How studying at a polytechnic helped me find myself

Although I really wanted to go to junior college, I eventually realised poly was a way better fit for me.

Shannon Kuan

Weird talents include playing the violin, but with a ukulele and a clothes hanger.

Published: 6 May 2021, 5:48 PM

At 16, I wanted nothing more than to study in junior college after completing my O-Levels. My friends and I even had a shared dream school in mind, and I couldn’t wait to enter my next stage of life with them.

However, when the time came to collect our results, all my close friends were called to stand on stage for attaining less than 10 points, but I was left sitting below. It then dawned on me that my dream was no longer in reach.


I vividly remember crying upon opening my O-Levels results slip as I honestly expected myself to do better. PHOTO CREDIT: JUAN PABLO SERRANO ARENAS VIA PEXELS


At that moment, I couldn’t pinpoint what exactly I was upset about. Because I didn’t do as well as I hoped? Because I no longer could go to the JC I wanted? Or because my friends were all up there cheering themselves on, whereas I sat alone with the grades I wished I worked harder for?

While I originally wanted to attend JC as it was one less academic year, considered “easier” to enter university through, and seemed to be the “norm” for most students; my O-Levels aggregate score had me considering the polytechnic path.

I ended up studying media and communications in Singapore Polytechnic (SP), and after three years, am graduating with absolutely zero regrets.

Better understanding my skill sets and interests

I always dreamt of being a veterinarian or a singer. But realistically, I knew that the medical sector was not right for me — no matter how much I loved animals — and my musical talents were not outstanding enough to shine in an already struggling arts scene.

While I wasn’t fully sure about what career path to pursue in the future, I knew where my less idealistic strengths and interests lay: writing. Since young, I would come up with my own fictional stories and pen them all down. I even wrote fanfiction online!

Of course, I couldn’t write fictional stories forever, and was glad that studying mass communication exposed me to different styles of journalistic writing, and even helped me find a new interest in film and media after fiddling around with cameras and editing software for film projects.


For a group project, I worked as a cameraperson and editor for a video about a teenage mother in Singapore, learning a lot through the process. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTUBE/BOLD NETWORK SG


My time in poly helped me realise that I wanted to write and share stories that would impact people. And as mass communication covered many different sectors such as design, film, journalism, and advertising, I soon also realised that certain sectors of the media industry were not for me.

While I was getting ‘A’s for my journalism, storytelling and writing modules, I was struggling the most with writing reports for branding and advertising modules. I also found them the most stressful to deal with.


Giving presentations was something I was better at. Meanwhile, researching and collating data felt like a chore to me and I always seemed to get confused. PHOTO CREDIT: AIRFOCUS VIA UNSPLASH


Despite mass communication being a rather broad course, studying in poly helped me understand where my skill sets stood out most, and what industries I was interested in pursuing.

Gaining confidence in myself

One major change from entering poly after secondary school was the sudden independence and freedom. 

I had to pick a new outfit for school every day and could do things I originally couldn’t do: dyeing my hair, wearing makeup or any accessories I wanted, and most importantly — not having to wear strictly white sneakers to school.

One thing that grew the most through my years in poly was my confidence. Wearing the clothes and makeup I liked, and finding my style helped me come out of my shell.


Being in poly let me (left) experiment with different fashion styles and hair colours, knowing that the people around me wouldn’t judge. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/SHANNON KUAN


Not only did my change in outer appearance boost my self-esteem, the exposure to giving numerous presentations boosted my confidence in public speaking. 

While I still do tremble and stutter at times, going through multiple presentations in front of my whole class and lectures helped me grow accustomed to speaking in front of a crowd; especially preparing me for future interviews.

Finding a style of studying that fit me better

Another factor I grew to appreciate was the lack of exams. Every course is different, but thankfully mine focused on projects, presentations and assignments. Most modules didn’t test on how well you could memorise things. Instead, I could prepare and work at my own pace, which was way more manageable, personally.

As poly is a lot more specialised, I was learning about things I was genuinely interested in, which spurred me to focus and do well. I knew that if I had ended up in JC, I would not have done as well academically.

With everything that poly exposed me to, I realised that it would make it easier to adapt to university culture. As my JC friends complained about the culture shock they experienced entering uni, I’m glad I’m already accustomed to giving presentations, dealing with difficult groupmates, and citing references in different styles for bibliographies.


Instead of feeling FOMO about my JC friends being in university now, I treat it as an opportunity to gain insights and tips from them who will soon be my “seniors”. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/SHANNON KUAN


Although I was originally dead set on the typical post-secondary school choice of going to JC, I now look back at the memory of seeing my O-Level grades for the first time somewhat fondly.

I went from wanting to go into JC due to the pressure to conform to those around me, to being independent and finding myself in poly. I eventually realised that not everyone has to follow the same path, and one thing may not necessarily work for everyone.

Poly has helped me grow in ways I never expected. From learning more about myself and finding comfort in the community around me, I wouldn’t change anything even if given the chance.

I will soon be graduating from SP with a diploma in media and communications, and am excited to apply everything I’ve learnt from being in poly in the near future.

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