From JC to Poly: How dropping out of JC changed my life for the better

CELEST TEO reminisces on her experience dropping out of junior college (JC) in favour of a polytechnic education.



Celest Teo

Hype Issue #56

Published on
January 13, 2023

“JC or Poly?” Many secondary school students would be familiar with this question, especially in the year of their O-Level examinations. For the longest time, Internet forums, such as the student-run r/SGExams community on Reddit, have been flooded with discussions on post-secondary tertiary education in Singapore, with many discussion threads weighing the pros and cons of each choice.

For many students, deciding whether to further their education in a JC or polytechnic may be a difficult decision, and it is one that I remember having to make back when I was 16. Unlike most other students, I got to experience both JC and polytechnic, and got a first-hand glimpse into the unique educational pathways provided by both institution types. 

Here’s my experience transferring from JC to a polytechnic, and why my decision to drop out of JC ultimately became the best decision of my life to date.

My experience in JC

I initially decided on the JC route as I was unsure of what I wanted to do in the future. My secondary school teachers advised me that going to JC would grant me two more years to decide on a career path. Given my ability to score relatively well in O-Level subjects despite almost always studying at the last minute, I felt somewhat confident in being able to make it through JC. In 2019, I got accepted into the JC of my choice. 

I decided to study one of the most common A-Level combinations — H2 Biology, H2 Chemistry, H2 Math and H1 Economics — a choice I made so I would be granted the most academic options in a university. I went for the Science stream even though I took combined science for O-Levels and spent most of my secondary school life struggling with maths.

Soon, my overconfidence in my abilities began to backfire. Right after the four-day orientation ended, I was thrown straight into school days that lasted nine hours,piles of lecture and tutorial notes that seemed only to grow. New topics would be taught non-stop and quickly – I found myself rapidly falling behind. None of the subjects made any sense to me due to the heightened level of difficulty as compared to the O-Levels, and no matter how long I stared at my lecture notes, my brain seemed unable to absorb anything on the pages.

My hectic JC schedule left me with little free time, especially since I would have my Co-Curricular Activity (CCA) until late at night on Wednesdays and Fridays. Photo by Celest Teo.

My lack of interest in science, maths and economics made it even harder for me to motivate myself to study or seek help in those topics. With every day that passed, the workload piled up more and more. Before I knew it, I was drowning in complex subjects that I did not understand or have the aptitude for.

This year in JC took a huge toll on my mental health. Not only was I completely lost in every one of my subjects, I also had no friends that I could seek help from or confide in. I felt alone everyday, being forced to learn things that I did not enjoy or understand, and having nobody that I could talk to.

The majority of my JC homework looked the same: Red crosses everywhere and “see me”s or “redo”s on the front page. Photo by Celest Teo.

This caused me to become even more miserable and unmotivated, and I found myself pushing away anyone who attempted to talk to me. I didn’t seek consults from my lecturers as I felt too hopeless, and I started questioning the point of even coming to school. I felt utterly helpless knowing that nothing interested me, and soon found myself crying on a weekly basis in classes and in my CCA sessions

I inevitably failed almost all my subjects, scoring a U grade — the lowest attainable grade — in all three of my H2 subjects for my year-end exams. I knew that I had several choices ahead of me: I could retake  my J1 year and attempt to learn everything again, switch over to the Arts stream and study humanities subjects instead, or drop out altogether.

Deciding to make the switch

Being aware that my mental health was at its all time low, I took the liberty of booking an appointment with the school’s counsellor and shared my problems with her. The counsellor then urged me to talk to the school’s Education and Career Guidance (ECG) counsellor to get a better understanding of what I wanted to do in the future.

When I met with the ECG counsellor, I got to deeply explore my own passions and interests through her questions and probing. After being asked to list down some potential careers that I would be interested in pursuing, I came to the realisation that many of my chosen careers — such as writing, graphic design and journalism — were almost all media related.

Prior to this, studying media had never been a consideration of mine, but after consulting the ECG counsellor, I started to seriously think about possibly pursuing it. I read up on the various media courses at the different Polytechnics and was particularly interested in Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP)’s Mass Communication course. 

Despite that, I still felt unsure of switching from JC to Polytechnic as I had assumed that once you picked a tertiary institution, you had to stick to it until graduation. I wanted to ascertain if Mass Communication was something that I really wanted by messaging mutual friends in the course to ask questions and by going down to the campus to take a look during NP’s Open House.

Soon, I felt resolute in my decision to switch to studying Mass Communication in NP, and at the end of 2019, I found myself signing the documents to withdraw from JC. 

In Jan 2020, I applied for NP’s Mass Communication course via the Joint Admissions Exercise (JAE) along with the batch of fresh O-Level graduates, just like I had done when I applied for JC the year before. In February, I got the news that I had been looking forward to: I had been accepted.

My experience in Polytechnic

As I had joined the 2020 batch of Year 1 students, much of my initial experience with Polytechnic life was unfortunately online due to the emergence of the pandemic. However, I was still able to experience the vast difference between JC and Polytechnic education.

For starters, the number of class hours each week in Mass Communication was significantly less than in JC. Most days, I would only have one or two classes, and there were even weekdays in which there were no lessons at all. 

I had initially been quite self-conscious of the fact that I would be a year older than most of my classmates, but that worry quickly faded away as I realised that it did not matter much at all. Many of my classmates were of different ages as they had come from studying at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) or the Polytechnic Foundation Programme (PFP), and despite the varying ages, we still managed to get along well and work together.

My classmates finally got to meet in person after months of Home-Based Learning in 2020. Photo by Celest Teo.

Of course, being able to study something that I was both interested in and relatively good at meant that I struggled less in keeping up with lectures and tutorials. My less cluttered school timetable gave me enough time to complete my assignments and participate in leisure activities. 

Though the Mass Communication course was assignment heavy, I still found it to be lighter in workload as compared to JC, where there would be daily homework assigned on top of full-day classes.

Being granted a second chance through my acceptance into Polytechnic led me to push myself in performing well for assignments, and my GPA reflected that too. I even made it on to the Director’s List with my grades, a far cry from back when I was consistently at the bottom of my cohort in JC.

I also got to better explore my interests by joining a CCA, and expanded on my leadership abilities through becoming a member of the Executive Committee. In Year 2, I became a Ngee Ann Polytechnic scholarship recipient with my grades and CCA records.

Becoming a scholarship recipient was something that I never thought possible, especially after how badly I did in JC. Photo by Celest Teo.

However, studying in Polytechnic was no walk in the park either, as I found myself struggling with assignments sometimes. Still, I realised that the more independent, project-based nature of Polytechnic education was much more suited to my tastes compared to the rigorous academic style of JC.

Additionally, my three years of Polytechnic education have granted me plenty of industry insights that have better prepared me for the working world. I even got to experience a five month-long internship at a food media company that helped me realise my dream career. 

The biggest lessons I have learnt

My biggest takeaway from transferring from JC to Polytechnic has been that there is no fixed route in life. In the past, I was taught that every decision made in my educational foray, from my choice of subject combination in Secondary 3 to the school or course that I went to post-O-Levels, would permanently alter the course of my life. However, my switch from JC to polytechnic allowed me to understand that there are other pathways available and the notion that our journeys are fixed is simply a false perception.

I have heard of schoolmates who left JC after just two months to switch to a polytechnic, and I even have friends who switched from one course to another within NP itself. Some even dropped out of polytechnic entirely to pursue further studies in JC, at overseas universities or at local arts schools. 

While my experience in polytechnic has been vastly better than what I experienced in JC, that may not be the case for everyone. It mainly comes down to each individual’s interests, talents, and personalities. Some may thrive better with the more structured academic curriculums that JC provides, while others may enjoy the independence that Polytechnic offers.

If you’re in a dilemma about what to do next, remember that a single choice isn’t going to make or break your life. 

If you’re unsure of which path to take next, there’s always the option of trying it out and making a switch if it doesn’t work for you. 

After all, the best way to perfect a recipe is to undergo lots of trial and error. 

And to season to taste.