Blog Students Advice For Students What to Do After O Levels – JC, Poly, or Retake?

What to Do After O Levels – JC, Poly, or Retake?

What to do after O levels

The completion of O levels will mark the next stage of your life journey. The path that you choose to take – be it poly, JC, or something else entirely – will no doubt chart your future. That’s why it’s important to cover all grounds before you decide exactly what to do after O levels.

To help you with this life-changing decision, I’ll list out in detail the various options after O levels. By the end of this article, hopefully, you’ll definitely have a clearer idea of your next goal in life.

A Levels

Most students are aiming for entry to a junior college (JC) after O levels. They will be enrolled in a two-year programme (with the exception of Millennia Institute’s three-year programme) that will culminate in the A levels, which is the certification needed to get into a university.

You might not have thought about this but it’s good to know that the percentage of JC students entering university – local ones – is around 70%.

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What happens to the rest? A small percentage of high-flying students go on to prestigious overseas universities, while the rest continue their journey in private universities, not-so-prestigious overseas universities, or they back-track to poly.

This is a reminder from me to you that sitting for A levels is not easy. Compared to O levels, the competition is much tougher. But if you’re up for it, please go ahead.

List of JC in Singapore and JC cut off points

Officially, to gain admission to a JC course, you’ll need an L1R5 of 20 or less.

(If you did not attain that, you may still be eligible for conditional admission. When this happens, you should re-sit for the relevant language and/or mathematics papers in the following year’s O level examinations.)

Hwa Chong JC
Image credit: Muggershell

Need more specifics than that?

Below, you’ll find the list of JC in Singapore and the JC cut off points, based on the posting results of the Joint Admission Exercise in 2018:

JC JC cut off points for Arts stream JC cut off points for Science stream
Anderson Serangoon Junior Collegeª 12 11
Anglo-Chinese Junior College 9 8
Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) N.A. 5
Catholic Junior College 13 14
Hwa Chong Institution 6 5
Jurong Pioneer Junior Collegeª 16 15
Nanyang Junior College 7 6
National Junior College 8 7
Raffles Institution 5 5
St. Andrews Junior College 11 10
St. Joseph’s Institution N.A. 7
Tampines Meridian Junior Collegeª 13 14
Temasek Junior College 11 9
Victoria Junior College 8 6
Yishun Innova Junior College• 20 20

Take note that for the newly-merged junior colleges, the JC cut off points listed is the aggregate of the lowest-ranked students during the 2018 intake.

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Based on these JC cut off points, here are the top junior colleges in Singapore:

  1. Raffles Institution
  2. Hwa Chong Institution
  3. Anglo-Chinese School (Independent)
  4. Nanyang JC
  5. Victoria JC
  6. St. Joseph’s Institution
  7. National JC

In essence, you should go to JC if you…

  • Did very well for the O levels
  • Are confident of being able to score well for the A levels
  • Are sure you want a degree ASAP (otherwise, you can get a diploma before applying for university)


Next up would be one of the most popular options after O levels, which is to enrol in a polytechnic.

Temasek Poly
Image credit: Deoma12

Here’s a word of advice from me: even if you are set on obtaining a degree, don’t quickly ditch the idea of polytechnics in favour of JCs. After all, the percentage of students admitted to local universities via polytechnics has been increasing steadily throughout the year, from one in four in 2012 to one in three in 2017.

If you want to hear a personal story, take it from this student who enrolled in Temasek Polytechnic’s Psychology Studies with an L1R5 aggregate score 6. Following that, he went on to NUS and majored in Communications and New Media. He mentions that polytechnic life prepared him well for university life, and it gave him a holistic education which he enjoyed.

Courses in poly

Inspired enough? These are the five main polytechnics to consider, as well as the academic schools and courses in poly.

Polytechnic Academic Schools
Nanyang Polytechnic
  • Business Management
  • Chemical & Life Sciences
  • Design
  • Health & Social Sciences
  • Information Technology
  • Interactive & Digital Media
Ngee Ann Polytechnic
  • Business & Accountancy
  • Design & Environment
  • Engineering
  • Humanities & Social Sciences
  • Health Sciences
  • Film & Media Studies
  • Infocomm Technology
  • Life Sciences & Chemical Technology
  • Interdisciplinary Studies
Republic Polytechnic
  • Applied Science
  • Engineering
  • Hospitality
  • Infocomm
  • Management & Communication
  • Sports, Health & Leisure
  • Technology for the Arts
Singapore Polytechnic
  • Architecture & The Built Environment
  • Business
  • Chemical & Life Sciences
  • Computing
  • Electrical & Electronic Engineering
  • Life Skills & Communication
  • Media, Arts & Design
  • Mechanical & Aeronautical Engineering
  • Mathematics & Science
Temasek Polytechnic
  • Applied Science
  • Business
  • Design
  • Engineering
  • Humanities & Social Sciences
  • Informatics & IT

Just going through the list above, you may be able to get a sense of the schools that suit you best. The Joint Portal for the polytechnics in Singapore is the best place to start looking deeper into the courses in poly.

Poly entry requirements

To enter either of the five polytechnics above, you should score 26 points or better for your net ELR2B2 aggregate score. (ELR2B2 refers to the English language, 2 relevant subjects, and best 2 other subjects, including CCA Bonus Points.)

On top of that, you should meet the minimum poly entry requirements for the course that you are interested in. Take note that CCA points cannot be used here.

Below, I’ll give you an inkling of the most competitive courses in poly.

Polytechnic Course / Polytechnic 2018 JAE ELR2B2
Nanyang Polytechnic Cybersecurity & Digital Forensics
Molecular Biology
Ngee Ann Polytechnic Biomedical Science
Veterinary Bioscience
Psychology Studies
Republic Polytechnic Biomedical Science
Sports Coaching
Marine Sciences & Aquaculture
Singapore Polytechnic Biomedical Science
Nutrition, Health & Wellness
Temasek Polytechnic Veterinary Technology
Psychology Studies
Cybersecurity & Digital Forensics

For the full list of poly entry requirements, refer here.

Private diploma

Can’t meet the poly entry requirements above? Many students out there would opt to take a diploma from a private institution, as opposed to going for a higher NITEC course in ITE (more about that later).

Kaplan, for example, offers various fields of full-time or part-time studies from Law to Nursing and Health Services. MDIS also has a selection of offerings in its School of Fashion and Design, School of Life Sciences, and the MDIS Business School.

In essence, you should go to poly if you…

  • Have a course that you’re very interested in
  • Want to get a diploma (before joining the workforce or moving on to a degree)
  • Are not keen on the structured and academically-intensive JC life

JC or Poly Quiz!

If you’re still debating between poly or JC, here’s a JC or Poly Quiz for you!

Take a piece of paper, and then answer with a yes or no.

Round 1:

  1. Are you bent on going to university ASAP?
  2. In general, has it been easy for you to pass your exams in Secondary 4?
  3. Are you good at managing a hectic and stressful academic life?
  4. Do you enjoy subject-based studies (eg. Bio, Chem, Maths)?
  5. Are you still unsure of what you want to do in future?

Round 2:

  1. Do you have an idea of the course you’re passionate about?
  2. Do you prefer projects over exams?
  3. Do you want more freedom and flexibility in your academic life?
  4. Do you want to gain more hands-on knowledge over theoretical knowledge?
  5. Do you want to join the workforce as soon as possible?

If you have more YES in Round 1, the answer is JC. If you have more YES in Round 2, the answer is poly! If you have a draw, I highly suggest spending more time talking to your teachers and parents, or setting up an appointment with your career guidance counsellor.

I hope this JC or Poly Quiz has been useful for you!

Retake O levels

If you have bad O level results but you die die want to get to a specific course (probably in poly), you can retake O levels. You may be able to do so in your current secondary school, if you meet the criteria for that, or you can do so as a private candidate.

Just remember that you must do things differently to achieve a better outcome. Otherwise, you might just waste your time when you retake O levels.

This is where I’d highly recommend investing in qualified O level tutors to give you specialised guidance tailored to your needs. It’s also smart to focus solely on the subjects needed in computing your ELR2B2.

Need more information on how to retake O levels as a private candidate? Read this article.

International Baccalaureate (IB)

IB, or International Baccalaureate, is an education programme based in Geneva, Switzerland. More than one million students worldwide go through the IB programme, so it’s definitely a recognised pathway. The IB cert is another avenue for entry into worldwide universities including top-ranking ones like Oxford and Cambridge.

Why take IB instead of the A levels?

The IB programme promotes global-mindedness and is less Singapore-centric compared to the A levels. Instead of a deep emphasis on individual subjects, it focuses on educational well-roundedness. It also encourages critical thinking, research skills, and community involvement.

IB schools in Singapore

The IB programme is actually multi-levelled, starting from the Primary Years Programme (for students aged 3 to 12), and progressing to the Middle Years Programme (for students aged 11 to 16) and the Diploma Programme (for students aged 16 to 19).

After O levels, qualified students can hop on the IB Diploma Programme, which is a two-year curriculum with a final exam.

These are the Singapore institutions offering the IB Diploma programme:

  • Anglo-Chinese School (International)
  • Hwa Chong International School
  • SJI International School (SJII)

You could also take up this diploma in other IB schools in Singapore such as the United World College of South East Asia (UWCSEA) or the Tanglin Trust School (TTS).

In essence, you should go to one of the IB schools in Singapore if you…

  • Did very well for the O levels
  • Are planning to study at an overseas university
  • Are interested in learning foreign languages
  • Want to work or live abroad in future

Arts institutions

For those with a deep interest in the arts, there are tertiary arts schools that you should look into. The main ones would be LASALLE College of the Arts, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), and School of the Arts (SOTA).

SOTA Singapore
Image credit: Erwin Soo

SOTA has an integrated arts and academic curriculum: the IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) or the IB Career-Related Programme (IBCP). Essentially, this means that students in SOTA will still study traditional subjects, though arts would be incorporated into their studies. Find out more about SOTA’s IB programmes here.

LASALLE and NAFA, on the other hand, offer various diploma (and degree) programme in art, design, and such. You can gather some ideas on the specialisations of each institution based on the schools they have:

Institution Schools
  • McNally School Of Fine Arts
  • Puttnam School of Film & Animation
  • School of Creative Industries
  • School of Design Communication
  • School of Fashion
  • School of Spatial and Product Design
  • School of Contemporary Music
  • School of Dance & Theatre
  • School of Art & Design
  • School of Arts Management, Dance & Theatre
  • School of Music
  • School of Young Talents

Higher NITEC

If you didn’t do well enough to qualify for JC or Poly, you can always enrol into the two-year Higher Nitec course in ITE.

Image credit: Erwin Soo

In ITE, you will gain valuable hands-on experiences and applicable skills that are useful for work in future. From there, you can progress into your selected polytechnic course, provided you attain the minimum required Higher NITEC Grade Point Average (GPA).

Indeed, this will be a long route to getting a diploma, and even a longer route if you’d like to obtain a degree. But don’t be discouraged; there are people who went from ITE to polytechnic and then to a local university – such as Nicholas Ooi, an NUS computing graduate.

There are three ITE colleges in Singapore:

  • ITE College Central
  • ITE College East
  • ITE College West

Here are some of the Higher NITEC courses available:

  • Criminal Technology
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Mechatronics Engineering
  • Business Information Systems
  • Games Art & Design
  • Cyber & Network Security
  • Accounting
  • Events Management
  • Leisure & Travel Operations
  • Logistics for International Trade

Find out more about Higher NITEC and ITE education here.

Working after O levels

If you have decided on your future academic career, but you’re still not sure what to do after O levels quite literally (and I mean during the break between O levels and the start of school), I’d recommend you to work.

You can rest first, but don’t waste this time lazing around. And don’t be daunted by the job search either. Gather your friends and do it together! Once you’ve found something, working after O levels will be fun… or at least very memorable! Common jobs for O level graduates would be in the F&B and retail industries. You could also join an events crew, be a roadshow promoter, or tutor primary school students.

Whatever it is, you are sure to some gain valuable lessons and learn the value of a dollar through working after O levels.

Answered: After O levels, what next?

Now that you’ve made up your mind on what to do after O levels, keep an eye out for the various admission routes that will get you there.

JCs, polytechnics and ITE have the usual Joint Admission Exercise, but you may also be able to get in through the Direct School Admission (for JC) and Early Admissions Exercise (for poly). For art institutions, you should apply directly.

With that, I’d like to wish you all the best embracing your opportunities after O levels!

Rum Tan

Rum Tan is the founder of SmileTutor and he believes that every child deserves a smile. Motivated by this belief and passion, he works hard day & night with his team to maintain the most trustworthy source of home tutors in Singapore. In his free time, he writes articles hoping to educate, enlighten, and empower parents, students, and tutors. You may try out his free home tutoring services via or by calling 6266 4475 directly today.