Work full-time or enrol into university?
This is the question that haunts every polytechnic graduate in Singapore.
Of course, there are other options, such as working part-time, undergoing an internship, or taking a gap year.
But for the most part, poly graduates find themselves torn between choosing adulthood and another few years as a student.
As an ex-poly student myself, I understand what it’s like to struggle with the uncertainty of the future.
It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to do.
I graduated from poly in 2019, and I remember staying up all night worrying about my future.
On one hand, I wanted to immediately start working as I knew what I wanted to do in life.
On the other hand, I was only 20 years old and I wasn’t sure if I was ready for adulting.
It took me a long time to make a decision — about nine months to be exact, nine months of mental breakdowns, insomnia, and headaches.
I wish I had someone to help me along the way, for the sake of my own sanity and my mother’s. (Would not recommend worrying your parents for months on end.)
So this article is my attempt to help all you struggling poly graduates out there in hopes that you won’t have to go through what I went through.
But instead of offering advice from my own experience, I decided to talk to three other poly graduates who, for a lack of a better term, had their sh*t together better than I did.
1. Dahlia, 24, a poly graduate currently working full-time
Dahlia enrolled in Republic Polytechnic’s Mass Communication course in 2014 and graduated in 2017.
She described her poly life as “the best and most productive three years of [her] life”.
She had also topped several modules and was on the dean's list.
With grades as good as hers, one would wonder why she didn’t decide to enrol in a university.
“After 13 years of formal education, I wanted a change of pace and wanted a taste of independence. At that time, it also wasn't practical for me to enrol into university as I wasn't financially stable.”
She’s never regretted her decision since.
Dahlia told me that while peers my age gained knowledge in university, she gained valuable experience at work.
Furthermore, most peers her age graduated university in 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
“It was a tough period for job seekers and I feel grateful to be gainfully employed,” said Dalia.
Like me, Dahlia took a while to figure out her life after graduation.
But unlike me, she didn’t take close to a year to ponder about it.
Dahlia had her first full-time job five months after graduation.
“Taking a breather before diving into the working world really helped me to overcome the overwhelming expectations I had for myself. Pick up some part-time jobs and internships to get a taste of what working is like, and if you realise that you don't want to pursue the career that you studied for, you can always try other industries while you're young.”
“You didn't fail, you're just starting a new chapter in life,” she added.
And working full-time does not mean that university is out of the equation.
It’s still a possibility, one that Dahlia herself is thinking of.
“I am definitely open to going to university and going to a course that is related to my field of work. I think my working experience would aid in future school work and problem-based scenarios. Realistically, university graduates earn more than poly graduates, so I wouldn't say no to a bump in my pay check after getting a degree.”
That’s the thing about life, there’s no fixed formula, and everyone will go through their own path.
“Different folks, different strokes,” Dahlia said.
“I think every person grows at a different pace and if furthering one's studies will mould them to become someone that can contribute meaningfully to the workforce or society, then that's great.”
2. Jia Han, 29, a poly graduate who finished her university studies and is now working full-time
When she was still in poly, Jia Han had a clear end goal — to go to a local university.
That’s not to say that she isn’t open to other options.
Back then, it was harder for poly graduates to enter a local uni, so Jia Han remained open-minded.
But after experiencing a creative writing module in her mass communication diploma in Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Jia Han discovered that literature was her passion.
“I love to read other people’s writings,” she said.
Thus, she narrowed down her choices according to her passion.
She found that Nanyang Technological University (NTU)’s English best suited her, and so she applied for it.
Jia Han spent four years studying there, doing what she loved most.
Now, she is working full-time as a public servant.
Having gone through a clear and conventional education path, Jia Han explained:
“I wanted to get a degree because I saw that there will be benefits in the long term. I didn’t want to get a degree for the sake of it.
I was mentally stimulated a lot when I went to uni. I wouldn’t have had that mental stimulation if I went to work straight away. And life in uni was great for me. I grew up a lot there and had a diverse group of friends.”
Jia Han did not regret her decision and still thinks that uni was the right choice for her.
However, she acknowledged that every path you take after graduating from poly is neither wrong nor right.
“I have friends from poly who took a break or started working. All paths are very varied. The path that you take will give you a very specific set of experiences that you can’t get if you take another path. If you can afford it, sure, go to university. If not, it’s okay. There’s no right or wrong path.
And for those who want to go to uni, but don’t know which uni to go to, it’s important to do your research. Go to open houses, attend forums, check the social media platforms from each university. And find a course that you feel is the most suitable for you.”
3. Chloe, 21, a poly graduate currently studying in university
Chloe is another poly graduate who knew early on that she wanted to enrol into university.
But things didn’t really go to plan when she missed the uni application deadline.
“I was busy with exams for my final year in poly and then next thing I knew, I missed the deadline,” she explained.
Thinking that was the end, Chloe decided to work part-time and go through an internship after she graduated.
But she soon discovered the Singapore Campus of James Cook University (JCU).
“I’ve never heard of this university before. But after doing some research, I realised that it’s just like other local universities with many courses to choose from.”
JCU has a few admission openings in one year, allowing graduates to take some time to think about what they want to do before applying.
Chloe is now a first-year student undergoing a Bachelor of Business (Majoring in Hospitality and Tourism Management and Marketing for the Digital Age).
She had graduated from Republic Polytechnic’s Media Production and Design, but upon discovering JCU and doing her research, she became interested in the hospitality and tourism industry.
She didn’t want to waste the knowledge and skills she had learned in poly though.
Fortunately, JCU offered a double major programme.
She was able to pursue her new passion in hospitality and tourism, whilst using the skills she’s learnt in poly in digital marketing.
“It’s really nice to be able to do something new and to also continue expanding what I learnt in poly. And the quality of education in JCU is really good.”
In fact, JCU’s Business school is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) International.
Less than six per cent of the world's schools offering business degree programmes hold the prestigious AACSB business accreditation.
In Singapore, only four universities have achieved the accreditation: JCU, NTU, National University of Singapore (NUS), and Singapore Management University (SMU).
“Accreditation is important because after you graduate, there’s a higher chance of you getting employed since your degree is recognised on a global academic stage,” said Chloe.
If you are also interested in following Chloe’s footsteps, you can check out JCU’s Admissions Day to learn more about the curriculum.
But ultimately, the choice is yours.
As per Chloe’s advice:
“Going to uni is a personal choice. For poly graduates, you should listen to your heart. Even if it’s something you didn’t think of before, trust what your heart says. I did that and here I am, enjoying my time in uni. Don’t be afraid of where life takes you.”
Top image by Albert Vincent Wu via Unsplash.
This article is sponsored by James Cook University.
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