Majoring in Psychology in Uni: Polytechnic vs Junior College Route

Disclaimer: The invited writers are both students from NTU and may not be accurate about some claims about the other universities. This will solely be based on their perspectives and current experiences. Do scroll below for their profiles.

After receiving your 'O' levels results, one of the most commonly-asked questions is:
Junior College (JC) or Polytechnic (aka 'Poly')?

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You might want to pursue Psychology in the polytechnics, but worry that it might not be the best route to get you into university. You are not that sure what you wish to do for the rest of your life, and decide that going to a JC could give you 2 extra years to ponder. You contact friends you haven’t talked to in a million years just to get their opinion. Somehow, you’re still unconvinced.

In order to ensure that O-Level graduates with a keen interest in Psychology can make a more informed decision, Min and Xavierlyn will share their experience of getting into university via the Polytechnic and Junior College routes respectively.

Min (Poly)
Xavierlyn (JC)
Getting into University
Yes, it is no secret that it is much tougher to get into university via the poly route. In fact, I’ve only seen poly mates who have gotten Diploma with Merit (or scored really really well) around school.  
About 75% of my batch were offered courses into a local university.

Statistics by MOE have reflected a higher number of Junior College students across all courses in local universities.
For a higher chance of entering local university, choose the Junior College route.
Transition into University
The transition from poly to university is not that huge of a change.

The poly curriculum is rather similar to the university curriculum, in the sense you’ll be taught to be self-disciplined and not be spoon-fed by your educators.

However, this is not to say that poly students will transition into university quite easily. My psychology course in the poly emphasized a lot on group projects, writing and applying knowledge into real world situations. There was little emphasis on exams, to the point whereby exams are just there for the sake of being there and lecturers usually explicitly tell you what chapters will be tested.

In university, I was unpleasantly required to memorise a whole textbook in 1 week and puking its contents out for a 2-hour paper.
To find out more, read my other post - From Polytechnic to University
In Junior College, timetables are created for you and practice resources are made easily available, just like in secondary school. University was thus a huge cultural change for me as you are suddenly required to be in charge of your own learning after 12 years (primary school to JC) of spoon-feeding.

Additionally, universities do not release past year papers for practice so you have to master your content well on your own.

While the JC curriculum trains application skills, most exam answers are based on memorisation or practice. This may differ from person to person but personally, I think you can afford to do a bit of last minute studying in JC.

On the other hand, in university, you have to be consistent as no one is going to remind you to hand in your assignments or check the progress of your work unlike in previous years of schooling. It may take quite some time getting used to balancing assignments and tests that may all occur in the same week.
Choosing the poly route does give you a taste of university life before it begins, but it is only a slight taste. Most poly students still need time to adapt to university life.


Choosing JC where schedules are similar to secondary schools might make it difficult to adapt to university where there is a lot of independent learning.
In recognition that the poly curriculum offers electives and knowledge outside of one’s course of study, in NTU, eligible poly students are allowed to exempt 20 MCs worth of modules. In translation, this is about 4 modules, which can also translate to one semester’s worth of exemption. NUS FASS also allows module exemptions for students from polytechnics.

This is crucial because one of the consideration for going to poly or JC is the extra year one needs to spend in poly. But hey, if done correct, you’re just spending an extra semester.
In NTU, you have to fulfil General Education Module (GERPE) requirements. JC students have to take 5 modules while poly students can choose to take 3.

If you do not mind taking an extra semester while in the pursuit of your interest, poly is a considerable route to take.

If you do not mind fulfilling more General Education modules and wish to save a semester worth of time, choose the JC route.
I’d say that poly psychology students do have a slight advantage in terms of course-related skills.

We come into university equipped with the ability to write 2000 words essay with APA citation in 1 week (some, the night before the deadline). We’ve had 3 years worth of psychology concepts drilled into us.

However, it does not put us in too much of an advantage. Coming to university, I realise that some of the things poly taught me are either wrong or insufficient.
Students have to take Project Work (PW). While this might train critical thinking, I did not learn how to write a proper research paper or the different writing formats (MLA, APA, etc). Even though there are compulsory writing modules available in NTU (I believe NUS has these as well) in Year 1, writing a proper research paper requires time, and practice which poly students already have exposure to.
If you prefer skill-based learning and/or want to have more exposure to writing proper research paper before university, poly would be a more suitable option.

While in JC, you spend 2 years learning to remember and apply concepts. This would be useful when it comes to studying for heavy content subjects in university.

Advice from Xavierlyn:
For students hoping to take Psychology through the JC route, it is important to note that JC is not a one-way ticket to university. You still have to work hard for it.

Advice from Min:
For students who are interested in taking Psychology through the poly route, be sure to research extensively (SG Psych Stuff website is a good start). On several occasions, poly students may realise that Psychology is not what they had thought it was. If you’re certain that Psychology is what you want to do for the rest of your life and you’re confident that you can score well enough to get into university, poly would be a considerable route to take.
All in all, there is no right or wrong. You might think that poly is wasting one year of your life, but that one year might just be a year of gaining more knowledge. You might think that JC students would adapt to uni life more slowly than poly students, but the truth is that we all start from square one.
This is an invited post by Xavierlyn Tan and Min Khoo. Here's their profiles:

Xavierlyn Tan, NTU Psychology major
Hi I'm Xavierlyn (Xav for short!), turning 20 this year and I'm passionate about mental health and hope to work in the mental health sector one day. I enjoy volunteering at IMH every Saturday morning. I hope more youths would actively seek to disperse their stereotypes towards the mentally ill :)

Min Khoo Ming Gui, NTU Psychology Major
Min is a psychology undergraduate at Nanyang Technological University, holding an NTU Scholarship. She graduated from Ngee Ann Polytechnic in 2016 with a Diploma with Merit in Psychology Studies.

An active volunteer at AWARE Singapore, she enjoys cosplaying, harajuku fashion, photography and gaming. She sees herself as well-balanced between academics, hobbies, and real-world skills and experiences.

From Polytechnic to University: For Psychology Students

Note: This is an invited post by Min Khoo, currently a NTU Psychology Major.

So, let’s say that you decide to go for the polytechnic route and made it through with a GPA high enough to qualify you for a local university (after giving up on sleep, leisure and social life).  Now, we all know how hard it is to get into university via the polytechnic route, thanks to the restriction on the number of polytechnic graduates who are allowed into local universities.  But let’s just say you did not die from all that studying.

While you wait for your university life to start, you wonder:

  • How will university be different from your old polytechnic life? 
  • Will it be a competitive environment? 
  • Would all the JC students already have someone to eat lunch with while you are stuck on your own? 
  • Will you have an advantage with that 3 years of knowledge of psychology you possess?
As a polytechnic graduate who made it through a year of university, the fact that I am still alive should qualify me enough to give you some advice.

So, let’s start with the main concern on everyone’s mind:  Academics.

You might have heard that polytechnic students have an advantage over the JC students because they possess some knowledge of psychology prior to enrolment.  You might have also heard that polytechnic students would adapt faster to the university curriculum because they are used to completing assignments on their own without being spoonfed.

But here’s what you haven’t heard.

Polytechnic lecturers tend to give you hints and let you know what chapters will come out during the exams.  University professors expect you to memorise the whole textbook in 1 week.
Majority of polytechnic lecturers still spoonfeed you whenever they can.  University professors sometimes don’t even know your name.
Polytechnic lecturers teach you a theory by a psychologist, university professors tell you that that theory has flaws and is no longer applicable.  Polytechnic stats seem like primary school’s math compared to the horror known as Level 2000 stats.

Okay, it’s not that bad.  Compared to non-polytechnic students, some aspects of university will simply feel like a revision.  But that is only for the first year or so.  Seriously, university curriculum is no joke.  Think of the worst part of polytechnic life, and the worst part of JC life.  Now combine them.  That’s university life for you.

Other than academics, the other aspects of university life is typical of the general population.

Social life:  If you’re not best friends with your diploma with merit polytechnic schoolmates (because I saw only one or two non-diploma with merit peeps in university), you might find yourself in a classroom with hardly anyone you know.  But it varies from individual to individual.  Some students have friends outside of polytechnic who then enroll into the same major as them.  Some students are really extroverted and social, and are immediately friends with everyone from day one.

Extra-curriculum activities:  At this point, extra-curriculum activities are optional.  The university is not going to turn the time and effort you put into such activities into points and rank you on a scale of bronze, silver and gold.  However, it would look good on your resume.  But on the other hand, school assignments are already making you stock up on bags and bags of coffee.  

My advice?  Concentrate on your school work during the school terms.  Busy yourself with many activities or internship during your 3 months (yes, you heard right. 3 months) holiday.

In short?  Don’t expect the transition to be easy, but do not fear that the transition would be too tough.  Keep your expectations realistic, and be prepared to do a lot of learning on your own.

This is an invited post by Min Khoo Ming Gui, a currently NTU Psychology Major.

Min is a psychology undergraduate at Nanyang Technological University, holding an NTU Scholarship. She graduated from Ngee Ann Polytechnic in 2016 with a Diploma with Merit in Psychology Studies.

An active volunteer at AWARE Singapore, she enjoys cosplaying, harajuku fashion, photography and gaming. She sees herself as well-balanced between academics, hobbies, and real-world skills and experiences.