' Levels is much more forgiving of mistakes, at least if you're looking to gain entry into a university. Our polytechnics try to encourage experimenting with different subjects by mandating that every student read subjects outside of his/her core discipline (my polytechnic required that I take one such module every term), but the thing is they don't do a very good job of catching you if you fall.

Say for example you're browsing through a list of available subjects, and one catches your eye: German 101. You've always wanted to try learning a different language, but never had the chance till now. So you decided to take it, but unfortunately realize midway that you are absolute shite at languages. You end up with a C-, and that same C- will haunt and mar your transcript forever. Nope, not the slightest chance of eliminating that blemish whatsoever.

DO NOT think of a polytechnic education as an easier alternative to a JC one. Don't expect to waltz in and earn a perfect 4.0 GPA simply because you think it is academically less rigorous than the 'A' Levels -- it is rife with many other problems I can't even begin to properly articulate here: office politics and project teammates from hell are but a few of the problems you may encounter. So choose wisely!

By bluecheeseplate:

"Currently enrolled in a polytechnic, and by the end of my first semester, I learnt one huge lesson: never procrastinate. Ever. At least, not to the extent I did back when I was studying in secondary school wahaha. My course is project intensive, and deadlines loom every week- meaning that if I procrastinate on one task, all the others are pushed way back on my schedule, and because results here are cumulative, my first semester GPA was disastrous no thanks to all my late submissions.

That was a nasty wake up call, and I have since gotten my GPA up to a nicer number which doesn't hurt my eyes when I look at it.

Oh and dress codes aren't that strict. Barely enforced, actually. Unless you're from courses which use laboratories frequently, you can literally roll in with slippers and shorts and no one will bat an eyelid, not even the lecturers."

By Isaacium:

"I previously studied at a JC from 2015-16. These are just some of my personal "regrets" which definitely wont apply to everyone.

Firstly, I wished I was more sociable because in all honesty even though I graduated rather recently, I did not really have any memorable moments during my 2 years of education there. Most of my days were basically spent attending lectures and tutorials. Rinse and repeat.

I also wished I had put in more effort for my humanities subjects lol. To be frank I had little interest to begin with (oh yes I loved my science subjects way more) and as such didn't really work as hard on them as I should have. Most of my energies were focused on Biology, Chemistry and Maths even though I should have spent a great deal more time on my Economics and General Paper (GP); to that I can only say I enjoyed the science subjects much more haha. At the end of the day, the 'A' Levels reward students who demonstrate competency across all subjects undertaken way more than those who are exceptional in one or two yet utterly mediocre in others (remember scoring both 70% and 100% gives you exactly the same grade).

Lastly, I kinda wished I had engaged in consultations with my teachers for Economics and GP; but because I didn't have close friends from my class, I thought I wasn't that deserving of their time since I'd typically show up alone instead of being part of a group (which makes such sessions rather inefficient to say the least). Add to that I've never attended private tuition lessons ever so I probably won't even know what to do or ask during an actual consultation."

By blackslipper:

"Didn't have any close seniors/ relatives who attended junior colleges previously, so couldn't really get any advice when I was making my decision back then. But I still went ahead.


1. No particular course in a specific polytechnic really caught my fancy or interest.

2. I thought that I could "slave" through things in a junior college.

3. I supposedly wanted "more time" to deliberate over my future university course and choice of career.

After graduating, I felt that I wasn't really slaving through, in fact I had quite a lot of fun. Made the effort to join activities that took me out of my comfort zone. Learned quite a lot about myself and got better at time management too (after all I studied at a JC which required an hour of commuting from home every single day). And yes, after 2 years, I remained undecided with regards to choosing a course in university. Well I guess "more time" to think things over isn't really helpful if you don't act sufficiently in the end. That said, you can participate in activities to discover your strengths and weaknesses, perhaps even extrapolate things in the meanwhile to include a preliminary consideration of possible careers to embark upon in the future. Point is, I feel there is a tendency to potentially try and "match" our desirable personal qualities with the careers available out there. So do give some thought to joining extra non-academic activities in school so that you can get to know yourself better."

By mantism:

"Tips from a lad currently studying in a polytechnic:

• Friends and relationships. The rotational nature of polytechnic classes means that most of the time, a good number of classmates you encounter will never be with you for more than a few months. Even the groups formed during the initial big and hyped orientation, cohesion, bonding etc camps do not tend to last long. I'm not saying don't bother making friends with others since that's not a bad thing (besides connections are always great to have), but don't commit too much at the get go.

• Project work. Due to the social nature of most module projects, it's quite common for interactions between classmates to come across 'fake' and materialistic, mercenary even. If you are good at your work, expect people to start trying to leech off you. If you aren't, learn to (figuratively) start sucking dick, but don't be an asshole who tries overly hard.

• Work/study culture. A polytechnic education rewards constant effort and diligence. It punishes people who only start bucking up when they realize that the next test/project constitutes say a whopping 40% of the entire module. But if you go all-out the entire time, stress will hit you hard. Take your breaks seriously and recuperate between tests and projects if you know that you aren't too academically inclined to breeze through everything. Identify what you are bad at early on so you know what to work at before the score deficits really start to hurt. It's better to put in a consistently decent amount of effort along the way than to invest 120% at only certain points in time.

• School facilities. They are pretty much free (I think) and tend to be high-quality. So why not use them?

• CCAs, societies and committees only if you have time. I have witnessed quite a few people self-destruct because they tried to juggle CCAs, society work, school and relationships at all the same time. Know your limits and don't overstretch yourself just because you feel like you are expected to do so."

By tryingmydarnest:

"Reaching the end of my university education now, so JC happened a long while ago.

What I wish I had known ... JC was a huge jump from the 'O' Levels. I enrolled in a JC simply because I didn't know what I wanted to do back then and hence not wanting to commit to a polytechnic course; also I was naive in thinking that JC was merely a level up in difficulty from the 'O' Levels. One of the worst assumptions I ever made.

In JC, I wished I had known what I wanted and be more focused in working towards that. I wasted too much time trying out everything (mostly on senseless commitments) instead of spending more time on my academic endeavors. I didn't do very well for my 'A' Levels, it was really by sheer damn luck I made it into my choice of tertiary institution. It sounds very catch-22: to know what I want I had to try out lots of stuff, yet without trying so many stuff I won't know what I want. Heh.

Oh by the way your tutors are there to help you. They are more than happy to spend time on 1-1 consultations - just be nice, polite and come prepared for them."

Compiled and edited for clarity by the Czar (Site Founder)

Dated 7 January 2018


Impending 'O' Levels results release: how to stay cool and calm

DO NOT go to a JC just because your L1R5 happens to fit the bill.

How to truly survive 2 years of Junior College