How do I decide if I should go to a JC or a polytechnic?

22 Nov 2021

Straits Times, 22 Nov 2021, How do I decide if I should go to a JC or a polytechnic?
Students who have not chosen where to further their studies after completing their O levels will have to decide by mid-January, when the next Joint Admissions Exercise (JAE) takes place.

It helps to know one's interests and learning style, and what line one hopes to work in. This would help determine whether a student's next step should be to enter a junior college (JC) or attend a polytechnic.

Principals of post-secondary institutions share tips on what to consider.

1  How do I decide if I am more suited for a JC or polytechnic?
JCs and polytechnics cater to different learning dispositions.

The JC curriculum is more academically oriented, with a range of subjects that emphasise analytical and evaluative skills.

On the other hand, polytechnics offer a more practice-oriented type of learning, with courses focused on building industry-relevant skills which aim to prepare students for specific careers.

Principals say students who enrol in polytechnics often have a clear preference for specific industry sectors or career paths, and are keen to acquire skills and knowledge in those areas.

Mr Yeo Li Pheow, principal of Republic Polytechnic (RP), suggested that students ask themselves if they enjoy solving industry problems as part of their learning process.

"At the polytechnics, students will acquire work-ready skills and competencies through subjects intended to prepare them for work and further studies," he said.

Ms Anita Kuan, deputy principal of Temasek Polytechnic (TP), added that some diploma courses operate on a continuous assessment mode with no examinations. Every set of results from six semesters will count towards a final grade point average or GPA.

"This means students must put in consistent effort throughout the three years, compared with preparing for one major exam," she said, referring to the A-level examination JC students take.

To discover their values, career interests and learning styles, Yishun Innova JC principal Michael de Silva suggested students explore The Know Yourself Profiling Tools in the MySkillsFuture Student Portal (

Students can also attend virtual open houses and speak to their Education and Career Guidance counsellors, teachers, parents or seniors who have gone through these pathways, he added.

"Regardless of which pathway students take, as long as they stay resilient, adaptable and ready to learn throughout their lives, there will be progression opportunities available," said Mr de Silva.

2 How do I choose the right polytechnic route and course?
Identify courses by first looking at a cluster that fits your interests and strengths, then delve into each polytechnic's offerings in that cluster, said Ms Jeanne Liew, principal of Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP).

On the other hand, if you are interested in an industry but still unsure about what to specialise in, polytechnics offer common entry programmes (CEP) in various domains such as business, engineering or IT.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) has a Find Your Dream Course workshop during its open house in January, which it has been running for the past 11 years. This helps students discover their interests and the courses that suit them, said NP's deputy principal and registrar Mah Wee Beng.

The polytechnics will be holding open houses from Jan 6 to 8. They are adopting a hybrid format for the first time, so students can explore choices online or find out more by booking an appointment to visit the campuses.

Ms Regina Lim, assistant director of the student services department at Singapore Polytechnic (SP), encouraged students to look beyond course names and job titles, and to consider challenges that they are interested in solving.

Taking this Challenge mindset approach can help students identify their purpose and, eventually, career of choice, she said.

Students can research companies that are resolving these challenges and find out more about the employees who work in these companies and what they studied, and apply to these areas of study themselves.

J.P. Michel's Tedx Talk on helping youth find purpose using the Challenge mindset is available online.

3 Should the subject combinations offered by a JC be a consideration when choosing schools?
Subject combination selection is an important consideration when entering JC because it is one of the factors determining placement in a university course of choice.

Dr Hang Kim Hoo, principal of Jurong Pioneer JC, advised students to find out the prerequisites to the university course they are interested in and select a suitable subject combination in JC.

Yishun Innova JC's Mr de Silva added that the various subject combinations allow students to develop specific interests, strengths and aptitudes.

To provide flexibility for students to offer subjects at different levels of depth and breadth, the JCs and Millennia Institute have a variety of subjects at H1, H2 and H3 levels, and different subject combinations.

4 Do the personalities of students matter when choosing a course?
Having a particular personality does not determine one's suitability or ability to do well for a course, said Mr Yeo, principal of RP.

"I believe students of all types of personalities can be developed professionally to build up the necessary competencies and skills required by future employers," he said.

Mr Mah, deputy principal and registrar of NP, suggested that students follow their passion and aspirations.

"For instance, if a student is highly empathetic and passionate about building a better community, he or she can consider courses that can make an impact on society. These include community development, nursing, early childhood development and education, and arts business management," he said.

"If you are naturally gregarious and extroverted, you may enjoy and do well in courses like hospitality and tourism management, and communications and media management," said Ms Kuan, deputy principal of TP,

But personality is not the only factor for success, she said.

"The more you enjoy your course, the more likely you are to do well and be happy in the career of your choice for the longer term.

"Personality is only one consideration. Success factors include attributes like discipline, grit, courage and resilience," she said.

5 Can a poly student choose not to specialise immediately or to do an even deeper dive in a field of study?
There are increasingly more common entry programmes (CEPs) in polytechnics, where students are introduced to fundamental subjects in the first semester or year, after which they can make a more informed decision on their areas of specialisation.

These programmes cater to students who may be interested in a range of diploma courses within an industry cluster, but might not be able to decide on a specific course.

For instance, NYP has programmes in business, engineering and IT.

Some polytechnics have introduced multi-disciplinary options for their students.

NP students can now take a minor subject from a different discipline under a pilot programme, to expand their knowledge base and widen their job prospects.

Some polytechnics have courses on inter-disciplinary learning, for example, business and engineering, or sciences and humanities.

"These enhancements are in response to the rapid changes in technology, the environment and the economy. As educators, we are preparing students for future jobs that may not yet exist today," said Ms Kuan.

On the other hand, there are also pathways for students who have a clearer idea of what they want to specialise in.

Polytechnics are seeing a trend of students applying for a diploma programme through the Early Admissions Exercise.

This aptitude-based admissions exercise allows students to apply for and receive conditional offers for admission to polytechnics before they obtain their final grades from their respective final examinations.

RP's Mr Yeo said these students often show a strong interest and inclination for a specific diploma programme and are keen to secure a place in their course of interest early.

Selected students in some diploma courses can also take some university modules that count towards their graduation requirements.

For instance, students in SP's School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering course may be offered modules in the National University of Singapore or the Singapore University of Technology and Design, Ms Lim said.

"Such programmes give students opportunities to experience university life, take on industry projects through attachments to companies and government agencies, as well as engage in national and international competitions in lieu of traditional modules," she said.