Junior college versus polytechnic: What works best for your child?

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Don't wait until your child finishes secondary school to start thinking about tertiary education. Arm yourself with knowledge so that you can start helping them to consider their options and working towards what they want.

The JC versus polytechnic debate will never end. When it concerns tertiary education, many students and parents alike, find it difficult to decide between the two options.

In the past, it was pretty simple. You finish your O levels, you do your A levels and then you go to a university. Many Singaporean parents didn’t welcome the JC versus polytechnic discussion.

That’s because there was a stigma associated with polytechnic education. To put it bluntly, those graduating from the college of old school parenting viewed polytechnic as where you go when you don’t get into a JC.

Well that concept has changed. Tremendously. Welcome to 2017 where getting into a course of your choice in a polytechnic may be way harder than getting a place in a JC. In case you didn’t already know.

So it’s not about JC versus polytechnic in terms of which is better. It is about understanding the differences and making an informed choice. It’s about finding the right fit.

Let’s look at some of the common misconceptions surrounding this JC versus polytechnic debate before we go into the pros and cons.

Common Misconceptions

1. Poly is for JC Rejects

If this is what you think, then boy are you mistaken! We will leave it to the schools to explain the detailed grading and L1R4, L1R5 system. But in a nutshell, if you’re thinking about JC versus polytechnic in terms of which is easier to get into, the comparison isn’t all that simple.

There is pretty much a fixed cut off point system to get into a JC. Polytechnics have a wide range of courses and the entry requirements differ greatly. Some of the most sought after courses require you to score straight As to even stand a chance of getting selected.

JC versus polytechnic

Students waiting for the release of their O level results which determines their next step.

In addition, some courses such as Mass Communication have a rigorous selection process. Students may need to submit a portfolio, sit for a written test and have an interview.

2. The fight for university seats

Many parents have the misconception that polytechnic students compete against JC students for university seats. And because of the sheer number of JC students, parents fear that their children are fighting a losing battle if they go to a polytechnic.


Polytechnic and JC students apply under different categories. There are a fixed number of seats allocated for each category of application. As such, the competition is not across the two and this should not form the basis of the JC versus polytechnic argument.

However, it is true that the percentages of students that go in from junior colleges are higher.

3. Polytechnic life is relaxed 

This is almost the number 1 myth surrounding polytechnic education. Many students find JC life daunting as it’s rumoured to be highly stressful. People describe it as a pressure-cooker environment.

The term commonly associated with poly life is – slack.

Not at all. Surely you would have heard of the barrage of projects that keep the students busy all day and burning the midnight oil, no?

There is also ‘peer evaluation’ for all the projects. So if your child doesn’t do his fair share, or if for some reason his teammates conspire against him and collectively give him poor feedback, he could potentially fail that assignment.

Pretty stressful really. 

Pros and Cons         

1. What next?

Of course, primarily, everyone is concerned about the value of the tertiary education. The first question is always, where do I go from here?

If your child is 100% sure that he or she wants to go to a university, particularly the local universities, then junior college might be a better option. Why?

70 to 75% of each JC cohort secures places in our local universities. This is in comparison to the 20% of the polytechnic cohort that secures places. That’s quite a sharp difference.

The numbers have risen though. A few years ago, only 15% of the polytechnic cohort secured places in local universities.

On the other hand, the A level cert is commonly termed as a passport to enter university. When it comes to the workforce, the A level cert pales in comparison to a diploma. 

JC versus polytechnic

It’s easier to get a job with a diploma than an A level certificate.

Diplomas can go a long way in the job market. Many polytechnic grads secure jobs across the industries. The best part is that many companies eventually sponsor their employees to pursue a degree.

2. Freedom, yay or nay?

The transition from secondary school to JC isn’t as shocking. JC is pretty much an extension of secondary school life, albeit more challenging and stressful. Life doesn’t change much, the system and structure remain largely the same.

You can still expect to get a call from your child’s teacher; you can still expect parent-teacher conferences, consent forms, compulsory CCA’s, community involvement projects and such.

You still play an active and important role in your child’s life if they go to a junior college. This works well for children who need handholding and ‘looking after’.

Polytechnic life however, may be rather shocking for you especially if you are the micro-managing, helicopter type of parent. Be prepared to be largely, or even completely clueless about the happenings of your child’s school life.

You won’t see report cards with a paragraph of praises (or complaints) about your child’s attitude in class!

One important point to note is that your child needs a lot of self-discipline and focus to handle the sudden freedom and autonomy.

There is a 75 – 80% attendance policy, depending on the polytechnic. Students have to meet this attendance policy, failing which they will be debarred from examinations and eventually fail the module. A warning will be issued when they are close to falling below the minimum attendance required.

Parents do not necessarily hear or know about this, often until it is too late. Many polytechnic students end up repeating their first semester due to fully exploiting the sudden increase in freedom.

It’s easy to get carried away when your infamous Discipline Master doesn’t hunt you down for detention for persistent late coming!

3. Cost

When it comes to JC vs polytechnic in terms of cost, the difference is steep. The fee for most JCs is below $10 a month. There are exceptions though. The independent JCs such as the highly celebrated Raffles Junior College cost about $300 a month.

JC versus polytechnic

You might be able to save quite a bit if your child goes to a junior college.

Polytechnic fees are approximately between $200-$300 a month depending on the course.

There are also hidden costs. Transportation costs much less for JC students who are under concession just like secondary school students. The school canteen sells much cheaper food than the swanky cafes lining the polytechnic atriums. Did we mention Starbucks and MacDonald’s?

Polytechnics also present students with an endless stream of projects that can cost quite a bit. Printout costs for a graphic design project for example, can go by the hundreds.

Moreover, when they have the added challenge of appearing in school without repeating outfits every other day, and attempting to look like they vaguely have a fashion sense – I’m sure you can guess what it means for the parents’ bank account!

Continue reading to learn more about the differences between JC and polytechnic education. 

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