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Five things to consider when deciding between Polytechnic and Junior College

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

After the 4 or 5 year structured programme in Secondary School, many students and parents may feel bewildered when it comes to pre-university education, especially since there are so many pathways available in today’s education landscape. Students may have certain preconceived notions about education in the Junior Colleges and Polytechnics, and may be at a loss as to how to make this critical decision. This is especially since enrolling in particular courses or reading specific subjects will impact one’s course of study in university, and even one’s occupation in the workforce later on. To help you decide between Polytechnic or Junior College, here are five factors you ought to consider:


Five things to consider when deciding between Polytechnic and Junior College:


1. Workload

Junior College is notorious for its hectic pace of life and immense workload. Given the 2-year timeline that Junior Colleges operate on, students are hard-pressed to master a tremendous amount of content that will be tested at the GCE A Levels. Throw CCAs, leadership positions, competitions, learning journeys and out-of-school enrichment into the mix, it is no wonder that JC students are so worn out trying to juggle competing commitments all the time.


Conversely, polytechnic life may appear less intense since the entire course is drawn out over 3 years, and timetables may feature more free periods or even free days when there are no lessons at all. However, all that free time is not meant for fun and games; it should be judiciously spent on weighted assessments and assignments – all of which would contribute in some small way to the student’s final Cumulative Grade Point Average (GPA).


2. Courses or Subjects

Junior Colleges offer a broad range of academic subjects, allowing students to “try out” different disciplines that may appeal to them before finally deciding on a particular specialisation in university. Depending on the various subject combinations offered at the respective Junior Colleges, students can mix and match subjects across disciplines based on their interests. The Ministry of Education (MOE) has progressively rolled out interesting subjects at varying levels of difficulty at the Junior College level, such as Knowledge & Inquiry, China Studies in English/Chinese, Computing, English Language and Linguistics, Theatre Studies and Drama, Art, and Music to name a few. As such, the JC system will benefit students who are unsure about what they want to do in university and more broadly, their careers too.


On the other hand, Polytechnics offer an extensive range of specialised courses that hone both academic and real-world practical skills. Interesting courses, such as Landscape Design and Horticulture, Automation and Mechatronic Systems, Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics to name a few, along with unconventional pedagogies (such as Republic Polytechnic’s Problem-based Learning approach) might pique your interest. Typically more practice-oriented, polytechnic courses prepare the student for employment in the particular sector upon graduation, often incorporating various assessments modes like industrial attachments and internships, real-world case studies, project work and group discussions, to simulate realistic conditions of the workplace. As such, the polytechnics will appeal to students who are clear on their end goal, allowing them to focus on experiences and training that hone their chosen specialisation(s).


3. Cost

Given the different emphasis in JC and polytechnic education, the costs also differ greatly. Junior Colleges charge $6/month for school fees; even after accounting for various miscellaneous fees that can come up to $13.50/month, a JC student only pays $200 – $250 annually. Do note that if the student opts to enrol in an independent Junior College, school fees (excluding miscellaneous fees) are in the range of $300 – $400/month, which comes up to $3600 – $4800 annually.


However, polytechnic course fees are way more expensive, costing $2900 a year, as at Academic Year 2019/2020, after subsidies and excluding supplementary fees (which cost about $80 – $100 annually and are meant to defray expenses for facilities, insurance, examinations etc). This rate only applies to Singaporean citizens; Singapore Permanent Residents and International students pay even more. Over the course of 3 years, Singaporean students can expect to pay around $9000. To support lower income students financially, the polytechnics, along with MOE and other community partners, have offered several government-funded bursaries, such as the MOE Bursary and the CDC/CCC Bursary, and loans to defray the course fees.


4. Chances of University Admissions

In terms of getting into university, Junior College will be the preferred choice given that up to 75% of the JC cohort end up in university after the GCE A Levels. Contrastingly, only about 20% of all polytechnic students enrol in university after obtaining their diploma, although MOE has increasingly put in place schemes to facilitate Polytechnic students’ enrolment into university (eg: Work Study degree programmes, Earn and Learn programmes etc).

It might also be instructive to compare the indicative grade profiles of polytechnic and JC students enrolling in the various university courses. According to data provided by the local universities, polytechnic students generally need to achieve a minimum GPA of 3.5/4.0 to be in the 10th percentile (ie: the bottom 10% of students enrolling in that course of study) for most courses in the Academic Year 2018/19. However, JC students can secure admission to less popular university courses with A level results of BBC/B or even BCC/B, where these grades rank JC students in the 10th percentile for those courses. Put differently, this means that JC students have a higher chance of securing admission into university as they only need to obtain average grades for the A levels, whereas polytechnic students need to have extremely strong academic credentials to be admitted into the same course. Naturally, such grade profile comparisons do not apply for extremely popular courses like Law, Medicine, Pharmacy, Dentistry, Accountancy etc, given that even JC students in the 10th percentile need to score (close to) straight As at the A Levels.


5. Module Exemptions

Given the polytechnics’ desire to make their students employable upon graduation, many classes offered in the polytechnics may have overlaps with modules offered in universities, making them eligible for module exemptions. Depending on the student’s specialisation at university, polytechnic students may be granted module exemptions either in their core curriculum (eg: a business management diploma holder may be exempted from Introduction to Marketing/Business Analytics in university) or their exposure and general education curriculum (ie: exempted from degree requirements of exposure beyond the chosen specialisation). As such, students intending to enrol in polytechnics should have a broad idea of what they intend to specialise in university and start thinking about the classes they want to take in the polytechnic, which can confer module exemptions subsequently.

Unfortunately for JC students, subjects offered at the GCE A Levels are heavily academic and scholastic in nature and typically do not count towards fulfilling any degree requirements, making them ineligible for module exemptions at the university level. However, for a small handful of JC students who do read subjects at the H3 level, local universities may grant one or two module exemptions for those subjects given their academic rigour and content overlaps with university modules. Do take note that a student needs to attain extremely strong results in their JC1 year to quality to read H3 subjects, and universities will impose a minimum grade requirement for H3 subjects before these subjects are considered for module exemptions.


A pre-university education is critical in helping you uncover your strengths and passions, positioning you to pursue your academic interests and secure your first job after graduation. Regardless whether you choose Junior College or Polytechnic, what’s most important is to take ownership of your decisions and be open to experiences that will enrich your learning; only then will you enjoy and make the best use of your time in pre-university!

Watch out for our next post on some steps you can take to make your transition to JC/Polytechnic as smooth and seamless as possible!


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