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  • Writer's pictureRiver Valley Student Editorial Club

Is the grass really greener on the other side? Differences between polytechnics and junior colleges

By Lim Sing Yang Stanley (23J16) 

An audible sigh escapes me as we find ourselves seated in the lecture theatre, struggling with the seemingly arbitrary task of figuring out the myriad ways to arrange 8 individuals around a table, with the added constraint that two specific people cannot sit together, due to them disliking one another. In these moments, I question the practicality of such exercises and wonder if opting for a polytechnic route might have provided us with more applicable skills for the real world. In an alternate universe where we pursued our education in polytechnics, would our educational experience be more relevant and beneficial?

To evaluate whether the alternative pathway in education is more suited to our style of learning, it is crucial for us to know its structure of teaching and what it can offer to prospective students. Hence, let’s dive deep and find out: is the grass really greener on the other side when it comes to tertiary education?

Academic Structure 

The academic content of polytechnics is not any easier than that of junior colleges. Depending on the course, Polytechnics can cover the content of the A-Level Syllabus. For engineering, topics such as statistics, thermodynamics and organic chemistry are taught. As seen below, the topics featured in the lecture notes may look oddly familiar to some of us.

        Figure 1: Lecture Notes for Year 1 Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering(NP)

Polytechnics and Universities have practically the same teaching methods. Both institutions cover content through the use of modules and can cover topics such as Artificial Intelligence and its impacts as well as Motion Graphics and Psychology, which explore beyond the rigid curriculum of secondary schools. 

                     Figure 2: Core modules for Chemical Engineering in Ngee Ann Poly

             Figure 3: Engineering core modules for Chemical Engineering at NUS

I would definitely give my fullest attention during lectures if I was learning about how to fully utilise the power of Artificial Intelligence (especially in the creation of PowerPoint slides and the generation of ideas) rather than learning how to draw 3-amino-3-phenylpentan-1,5-dioic acid. 

Apart from this, are there any more reasons to choose poly over JC? Yes, definitely and you don’t have to take my word for it. This is because we will be hearing from Faye, a Year 2 Student in Temasek Polytechnic (TP) studying Apparel Design and Merchandising, who is also part of TP Debates, the Design Student Ambassadors and TP MindSports.

“In Poly, you have more independence as there are no longer teachers pushing you to study or reminding you about deadlines. This environmental change from secondary school makes you grow up in the sense that you learn to adapt and take on more responsibility in your life, build discipline and overall have more control in your life”.

“ Because of the scheduling in polytechnics, at least in design school, I end at 6 pm at the latest and start at 9 am at the earliest. I have time after school to pursue my other interests and take up multiple CCAs.”

She also identified how the newfound liberty in Poly is a breath of fresh air to most and will be a great stepping stone into the adult world as students are now solely responsible for their own grades and attendance. 

“The way you are treated in poly is also more 'adult', where you’re expected to produce close to industry-level standards and professionalism in your work and attitude—unlike JC where you're more sheltered and have less independence,” she said.

But is it always true that poly has more autonomy than JC? Not always, as Sing Ler (Accepted into NTU, Graduated with a Diploma in Accountancy from NP in 2023) believes that “In JC there is more autonomy when it comes to choosing subjects when compared to Poly, where you pick the diploma and have no say over the modules.” 

However, he does believe that in other domains such as your final grade,there is definitely more freedom when it comes to polytechnics.

“The advantage of JC is that you save one year, but you are also taking a risk as you only have one shot to make the grade, if not you would have to retake. For Poly, you have 6 semesters and 1 bad semester doesn’t mean your life is over, you can still work hard and improve your GPA,” he said. 

Therefore, some students may choose Poly over JC due to how the assessment for the final grade is disturbed over the 3-years compared to JC which concludes with the A-Level examinations.

Differences in academic requirements:

Polytechnics and junior colleges both teach through the use of lectures and tutorials. However, at Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP), an attendance of 70% and above is required, anything below would result in a grade-cap where the student would be unable to obtain a score higher than a D. Therefore, at NP it is quite unlikely that you will encounter the stereotypical classmate who never shows up to school.

Furthermore, In Year 3, all students will have a 6-month internship with a corporation that has partnered up with their polytechnic. Throughout the internship, students will be given an allowance which can range from $600 to $1100 per month. 

The grade of that semester would be determined by the feedback given by the supervisor assigned to the student. However, there is one polytechnic that deviates from the usual practices in this attachment programme, and that is Republic Polytechnic, where internships are not graded.

Adding on, poly students are also given the privilege of not needing to report to school as students in the School of Business only have 3 days of school per week, other courses may have 4 days of school per week. Polytechnic students have about 20-25 hours of lessons each week compared to junior college students, who can have up to 40 hours of lessons per week. 

Chen Jun (J2 Student who joined RV through the Joint Admissions Exercise) also highlighted that one of the unique benefits of Poly is that it also provides more free time and autonomy for students to pursue interests outside of academics with a much larger repository of CCAS and Clubs as well as a slower paced curriculum.

Echoing similar sentiments with what has been written, Xuan Yi (J2 Student from RV’s 6-year Integrated Programme) perfectly summarises this article, with her statement: “I think that the JC curriculum is more suitable for those who aren’t yet sure about what they want to specialise in, to gain breadth in knowledge and discover where their interests lie. In comparison, I would say that focusing on one discipline in poly equips students with more technical skills that help them become more industry-ready.”


With the major improvements in polytechnics over the past few years, there has been an increasing number of students who are choosing polytechnics, with 52% of O-Level holders choosing it in 2021. Thus, it is essential to understand the diverse educational pathways that Singapore offers as eventually, we will meet people from different educational institutions, in universities or the workplace. Therefore, understanding each other's curriculums would allow us to communicate better and remove stereotypes when it comes to education. 

Overall, we must acknowledge that there is no one size fits all when it comes to tertiary education. People have different perspectives when it comes to JC and Poly and would have chosen their pathways based on interests or future prospects. I do hope that this article has given you a more well-rounded perspective on education in Singapore.

Speaking of a well-rounded perspective, with the recent release of the O-Level examination results, it raises the question, what determines admissions to junior colleges? More importantly, what is this magical term known as the L1R5? Curious to know? More information about it is provided below

Additional Information: Guide to the L1R5 and the cut-off points for JCs

Firstly, some students may not understand the term L1R5. But fret not, this is why we have this article, which will share with you the details and spare you a few Google searches. The term L1R5 stands for Language 1 and Related Subjects 5. It is considered when seeking enrollment into Junior Colleges through the Joint Admission Exercise (JAE). 

Curious on how to calculate your L1R5? 

Here is how it goes: 

L1: Can only be English Language or Higher Mother Tongue

R5: Add up the numerical grade of your best 5 subjects, among the 5 subjects chosen you must include Mathematics, one subject from the Sciences and one from the Humanities.


The number you have calculated is your raw L1R5. However, students taking their O Levels are eligible for bonus point deductions of 2 points of which a majority of students are, if they have taken on an active role in their CCAs and an additional 2 point deduction if they have taken and passed their Higher Mother Tongue. Students would also be eligible for a 2 point deduction if they took and passed the Malay or Chinese Special Programme (MSP/CSP) After deductions, the score would be known as the net L1R5, which is what is considered when it comes to admissions. Additionally, everyone is only eligible for a maximum deduction of 4 points.

To add on, during the 2023 JAE, the cut-off point for RV stood at 8 for the science stream and 9 for the arts stream which is the same as Anglo Chinese Junior College, Dunman High School and Temasek Junior College. Cut-off points of other Junior Colleges are shown below.


                Figure 4: Cut-off points of some Junior Colleges: the number 

                on the left is for the science stream while the one on the right is for arts. 


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