Didn’t do well for your A-levels or polytechnic? Here are 7 alternative paths with a bright future

Didn’t do well for your A-levels or polytechnic? Here are 7 alternative paths with a bright future

So you didn’t do so well for your A-levels, or your polytechnic grades are not stellar. Your dream of getting a place in NUS is now an impossibility. Don’t fret, it’s not the end of the world. According to MOE, only 29% of each cohort manages to get into a local university, which means it’s difficult for everybody. So what are your options? For many, SIM-UOL programs seem to be the most popular fall back option. This article will discuss other alternatives that might be more suitable for some of you that you might have never heard of before.

  1. Nanyang Polytechnic’s Health Science courses

NYP provides a 3-year health science course strictly for A-level graduates. They have 4 majors: Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, Radiography, and Radiation Therapy. Graduates from the diploma program can then go through a 1-year degree provided by SIT.

Therefore, this is technically a 3+1 programme. Meaning you will still get a degree in 4 years’ time, just like the rest of your peers. For A-level grads, going back to poly might seem like a step backwards instead of forward. That is far from what this program is.

Students can also attain a scholarship from MOHH and one of the hospitals to get all their tuition fees paid for. You will also receive a monthly allowance, that comes with a bond with a hospital of your choice. There is a high demand for Allied Health Practitioners and the hospitals and the government is trying hard to attract students and keep graduates in Singapore. It also ensures that you can easily attain a job upon graduation. Since NYP is the only place that offers this sort of program, you will not be competing with other graduates for those jobs either.

 Gross monthly wage from 25-29Gross monthly wage 30 years old and above
Occupational therapist$3,139na
Diagnostic radiographer$3,486$5,361


More info:

  1. UniSIM Full-Time courses. (not to be confused with SIMGE)

UniSIM has been around for quite some time, although full-time degrees just became available in 2014.  UniSIM is still considered as a ‘private’ university but with promises from the government to convert it to a public local university. As of now, UniSIM is still considered private and is in transit towards becoming a local university.  It’s simply a matter of time before UniSIM is given the status of ‘public autonomous university’. (Update: It has now achieved this status!)

UniSIM is currently providing full-time degree courses in accountancy, marketing and (soon) Human Resource. Those who are strapped for cash might want to choose UniSIM over other alternatives due to their subsidies from MOE.  Being considered a local university, graduates from UniSIM might have a better shot at government and civil sector jobs. Ministries already send their employees to get their degrees from UniSIM regularly. Additionally, for those who want to pursue business/accountancy studies but did not attain the high GPAs that the big 3 require, you can consider UniSIM as a good alternative. According to UniSIM, the average poly GPA admitted was 3.4 out of 4. In comparison to the accountancy courses at NUS at 3.86, NTU at 3.79 and SMU at 3.72.

More Info:

Source of Data:
UniSIM: http://www.unisim.edu.sg/Happenings/Documents/MC2014-29.pdf
NUS: http://www.nus.edu.sg/oam/gradeprofile/sprogramme-igp.html
SMU: http://admissions.smu.edu.sg/sites/default/files/admissions/pdf/gradeprofile.pdf

  1. UniSIM Part-Time courses

Don’t let the words ‘Part-Time’ fool you. Part-Time students do not learn less than Full-Time students. In fact, Part-Time students require the exact same number of modules as any other Full-Time student in order to graduate. The classes are simply held at night or during weekends. If it’s the same, then why choose the part-time courses over the full-time ones?

UniSIM part time
Photo uc.unisim.edu.sg

Firstly, the competition for UniSIM full-time courses is growing (read article above). The part-time courses are less popular, and hence, it might be easier for some of you to gain admission. Additionally, UniSIM has a wider range of part-time courses. They offer degrees in Engineering, Social Work, Psychology, Sociology and much more that may cater to bright young minds that do not have interest in the full-time courses that UniSIM offers.

The downside, however, is that to be eligible for UniSIM Part-Time degrees, one must be 21 or above and must have at least 2 years of work experience OR be employed full-time.

These criteria are not problems for guys. UniSIM recognises NS as employment. Hence, if you complete a full 2 years of NS, you will be eligible to apply once you ORD.

More info:

  1. World class education outside of Singapore

Think Ivy league universities is out of your league ? Think again. Your academic ability is not one to be underestimated. Im sure you have heard of recent news of Singapore topping global PISA rankings, being world best in mathematics & science in TIMS study and came in no.1 for the 7th successive years in International Baccalaureate exams. If there is one word to describe Singapore’s academic prowess compared to the rest of the word, it is “unbeatable”.

Here’s the thing, if you are competing with fellow Singaporeans, it is like trying to smash a rock using a rock. It is futile battle. Instead, why don’t you set your sights higher and aim for universities abroad which enjoy even better reputation than NUS, NTU? We are talking about Harvard, Oxford and the like. Many of them are not as academically oriented as we think.  Don’t limit and doubt yourself. Think it is impossible ?   If Joseph Schooling can beat world no.1 Michael Phelps, why can’t you?  You just need to be shown the path by other Singaporean seniors who have done it. Joseph Schooling was also coached, isn’t it?

  1. Other degrees in a more specialised field

Why join SIM-UOL’s business programs when you would be competing with the hordes of other business grads from every other private university AND local universities when you graduate? The local universities churn out thousands of business/accountancy grads each year. Think you can hide by taking a social science degree like psychology? Think again, NUS FASS, NTU HSS and SMU SS grads will be competing with you too. So here’s a suggestion, why not choose a degree that has less competition in the workforce?

Singapore has a myriad of private universities that offer different types of degrees. Go online and look at what they have to offer. For the purpose of this article, I’ll give one example:

PSB’s degree in Environmental, Occupational Health and Safety, provided by University of Newcastle.

PSB work safety and healt-related degree
Photo psb-academy.edu.sg

This degree is recognised by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and graduates are deemed eligible by MOM to become official Safety Officers. The course itself is geared towards training Safety Officers here in Singapore. The only other courses that teach something similar are UniSIM’s degree in Human Factors in Safety and NUS’s Master of Science in Safety, Health and Environment Technology. Since the number of graduates in this field are few, competition for relevant jobs would not be so tough.

So find a degree that is different from what is offered in local universities, the lack of competition will make it easier for you to find a job after graduation.

According to payscale , A Safety Officer earns an average salary of S$58,305 per year.

More info:

  1. NTU and NUS part-time Engineering degrees

A little known fact is that NUS and NTU provides part-time degrees. However, the courses are very limited and only engineering courses are available. Nevertheless, for those of you who failed to gain admission to NTU or NUS right after graduation, you might want to consider this option.

If you don’t make it the first time to NUS/NTU, keep trying! You can choose to work for a few years, gain some experience, and then apply to NUS or NTU again under their part-time program. This time, you’ll be able to impress them with your work experience and hopefully get admitted to your dream school. Age should not serve as a barrier for one to continue learning. A few years of work will not kill you either, in fact, it will boost your application and give you a better chance.

More info:
NTU: http://admissions.ntu.edu.sg/UndergraduateAdmissions/Pages/PTimeEng.aspx

  1. Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT)

SIT is a well-known local institution, so why is it on this list? Because many students tend to dismiss SIT and instead focus on the big 3 (NUS/NTU/SMU). Don’t forget about SIT, SIT is also a local university and because it’s still new, it is slightly easier to gain admission to SIT than to the other local universities. Most JC graduates have the misconception that SIT is only for poly graduates and hence, don’t even try to apply to SIT even though they do not make the cut for the big 3. On the contrary, there are several degree programs that A-level graduates are eligible for. SIT’s Accountancy as well as their engineering degrees are open to A-level graduates. TUM’s (Technical University of Munich) engineering degree and Liverpool University’s degree in Criminology are also open to A-level graduates. Although the list of programs available to A-level graduates is not very extensive, these are still options available that you should consider.

More info:

  1. Retaking A-levels

Retaking the A-levels is never a popular choice. A majority of students who perform badly might want to retake A-levels in their respective JCs. However, to be eligible for that, one MUST fail a H2 subject or GP. For the majority of us that do not get into NUS/NTU/SMU/SUTD/SIT, our grades do not meet the criteria. We score CDD/C or DDD/D or even EEE/E. None of these scores are fail grades, hence, we technically pass the A-levels and are not eligible to repeat JC year 2. But these grades are also not good enough for the respective universities. So for those of us in this grey area, we have little choice but to re-take our A-levels as a private candidate.

take A-levels again

As a reminder, GP and 3H2 must be taken in a SINGLE sitting. Your MT, PW and your contrasting H1 subject can be on a different sitting.


Retaking during NS is a popular choice amongst most guys. The problem is, for science students, your SPA practical results are only preserved for 1 year. Meaning that if you do wish to retake, you must do so the immediate following year. This might pose a problem for most guys since your first year of NS is the most ‘shiong’ due to things like BMT, SISPEC and OCS. For clerks and storemen, I would recommend that you retake your A-levels right away since you do not have these.

For the rest, you might want to consider retaking in your second year of NS. This means that you will have to sit for another practical exam for your science subjects. For most of us in our second year in permanent units, book outs become more frequent and you will have much more free time in camp to study as well. Don’t let the 2 years of NS go to waste. I’ve seen some of my peers bring their A-level notes up to Mount Biang in Brunei to study in the jungle and still make it to NUS in the end. If there’s a will, there is a way.

For those of you who decide to retake outside of NS or for those who do not have NS at all, you might want to consider going to a private school. MDIS provides A-level courses and it also provides lab sessions for those who need to retake their science practical. However, if you feel that you do not want to waste time travelling to and from school, you can consider private tutors as well. Just don’t blow up your kitchen trying to make a makeshift chemistry lab.

More info:

There are many paths that one might want to consider after poly or JC. This list is certainly not exhaustive, there may be a ton of other great schools that have been left out. You might even want to head overseas if you have the financial capabilities. However, you should make sure that whatever you choose is something that you want, not something forced upon you by your parents or your peers. A degree is not something you spend 4 years with and then say goodbye to. For most of us, our degree determines our field of work and our career paths in the future, so choose something that you really enjoy doing, so you’ll never have to work a day in your life.

Previous articleWhats holding you back from changing your course?
Next articleValue Investor Sean Seah tells us can we really become Rich from Stock Investing
Nasir Ahdab is a 2nd year student in NTU majoring in Electrical and Electronic Engineering but with a greater love for Philosophy. He believes that the marriage of vastly differing schools of thought might lead him to a greater insight on how the world works. He loves both writing and reading poetry. He wastes his time by reading fiction, philosophy and watching anime. An avid fan of all of Haruki Murakami’s books and most of the Marvel comics, he reads for fun and for serious contemplations. He abuses his NLB membership on a weekly basis to read free copies of The Economist, New Scientist and anything on the shelf that might give him an intellectual hard-on. On top of everything is his obsession to eat cheap, good food. He decries the pretentious café scene in Singapore and would rather spend on oily hawker food and seafood instead. An aspiring polymath, for he has love for all fields of study, and lacks the decisiveness of picking just one.