When she stepped foot into polytechnic four years ago, Ms Rachel Tan did not know what to expect.
After all, the former West Spring Secondary Normal (Academic) student was in the pioneer cohort of students who got in through the Polytechnic Foundation Programme (PFP). It allows students to skip Secondary 5 and the O levels.
"When I first came in, I felt lost and worried for my future because no one seemed to have heard of the PFP," said the 20-year-old, who did a biomedical engineering diploma at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
"There were also no seniors with similar experiences whom I could approach for guidance."
But that year-long preparatory programme allowed her to adjust to poly life, ahead of her peers who entered through the O-level route.
"I slowly started to realise that while the foundation courses were challenging, they allowed me to learn about my strengths and weaknesses," she said. "I was able to figure out aspects of engineering that I enjoy learning."
Ms Tan eventually topped her cohort, and will be graduating this month with a grade point average of 3.95 out of 4.0.
She will receive the Biomedical Engineering Society (Singapore) gold medal and prize for her performance, among other awards.
Ms Tan said she felt "slightly inferior initially" when she started her three-year diploma programme alongside students who got in through their O-level results.
But she added: "While my peers were still spending their first few weeks trying to adapt, I was able to focus on the lessons immediately."
The PFP also prepared her well with the skills needed. For instance, she recalled a lab session where students had to do soldering, and was pleased that she had learnt about the process in her foundation year.
Ms Tan, who plans to further her studies after graduation, said: "The PFP gave me the opportunity to build a stronger foundation, and assured me that I am no different from other students."