Didn’t do well for your A-levels or polytechnic? Here are 8 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 35% 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 fallback 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. SUSS Full-Time courses. (formerly UniSIM)

SUSS has been around for quite some time (previously part of UniSIM) , although full-time degrees only became available in 2014.

SUSS is currently providing 8 full-time degree courses. 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 SUSS might have a better shot at government and civil sector jobs. Ministries already send their employees to get their degrees from SUSS 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 SUSS as a good alternative. According to SUSS, the average poly GPA at the 10th percentile was 3.4 out of 4 (2014). This is in comparison to the accountancy courses at NUS at 3.73, NTU at 3.71 and SMU at 3.7. (2018/19)

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

2. SUSS 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 like 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 SUSS full-time courses is growing (read the article above). The part-time courses are less popular, and hence, it might be easier for some of you to gain admission. Additionally, SUSS 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 an interest in the full-time courses that SUSS offers.

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

These criteria are not problems for guys. SUSS 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:

3. World class education outside of Singapore

Think Ivy League universities are out of your league? Think again. Your academic ability is not one to be underestimated. I’m sure you have heard of the recent news of Singapore topping global PISA rankings, being world best in mathematics & science in TIMS study and coming 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 a futile battle. Instead, why don’t you set your sights higher and aim for universities abroad which enjoy an 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 swimming’s 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?

4. 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 the 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 its graduates are deemed eligible by MOM to become official Safety Officers. The course itself is geared toward 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 is 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:

5. NTU and NUS part-time Engineering degrees

A little-known fact is that NUS and NTU provide part-time degrees. However, course options are limited: currently, only engineering and computing 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 reapply 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

6. 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) and SUTD. 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 rest. 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, there are still options available that you should consider.

More info:

7. 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 an 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 failing 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 among 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 immediately the 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 during 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 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:

8. Taking a foundation course

If you already have clear career aspirations, or find that retaking the A-levels really isn’t your cup of tea, another way to university would be through a foundation course. These are pre-university courses offered as an alternative pathway into tertiary study, which can last anywhere from 6 months to 1 year. James Cook University, which has a local campus here, is one such school offering such an option. Successful graduates of their 8-month long program can then go on to apply for admission into their undergraduate degrees.

One caveat: while more focused or relevant, these programmes can be costly! The James Cook programme costs SGD 13k+ and if you choose to do one with a preparatory college overseas or your dream university direct, it can only make your student loans/fees even heftier. Here are a few examples we’ve found:

  • SOAS University of London: their BA / BSc Social Sciences, Arts & Humanities with Foundation Year will set you back by SGD 30,000+ a year.
  • Bellerby’s College: SGD 12,000+ per term (the program is 3-3.5 terms long)
  • Australian National University:  SGD 28,000+ for their Standard or Rapid programs (50 or 37 weeks long respectively)

These fees don’t include misc. expenses or accommodation fees. If you have your heart set on this option, make sure that you’ll have the perseverance to follow through!

9. *In the works* You can become a chartered engineer without a degree

Not long ago, an alternate pathway to becoming a chartered engineer (a qualification that increases career growth opportunities and salary increases) was announced to be in the planning. Part of the upcoming National Engineering Career Progression Pathway, it will let those with a diploma or Institute of Technical Education (ITE) certificate, and the required experience and training, to be recognised as engineers without a degree.

While it’s not officially rolled out yet, we hope this gives you some encouragement that there are definitely other roads to a fulfilling career.


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.

Most importantly, don’t be discouraged! Many before have faced the same issues but emerged triumphantly. One inspiring example would be Fong Shao Cong, who couldn’t get into university despite having achieved a perfect GPA for 2 years in SP (due to his first-year results from playing truant and skipping classes). Eventually, he made it into NTU! We wish you all the best!

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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.


  1. Hi, my son barely got 50 rank points in his a levels. He wanted to redo but now it’s haunting during the ND. He lost interest to redo..what are the option available for him..can I send him overseas? I need information on how he can get into UG without retaking A levels. Pls help

    • Hi Deepa,

      As mentioned in the article, one possibility that your son can explore would be to take a foundation course (point 8). Hope this helps!

      -The DS team

  2. Hello there!
    This is a great article for students caught up in this situation.

    However, there are many more options beyond the shores of Singapore.
    There are many students who pick up a foundation program overseas that will allow them to either get a second chance to pursue the program they missed out or to pursue a program that is not available in Singapore.
    Australia, UK, Canada and USA are some of the popular options and many students have taken this route to pursue their desired programs.

    So i guess the options are way more then the 7 mentioned in your article.
    just wanted to share this with all students :)

    • Hi Nick, thanks for adding valuable insights to the students! We’ll be sure to add your information into our article soon, too, just in case our readers miss your comment (:

  3. Hello! Just wanted to expound further on the information that is provided under the “Nanyang Polytechnic’s Health Science courses” column because I believe that it is not completely accurate and some details are out of date or just not relevant. I hope my comment will find interested students well.

    Firstly, while Allied Health courses offered by Nanyang Polytechnic were not very popular amongst A Level graduates due to the ‘backward’ academic progression (going back to a polytechnic to obtain a diploma), the admission criteria were, however, still rather stringent and students who performed under-average for their A Levels were mostly rejected. Therefore, I think that it is inaccurate to have “Nanyang Polytechnic’s Health Science courses” as one of the alternative (and viable) academic options for students who have not done well for their A Levels.

    Secondly, the MOHH Scholarship (mainly the ‘Healthcare Merit Award’ and ‘Healthcare Merit Scholarship’) is a highly sought-after and competitive scholarship award that is only given to students who have achieved academic excellence and a strong Co-Curricular Activities (CCA) record. With that said, it is highly unlikely for students who have underperformed to be given a chance in front of the MOHH interview/selection panel. I find it rather misleading to mention the possible attainment of a scholarship award, under a column that is written to advise students who have underperformed for their A Levels.

    Thirdly, and most importantly, Nanyang Polytechnic no longer offers courses in Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, Radiation Therapy and Diagnostic Radiography. The Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and Trinity College Dublin (TCD), the University of Dublin, has sealed a partnership to offer the first full-time honours degrees in Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy in Singapore. SIT also offers honours degree programmes in Radiation Therapy and Diagnostic Radiography. The first intake by SIT was in 2016.

    Lastly, the Allied Health degree programmes offered at SIT has become extremely popular and competitive ever since its first intake in 2016. It is not easy to be given a placing, especially in Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy. There are very limited intakes for each course and the acceptance rate is only ~14% (of all the first-choice applications). SIT selects candidates for this programme using a holistic approach that considers passion and suitability for the profession, academic achievement, co-curricular involvement and medical clearance. In order to prevail in this competitive selection and be chosen for an admission interview, it is recommended that you possess outstanding academic and co-curricular achievements. Selected candidates will then be invited for a written essay test, followed by multiple rounds of interview, consisting of different stations, which assess different important attributes as well as your communication skills. Kind of like the interview system implemented for students applying for Medicine if you ask me.

    Hope this extra information helps, and I wish everyone all the best in their academic endeavours.

    Source: I teach in one of the said institutions.

    • Hi Albus! Thank you for the information, we’ll see how we can go about updating the article, or will point our readers out to your comment for further info !

      – The DS team

    • Please help my me……
      That means if my grades are not EXCELLENT and I want to pursue Physiotherapy and I can’t get into SIT (as it is the only institution in S’pore that offer the course) , I have to go oversea?????

      Any other option to study in S.pore for Physiotherapy???

    • If my A-level grades are not excellent and SIT is the only institution in S’pore that offer Physiotherapy Degree, then I have to go oversea??

  4. Hi , i have a ‘grey area’ score which i am not sure if i can get into SUSS or NUS nursing. Do you guys think i am able to get in via DA for nursing as i really want to get in the course and i really really really do not want to take As again:(
    My grades are CDE/C
    OH and the only thing that may make me stand out abit more is my previous experience in st john brigade CCA which does something called home nursing.


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