GROWING numbers of junior college students are giving up the conventional route to university so they can sign up for their dream course at a polytechnic.
About 400 to 500 a year make the switch midway through their programmes, with many keen to pursue their interest in a particular discipline such as culinary arts, filming or biotechnology.
But first, they have to contend with their parents, who often see junior colleges - or JCs - as a safer route to a university place and a professional career.
"My parents were worried, of course," said 18-year-old Ngee Ann Polytechnic film student Jeshua Soh, who moved from the prestigious Integrated Programme (IP) at Hwa Chong Institution.
"The JC or IP school route is seen to be an easier route to university and graduate-level jobs."
Most students who make the switch do so after completing their first year, while the rest take the leap in their second.
Polytechnic officials say many youngsters transfer after struggling with their studies in junior college.
However, they say growing numbers are doing so because of their passion for a particular subject in which they can pursue a more hands-on course.
On the flip side, the numbers going the other way are tiny. The Education Ministry, which revealed the transfer figures, said only 40 to 50 polytechnic students move to the junior colleges each year.
This is despite the fact that doing so would improve their chances of getting a degree. Seventeen per cent of youngsters at polytechnics go on to the local universities, the ministry's statistics show. For their junior college equivalents, the rate is over 70 per cent.
Many more polytechnic graduates will have access to local universities in the coming years due to plans to expand the number of places.
But progression to university does not seem to worry the JC students who have switched over.
Zhang Keyan spent a year at Meridian Junior College before applying to study for a diploma in social work at Nanyang Polytechnic.
"Since secondary school, I have been involved in community work, but when I went to JC, my studies took up a lot of my time and I did not have as much time for voluntary work.
"So when I finished my Year 1 exams, I dropped out, took a temporary job and applied to do a social work diploma course. Now, I love going for my lessons. It was the best decision I made."
The 19-year-old, who does volunteer work with several community organisations, is in his second year and has a perfect grade point average of 4.
Dwayne Cheong, 18, is another student who has found a better fit at a polytechnic.
He transferred to the culinary and catering management course at Temasek Polytechnic after finishing his JC1 at Meridian Junior College.
His ambition to become a chef was sparked after he watched celebrity chef Jamie Oliver on television.
Although he was doing well enough in his studies, he felt it was not the right fit.
"I kept asking myself what I am doing in a JC when all I wanted to do was to become a chef."
Dwayne said he is glad the ministry allows students to switch from polytechnic to junior college and vice versa.
"Sometimes it takes a while for young people to figure out what they are good at and what they want to do with their lives."
Republic Polytechnic principal Yeo Li Pheow said he was not surprised those who transferred got good results.
"If a student finds something that he or she is really interested in, then the As and Bs will follow."
This story was first published in The Straits Times on June 5, 2013
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