What I wish I really knew before starting poly

I had the ideal poly life, but there are a lot of things I would have done differently.

Celeste Lim

Yogurt lover with a Spotify playlist for every mood.

Published: 5 January 2021, 12:23 PM

Recently, I wrote a listicle about 10 things you should know before your first day at a polytechnic

As I reflected on my personal experience in poly, I realised that I had entered my first year of school aiming for the “ideal poly life”: Having decent grades and a wide circle of friends. I did manage to achieve that, but at the expense of my mental health.

Here are some things I wish I could have told my 17-year-old self who was starting her first year at a polytechnic.

1. Relax in your first year

Vowing not to let myself get pulled down by my cumulative Grade Point Average (GPA), I aimed to get a high GPA in my first year and do well consistently.

Looking back, I should have relaxed more. While it’s important to do well in your first year of poly, it’s your first year for a reason – you’re usually just learning the foundations. 

I wish I had let myself enjoy my most relaxing year of poly and used the time to build friendships, instead of going in too strong.

2. Be more forgiving on your classmates – and yourself

I thought one bad grade would be the end of my GPA, so I strived to do well for all my assignments. Whenever I had a group project and a member did not pull their own weight, I would get irritated at that member and avoid them for future projects.


I took my group projects very seriously, especially if presentations were involved. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/CELESTE LIM


Similarly, when I felt that I had done poorly for my assignments, I would beat myself up.

But throughout polytechnic, we’re all learning new things. At one point, we are bound to screw up or do poorly for something. There’s still plenty of room to improve, so I should not have been so hard on others or myself.

3. You don’t have to join a CCA

I thought I had to make as many friends as possible in poly, so I joined a large club. That CCA required a lot of commitment and I got home late at night, which left me with little time to work on my assignments.

Although it was a fulfilling experience, my CCA was exhausting. I was envious of my classmates who went home immediately after class and had sufficient time to complete assignments. 

My classmates were part of the “go home club”, but they still managed to make friends through school events. I realised that I didn’t have to join a CCA to make friends and I should have opted out of one to prioritise my social life and studies.

4. You don’t need a whole new wardrobe

I was so excited to get out of my boring secondary school uniform that I wanted to wear a brand new outfit to poly every day, so I challenged myself to never repeat an outfit. 


Because everyone in poly was so fashionable, I felt pressured to always wear new and trendy clothes. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/CELESTE LIM


Whenever I “ran out” of clothes, I would buy more clothes and get rid of my older one. I didn’t realise that this vicious cycle led to overconsumption and textile waste, which is terrible for the environment.

I should have known that no one cares how often I repeat an outfit and I was the only one keeping track. While I did need new clothes because I was going to school five days a week, I definitely did not need to refresh my wardrobe so often.

5. Sign up for free counselling

When I was going through a tough time in poly, I considered registering for free counselling. I chose not to because talking about mental health was stigmatised and I thought only people with serious problems needed help.

I eventually decided to register in my second year, after my classmates went for a few sessions and spoke favourably of their experience. Going for counselling may have been one of the best decisions I’ve made – it gave me a listening ear, helped me process things and work through my feelings, and generally made me happier.

6. Talk to your lecturers and seniors

When I first entered poly, I shied away from talking to my lecturers and seniors because I was intimidated by them. However, I soon learnt that there was nothing to be scared of – my lecturers and seniors were friendly and always willing to chat.

Your poly lecturers are your lecturers for a reason – they’ve had years of experience in the field, and can guide you accordingly. They are also able to offer suggestions for internships or post-polytechnic routes based on your interests.


Lecturers are able to provide us with valuable insights – all you have to do is ask. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/CELESTE LIM


Your seniors have taken the same modules as you, so they know exactly what it’s like. You can expect some nifty tips and tricks as well as useful advice from them!

7. Not everyone has to like you

I wanted to impress my new friends, so I worried a lot about whether or not they liked me. I would spend hours analysing their reactions to me.

I finally stopped when I discovered that it’s impossible for everyone to like you. Even if you’re “perfect”, someone will still have a problem with you. 

Instead of worrying what others thought about me, I should have spent the time being myself and befriending people who liked my most authentic self.

8. Keep in contact with your old friends

All my friends from secondary school attended different schools, so I was left “alone” in my poly. As my schedule conflicted with theirs and I was making new friends, I slowly distanced from my old friends and didn’t contact them often.

One day, when out with my old friends, I realised that they understood me differently as we had watched each other grow – literally and figuratively.

As happy as I was to be making new friends, I had to remember the importance of old friends as well. They were a healthy “respite” from poly and helped keep me sane during some tough times, so I should have kept in contact with and treasured them.


I didn’t realise how much I missed my old secondary school friends until I finally got to see them again. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/CELESTE LIM


Although I have some regrets about the way I approached things during my time at poly, my time there has been some of the most exciting three years of my life. 

I thoroughly enjoyed learning new things about a subject I was passionate about, taking ownership of my own education, and making a variety of new friends. I’m thankful to have learnt so much, and wouldn’t trade this experience for anything else.

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