Nestled in a corner of Serangoon, Nanyang Junior College (NYJC) has been quietly growing in popularity.
More of its graduates are making it to university, and students are attracted to its flexible curriculum, and principal and staff who listen.
In tandem, the school's entry requirements have improved steadily in the last decade, getting whittled down from 11 to six points for science stream students, and from 12 to seven points for the arts stream since 2006.
The school's cut-off score now places it among the top JCs offering the A-level programme.
Other junior colleges that have climbed up the ranks over the years include Serangoon JC (SRJC) and Meridian JC (MJC).
To enter a JC, a student's L1R5 score - based on the O-level results for English and five relevant subjects - must not exceed 20 points. The lower the score, the better the student's chances of getting a place in a JC of his choice.
The toughest schools to enter are still Raffles Institution and Hwa Chong Institution, which require students to attain three to four points.
Dr Timothy Chan, director of private institution SIM Global Education's academic division, said of the increasingly popular JCs: "While the percentage of graduates getting university admissions is certainly a key factor, the emotional tone of a school also helps to win hearts."
NYJC principal Kwek Hiok Chuang said his staff have worked hard to build a culture of care.
"Students won't come to the principal's office, so when I see them in the canteen or studying, I talk to them and try to encourage them," said Mr Kwek, who joined the school over 10 years ago.
He encourages his vice-principals and teachers to do the same.
The JC's popularity can be seen in its application numbers - about 4,000 Secondary 4 students place it among their top three JC choices yearly. It takes in about 700 students each year.
About nine in 10 of its graduates go on to study at a local university.
MJC, which also takes in about 700 students yearly, has more than 90 per cent of them placing it among their top three choices. Over nine in 10 of its students go on to study at a local university.
Principal Lim Yan Hock noted that the improvement has spurred the staff to adapt their teaching to "changing profiles and needs of students".
For SRJC, the support from teachers is one factor that draws students. Principal Manogaran Suppiah noted: "We've never talked about the cut-off point as a (key performance indicator). Our focus has to be on the students."
He added that SRJC reviews its programmes yearly to consider students' higher aspirations and learning needs. About 85 per cent of his students placed SRJC among their top three choices. Last year, more than three in four of its graduates were offered courses in local universities.
First-year NYJC student Lim Zong Hui, 16, who scored four points at the O levels, was won over by the school after attending its open house.
The former CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School student had heard from friends and seniors about the school's close-knit family culture.
She said: "I want to find a balance between studying and co-curricular activities, and have a fun JC life."
Meanwhile, second-year JC student Goh Shu Yi chose MJC as she did not want to be in an overly competitive school environment. She scored six points for her O levels.
"The school struck me as being really vibrant when I came for its open house," said the 17-year-old.
The teachers also "care a lot", she said, adding that they arrange extra lessons for students who need help before the year-end exams.