Three poly graduates who did not enter university immediately share alternative paths they took

Those who did not attend university shared that they managed to get a different perspective of what to pursue in life.

Shannon Kuan

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

Published: 6 May 2022, 12:27 PM

Many Polytechnic students may be struggling with the same question as they graduate – what now?

The conventional route in Singapore’s education system means that most will apply for courses from the six local universities hoping for the best. An anxious wait begins after and many will find themselves constantly refreshing their email inboxes and spam folder — just in case — for any hint of a reply from the universities.

The traditional route in the Singapore education system has always been to attend university and earn a degree as soon as possible. Some Singaporeans may even view taking a gap year as a risky decision regardless of the reason.

However, three youths who did not go down the conventional path of attending a local university right after graduation are here to share that it truly isn’t the end of the world if you fail to make it or choose not to go to a local university this year.

Forced to take a gap year, but grateful for the experiences gained through it

Faustina Christine, 21, was certain of her chances at getting into one of National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) or Singapore Management University (SMU) in 2021.

With a GPA of around 3.5, she had high hopes whilst applying for humanities in NUS, public policy and global affairs in NTU, and business management in SMU. The GPA cut-off for NTU public policy was 3.50, 3.63 for NUS arts and social sciences, and 3.66 then for SMU business management. 

But she was rejected within two to three months.


Despite successfully getting online interviews for NTU and SMU, Faustina was sadly rejected after. PHOTO CREDIT: RON LACH VIA PEXELS


“I was quite shocked when I got rejected from all three universities, because I really thought that I could get into at least one, considering my GPA wasn’t too bad. A part of me wants to partially blame it on COVID-19, as the travel restrictions meant there was more demand for local university spots,” she admitted.

Lacking the financial means to afford the tuition fees at private universities, Faustina was forced to take a gap year and work instead. 

As she was still on her internship contract but it was set to end soon, Faustina knew she had to find another job.

“I knew that I needed to do something with my year, but I didn’t want to do a full-time thing as I wanted to try different job roles during my gap year,” she stated.

During her gap year, Faustina worked on a freelance basis and interned at two different companies. She then applied to OCBC’s editorial team, where she has been working for almost seven months. 

When university applications opened in 2022, Faustina only applied for courses in NTU, with a double major in linguistics and English literature as her first choice. 

“Last year’s rejections made me put things into perspective. Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you want to, but what’s important is to recalibrate and look towards other possibilities.

“I had to reassess my career paths and what I wanted to do in the future, so I picked courses that I could get into where the GPA cut-off was much lower than mine, so it could guarantee entry. I chose completely different options from what I picked the first time round for NTU and didn’t try for NUS or SMU again because the GPA cut-off was much higher than my GPA,” she shared.


Adamant on attending university instead of working immediately, Faustina desperately wants a degree. PHOTO CREDIT: EKRULILA VIA PEXELS


She wishes to experience the university culture with her peers and does not wish to enter the working world so soon after already getting a taste of it for a year. 

All things considered, Faustina felt glad that she didn’t get into university the first time around. The gap year she didn’t expect to take opened her to new experiences and taught her to appreciate the different seasons in life – something she might not have picked up in school. 

She said: “I always thought that I would be the freelance kind of person, but I think I’m a very 9-to-5 kind of person now after I’ve done it for almost a year… I like having a fixed schedule and routine. I know what works for me in the future, in the workplace.”

Willingly took a gap year to discover more about herself

While Faustina’s gap year was unplanned for, 20-year-old Toh Teng Wei was the opposite. She took a gap year on her own accord after graduating in 2021 with a Diploma in Media and Communications and scored a GPA of about 3.4.

The Singapore Polytechnic graduate shared: “I was honestly super sick of studying at that point, after three years of being in poly right after four years of secondary school. So, I took a gap year to see what I could explore in the industry and how it was like being in the working world.”

However, Teng Wei’s parents were originally not on board with the situation. 


As most kiasu Singaporean parents are like, they were afraid that taking a gap year would be a waste of her time. PHOTO CREDIT: KEVIN KU VIA UNSPLASH


After much persuasion and explaining that she needed the time to organise her thoughts and see what career path she wanted to go down, Teng Wei’s parents eventually let her dictate her own life.

Teng Wei decided to extend her internship at Titan Digital Media before being moved to jewellery brand The Starry Co., where she has been working as the operations executive for about a year now.

“Surprisingly, the gap year I took to work made me realise how much better studying is!

“However, I don’t regret my decision about taking a gap year because it made me realise where my interests lie. Since I’m currently working for a jewellery brand, it’s a lot more retail and marketing based, and I realised I would prefer to do film or production instead,” she announced.

As such, Teng Wei applied for media and communications courses at four local universities — which was what she studied in poly — and was accepted into the Singapore Institute of Technology.

Teng Wei recalled: “My dad told me that I could work for the rest of my life next time, so I should just study while I can now, and I think that’s quite true. Now is the best time to upskill your knowledge.

“But ultimately, I don’t think taking a gap year was a waste of time at all. Because through it, I learnt a lot of things about myself.”

Went overseas to study after getting rejected by local universities

Unlike Faustina and Teng Wei, 21-year-old Toh Cheng Yee chose to study abroad instead of taking a gap year. 

Despite graduating as one of the top few in her cohort with a GPA near the high 3.6s last year, Cheng Yee got rejected without even being offered an interview opportunity after applying for NTU and NUS. This led to her having to look to other university options such as studying abroad.

“I’ve always wanted to enter NTU’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication or NUS’ New Media and Communications course. My goal was to ultimately study something media related again. Because in SP, I found that media and communications was really my calling,” she said.

Like Faustina, Cheng Yee suspected that the pandemic could have played a factor in her rejection. 


Her assumption was that with strict travel restrictions set in place then, there was a higher influx of students applying for local universities, unable to travel out. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/DENISE OH


Almost ironically, Cheng Yee was pushed to look at furthering her studies overseas instead.

“I didn’t want to try reapplying for local universities again. My priority was originally attending a local university, but I didn’t really want to waste my time taking a gap year when I already knew what I wanted to study or focus on.

“I also had a notion in mind that I didn’t want to waste time working instead of going to uni, when I know for a fact that I will definitely have to work in the future. I don’t want work to become my whole routine right now. Instead, I want to experience university life with my peers!” she exclaimed.

Cheng Yee applied for a few universities across Australia and Europe and was eventually offered a place at the University of Melbourne, where she is pursuing a degree in the arts where she majors in media and communications.

“Studying in Australia so far for the past two months has been the best moments of my life. I’m growing and learning a lot about myself after moving away from my parents and out of my comfort zone. I really appreciate the independence and the lack of pressure from others making decisions for me!” she exclaimed.


Although studying overseas was not originally in her plan, Cheng Yee says that she has absolutely zero regrets now. PHOTO CREDIT: TOH CHENG YEE


Cheng Yee advised: “I think that if you do have the opportunity, know that you only live once and seize that chance. Don’t waste your time, because the older you are, the more opportunities you miss, you know?

“It takes removing yourself out of your comfort zone to realise your potential and become the best version of yourself!”

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