top of page



Mr Chen's anecdotes.


Updated: Jan 15, 2023

Junior College or Polytechnic?

I still remember my O level results day.

I was seated in the hall, watching Fredrick Yeo (iykyk) declare the honour’s list. I was more disappointed that my classmate, whom I felt was far inferior to me, was listed while I wasn’t. But we know how the story ended eventually.

I scored 13 raw for L1R5. (Anyone of my current tutees wants to drop out now?) My classmates and teachers expected me to go to a JC, which I did and I already knew it was going to happen.

I’ve heard all the arguments.

"You’re going to a JC because you don’t know what you want to do in life!"
"JC kids are just learning new concepts without actually learning how to contribute to an economy!"
"Polytechnic is so easy and they are just lazy slackers!"
"Going to a JC would mean it would be easier for me to enter University!"

None of these arguments are solid and I am not one to take side. In my article, I will not present the statistics or dive into in-depth nitty-gritty technical differences between the two. (You can read them on The Straits Times). Ideally, my article would help you see the fundamental purpose of a polytechnic and how the landscape of it and surrounding it has changed. Some of the arguments listed above would also be addressed indirectly.

Junior College is highly similar to what you’ve been doing throughout your preceding 16 and 17 years of your academic life. You prepare for 1 major national exam within an allocated time. Ideally, you do well and you move on to the next academic institute before crossing the finishing line with a degree from a prestigious university. Content will get harder, no doubt, while the structure remains largely the same. (I might do a 2nd article for what to expect in JC)

7:20am Morning assembly in uniform singing the national anthem. Yay!

Hence, this article will largely focus on identifying the key differences between Polytechnics and Junior Colleges. More importantly, it will demonstrate and explain the evolution of Polytechnics as an institute and what that means for incoming students.

It's FunniestTutorAlive to the rescue again!

"Polytechnics were set up with the mission to train professionals to support the technological and economic development of Singapore. Catering to the wide range of abilities, aptitudes and interests of their students, the polytechnics seek to train students with relevant and specific skills for the workplace, to give Singapore a competitive edge. Today, polytechnic graduates are valued as practice-oriented and knowledgeable professionals, much sought after by industries."

It is incredibly important to understand the foundation of what Polytechnic is build upon first. Polytechnics’ main goal is to prepare their students for immediate entry into the economy. Polytechnic, therefore, structure their education model differently from that of a JC. Polytechnics offer a very interesting dynamic. It is a hybrid model taking specific elements from Universities while maintaining the traditional model of a conventional public school.

(Follow @vantage_tutor on instagram to get video updates whenever a new article is released)


Since the introduction of Polytechnics, 1 stark contrast between Polytechnics and JC has been largely documented. Polytechnics offers you a diploma. JC offers you an A-level certificate. In terms of employability, diploma is of higher standing compared to that of A levels. You are able to secure employment in a distinguished sector of the economy (engineering, finance etc). A levels certificate is also able to secure employment for you as well, albeit you are largely restricted to basic mundane admin duties. You will learn on the job and hopefully climb the corporate ladder from there.

However, in Polytechnics, unlike conventional public school, content taught to you are specific to the sectors related to your diploma. Your math that you learn will see you apply it in a specific context, such as in the Engineering field. However, math taught in JC, for example, is introduced as a broad concept while questions may see applications in different areas of expertise. Again, Polytechnics equip you with applicable skills to enter the sector such that you can contribute immediately.

Based on my experience teaching Polytechnic Engineering Math, the basic Math and Chemistry foundation modules are largely similar to that of a JC. For example, there are slight differences in Integration techniques where the integral substitution is not given in the question in Engineering Math. You will have to figure out the substitution on your own whereas in the A level syllabus, it is given in the question.

Fortunately, I was experienced with the old JC syllabus to identify the Integral Substitution.


A large portion of Polytechnic’s education model is centered on group work because you are required to complete a major task under a group dynamic. Every term there would be group projects and often, your group members are allocated. You will have to learn to cooperate and produce quality work even though you may not gel as a team.

1 Project Work in JC was bad enough.

This model follows that of the corporate world. Very often, you will be tasked to work with people who may not even be in your geographical location. You will need to account for everybody’s view, manage differences in perspective and finally develop a clear distinct direction for the group. After you have finally resolved all your differences, you allocate task according to each member's strengths and weaknesses in order to meet the deadline. It prepares you for the workforce. The reality of the corporate world.


Furthermore, unlike JC and Secondary School, you are no longer able to bank your chances of achieving a desirable grade on just one exam at the end of the year. Similar to Universities, Polytechnics have a cumulative score where the final score is the average of all your exams taken, assignments submitted and participation in class over the entire 3 year course. You need to perform consistently to attain a desirable cumulative score. Underachieving in one of your modules would leave you playing catch up for modules in subsequent semesters. Desirable cumulative score requires consistency.


Every school, on the most fundamental level, would always follow the structure of lecture followed by tutorials. You will spend a stipulated amount of time to master the subject at hand before your competency level is tested in a seated exam.

At the most basic level, Polytechnic is still a school. Polytechnics similar to that of JC, would still have classes. In other words, you will still have a fixed group of people you see on a daily basis in a semester. You will still attend lectures together and have assignments due, just like in Secondary School.

However, you would have heard your seniors or friends from Polytechnic brag about how they only have a 2hour lecture on a certain day. Even though they still have lecture-tutorial structure, the length of it may differ. Independent learning and group work is more prominent in a polytechnic setting. Hence, on the surface, it may seem they have more time and freedom. However, they are to exercise good time management (stop procrastinating) and use this non-mandated class time to work on projects or readings assigned to them. Once again, polytechnic trains you to be independent learners ready to join society as a professional.

"OMG! I don't have to eat lunch alone and feel self conscious about it?! WHEW!"

In addition, Polytechnic students are given more autonomy over their choices. You are no longer forced to conform to a standard attire. Some modules are allocated specific to your diploma, while electives are up to your interest and discretion. Furthermore, attendance for daily classes were not necessarily compulsory back then. (I had friends who signed attendance for one another when they were absent) And the best part - CCA is absolutely optional.

All in all, the underlying message in Polytechnic is this – we are training you to become working professionals.

You are not a school-going child anymore.


Because we are school going students who wear uniform to school and sing the national anthem every fucking morning. You can’t have your cake and eat it, you entitled Reddit-Snowflakes.

The evolution of Polytechnics and JCs

The aforementioned are the conventional differences between JC and Polytechnics. As we move forward with the times, Polytechnics have evolved. Quietly. The line separating JC and Polytechnics are no longer that clear.

In terms of the academic structure, Polytechnics have not changed significantly. Grading metric is still largely the same as from the beginning. Students are still given autonomy over decisions albeit attendance are marked more strictly. On the most basic level, the structure of a Polytechnic remains unchanged while the demographic of diploma-holders and goal of diploma graduates might have.

Currently, there is an increase in number of students opting for the Polytechnic route. Students are becoming more aware of the opportunities beyond the conventional JC route and how Polytechnics could offer the same opportunities although through a different approach. Furthermore, incoming students no longer see Polytechnic as the means to an end. Polytechnics are no longer perceived by students as their last academic stop anymore. As a result, there is more competition in Polytechnics, syllabus develops more rigour and content delivered becomes increasingly challenging.

Because you know... Singapore education system. Bell Curve. xD

In 2022, polytecnhic students can now dress like an adult while enjoying student fare too?!


Because now we have 6.

Pre-2010, Singapore only had 3 government funded universities. NUS, NTU, SMU.

These 3 universities offer courses that are largely academic based with an increasing exposure towards application, similar to that of Polytechnics, in order to prepare you to contribute to the economy, CPF and pay your taxes~!!1! However, with the emergence of SUTD, SIT and the conversion of SIM into SUSS, Singapore now has 6 government funded universities. The cost of the pursuit of a degree is now more affordable for the masses. Degree holders are increasingly becoming the norm in our workforce as we work towards developing our country’s only natural resource, manpower.

One of the ideas SUTD and SIT were founded upon was to allow Polytechnic students who seek to further develop themselves in courses that were not offered in University. (Physiotherapy etc). These 2 Universities are extensions of Polytechnics where application of skills and hands on learning remains the core of their pedagogy.

With an increase in supply of University spots, the bar to enter a University is lower. Naturally more students would be able to matriculate as an undergraduate. It is now easier to enter University, for both JC and Polytechnic students. In other words, JC no longer hold as big of an advantage in terms of entry into a local University.

You can downvote me but it's true. It's easier now.

In recent years, the end goal of enrolling in one of the local university as, both, a JC and Polytechnic graduate is becoming more viable. (*READ: EASY*) What distinguishes Polytechnic from JC is no longer entry into a local university or employment as an end goal. But rather, the pedagogy and learning methods that each institute offers to their students and whichever students feel best develops them.

NOTE: One of my former JC student told me that if you did not make the cut for JC 1 promotional exam, you can now transfer to a Polytechnic as a Year 2 instead of as a freshman. Readers feel free to verify for me. Thanks.

Is University necessarily your end goal?

In NUS, I had many friends who were from Polytechnics. They were scattered across all the different faculties, in different major. They shared with me that a significant amount of content were overlapping with what they had already learnt in their diploma course. Difficulty of the exam question do vary from that in their diploma, however, the concepts taught were largely the same.

Furthermore, most of my University friends who graduated with a diploma opted not to enroll for honours. Honours, or the 4th year in University, is where most of us were either sent for an internship or asked to find a mentor to work on a Final Year Project (FYP). Both of which are also available in a diploma courses offered in Polytechnics. Hence, many of them do not see the value of expending another few thousand dollars to repeat the same process in which they are already experienced and well-versed in.

There are a few who stayed for other reasons apart from securing a job. Some stayed because a degree with honours, based on statistics, secures you a higher starting salary and they stayed in hopes of that. While others, who already knew there would be overlapping content coming to University via diploma route, wanted to pursue the research route to begin with.

"I'm doing a PhD because I really want to learn more about the subject! Not because of prestige and a potentially higher salary job!"

Truth be told, many of us enter University for every other reason out there except for research. What many don’t realize is university is expensive and occasionally, not required. Ultimately, one needs to realize university education is an investment and therefore, your returns are to be worthwhile.

"But I want to maximize my chances of entering University!"

In Secondary School, even though I was in a Triple Science class, I could identify who was going to make it and who was going to fall short in life. Silently, I had a list of people in my mind whom I knew would go far academically and had that genuine intelligent. There were a few classmates whom we all expected to go to a JC but did not. While those whom we expected to enroll in a Polytechnic, went to a JC instead.

We all judge our classmates secretly... ADMIT IT!

Life has a funny way of doing things. I always knew the people who were academically inclined and could be stretched further would eventually cross path with me again in a local university, even when they enrolled in a Polytechnic. Indeed, I was right. (I always am.) Even the classmate who had a change of heart and decided to leave JC1 in March to enroll in Mass Comm @ SP, she made it to NUS as well. Whereas the classmates who entered a JC and struggled throughout, made it to a University, albeit overseas.

In this modern day and age, most of us would make it to a university. It is only a matter of which university we matriculate into. Local or overseas. Prestigious or less prestigious. Expensive or affordable. I don’t care what people around you told you. Don’t look too far ahead. Go with your gut feeling. Ultimately, you are going to walk the route you’ve chosen and it is you who lead your life. Take ownership and responsibility for your life.

It's your call.

425 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All



Hello! current poly student who left JC2. In order to qualify for the year 2 entry, you are required to have sat and completed A'levels. Those who leave in year 1 or anytime before A's need to enrol as a freshman

bottom of page