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Photo credit: YOUTHOPIA/AMANDA TAN

Studying in a Polytechnic isn’t any easier than in a Junior College

Before all you JC kids start bashing me, hear me out.

Amanda Tan
Amanda Tan

Skills include buying the same jeans in different colours.


Published: 11 January 2022, 11:23 AM

As Singaporeans, we were all born into the rat race and at 16, I found myself refusing to be consumed by it. 

After having spent years slogging away only to score mediocre grades, I felt like it was about time that I expanded my worldview instead of tying my self-worth to mere numbers on result slips.

In retaliation, I decided to drop out of junior college after a short-but-not-so-sweet three months. At the time, I thought I was so ballsy for making such a bold and life-changing decision and I was proud of it. It was a step many of my peers were too fearful to take and little did I know then, they were afraid for a good reason.

In retrospect, I was most certainly not prepared for what awaited me in months to come.

Without much imploring, I managed to convince my parents to let me drop out and enter a poly course of my choice. 

In fact, my mother was more than willing to sign my dropout form. Like most Singaporeans, she was under the impression that a poly education would be much more lax and carefree, and therefore, beneficial for my mental health.

I admit that I thought so too.

Academically, that might hold true rigour wise. In poly, we get a two month break after every semester, as compared to one week breaks after every term in JC. But as with any institution, studying in a poly comes with its own set of challenges, with a huge chunk of it stemming from dealing with people and difficult situations.

So to all the hopefuls considering entering a poly, here are some pointers I wished I had known as a 16-year-old:

Finding your crowd is a hit-or-miss

People in poly are so diverse, you might just feel worlds apart from some of them.

Maybe it’s because poly admissions are based on aptitude rather than merit, the pool of people you meet are really like rojak. You get people from all types of educational backgrounds, varying ages (and I dare say generations) as well as interests.

While all of you might have formed the cohort due to a common passion for that particular course of study, that might not necessarily mean the same for other hobbies. 

To illustrate, when I first came into poly, I assumed that I would be able to meet at least one person interested in hiking or cafe-hopping, activities which I thought were standard hobbies. Lo and behold, I could not find a single person who could relate to why I love spending weekend mornings trekking Bukit Timah Hill or the excitement I get when ordering a cup of $7 Iced Oat Latte.

As we were on such different wavelengths, it took a lot more effort to maintain a conversation with them and vice versa. In addition, the way we talked was also quite different so it took some time to get used to.

 

Finding a group of friends you can count on will definitely make your time in school more enjoyable. PHOTO CREDIT: INSTAGRAM/SINGAPOREPOLY

Consistency is the only sure-fire way to your 4.0

While I’ve never gotten a perfect GPA, based on my observations, if you keep up the hard work, you’ll eventually see the fruit of your labour.

As opposed to secondary school and junior college where mugging at the last minute might work, the same doesn’t apply to poly.

As poly adopts a cumulative GPA system, every single graded assignment will affect your ultimate result. A key tip would be to excel in individual tasks and assignments since for group projects, it’s hard to determine how well you’ll do (especially if you’re grouped with liabilities).

Besides getting good grades, constant effort will help hone the hard skills you learn in school. For me, it was things like photography, video editing and graphic designing.

However with things like this, it’s much easier said than done which is why succeeding in poly is so hard.

As the saying goes: “Nothing worth having comes easy.” Similarly, the road to a 4.0 GPA isn’t a smooth-sailing one.

At the start, everyone comes in overzealous, thinking they have what it takes to attain straight As.

But after a month or two, you’ll start to feel the strain and from then on, it’s the survival of the fittest.

The days of spoon-feeding are over

Cue the lack of concern from lecturers and distressing amount of freedom to do as you please.

Want to sleep in class? Go ahead. Or even better, just don’t show up. If you skip enough classes, the worst you’ll face is just a warning letter anyway and maybe not being able to graduate.

 

After having skipped so many classes, the school issued my parents a letter regarding my poor attendance. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/AMANDA TAN

 

In all seriousness, poly really pushes you to be accountable for your own actions, a huge jump from what you’d be used to in secondary school and even in junior college.

No one cares if you’re 16 or 26. The fact that you’re now in poly makes you equal to everyone else and that means no one will spoon-feed you.

People around you won’t question why you do what you do so you really need to get over your main character syndrome and learn how to handle yourself – something which requires not just self-discipline but also the drive to do well.

As someone who’d experienced a slump in my second academic year, I can safely say that this lack of support and hyper independence is the biggest threat students face.

Your fate is in your hands

Apart from your academics, you also have to be responsible for your own social life.

As CCAs aren’t mandatory in polys and classes aren’t at fixed timings, there’s little chance for you to build proper friendships. The only crowd you will constantly mix with are your classmates who might become your enemies at some point due to competition.

Hence, in order to make friends, you really need to put yourself out there, be it through signing up for school events or joining a CCA. Otherwise, there’s a high chance you’ll end up going straight home after lectures are over.

Basically, you can end up being a “poly phantom” and no one will bat an eye. You’re really on your own out there. So to get the best out of your poly life, you need to force yourself to step out of your comfort zone.

As an introvert, I understand the struggle which is why I never did anything and look where it got me – writing an article about why I didn’t enjoy my poly life (if there even was a life to begin with).

 

I had joined a CCA in my first year but after a few months, I started to get lazy to attend training sessions and eventually left. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/AMANDA TAN

Some people are really just that nasty

The common occurrence of classmates manipulating and exploiting each other would be a good case in point.

Coming from a creative course, it’s almost impossible not to notice when someone is exceptionally skilled at something. Then comes the urge of wanting to poach them for your group projects – specifically those with a higher weightage – so that they’ll help to pull up your GPA.

Overtime, relationships will become strained as we all start to take note of who’s good at what and who would just be an unwanted burden.

However, instead of seeing this as an unfavourable situation, you can change your perspective and use it as motivation to become a more well-rounded person.

Depending on yourself is probably the best way to stay safe in these situations.

It took me three long years to get to where I am now, mostly because I spent a good amount of time lamenting and regretting dropping out of junior college. Nonetheless, I’m thankful I managed to figure these things out just in time and it’s all owing to the fact that I hardened through experience. 

Yeah sure, “quitters never win” but at least I can say that I’ve learnt how to navigate difficult situations and difficult people, something many others graduate without knowing.

So to all those considering studying in a poly, while it’s not a bad choice, it certainly won’t be an easy one. 


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