Crossroads | Next steps after A-Levels, where should I go?

Updated: Sep 15, 2021 What can do after getting your A-Levels results? Read our final installment of this 4-part article to find out how you can make the best out of your post-A levels period!

Career Guides
Wong Wing Lum

What are your options? Pt. 1: The Conventional Route

For ‘A’s

Applying and appealing to your desired university course

Before 2020, admission to local university courses has been largely dependent on academic merit. This means that you can roughly estimate your chances of admission based on the 10th percentile of your desired course’s indicative grade profiles (IGP). You can check out this comprehensive database compiled by Digital Senior across the three local universities Nanyang Technological University (NTU), National University of Singapore (NUS) and Singapore Management University (SMU).

If you have fallen short of meeting the required grades, fret not. From 2020, then-Education Minister Ong Ye Kung announced that all six autonomous universities will start to ramp up aptitude-based admissions as a more holistic means to assess one’s potential to succeed in a course, with NTU pledging to increase this mode of admissions to 50% in the coming years.

Broader assessments – including interviews, portfolios, personal essays and entrance tests – will be factored in to give a fuller evaluation of an applicant’s competency. This shift in focus away from academic cut-off points gives more students a fighting chance to enter their desired courses based on character attributes, skills and passion.

When it boils down to what universities for, SMU admissions office summarises succinctly: “Beyond academic grades, we are looking for interest in SMU and the programme that the student applied for, passion for learning, traits of resilience and innovation, good analytical and critical thinking skills, whether students are team builders and players, have good communication skills, and have an inquiring and questioning mind."

If you fail to get into your desired course, you can always appeal. A tip is to use the power of stories to build your case. When you are drafting your personal essay, dig deep and talk about your journey that led to your passion for the course. Exercise authenticity as you reflect upon your motivation behind enrolling in the field of study, and your aspirations in doing so. To further strengthen your application, you can also ask your former teachers or employers to craft a letter of recommendation to vouch for your conduct. For more information on how you can appeal, head over to this helpful resource compiled by Digital Senior.

Exploring alternative options and interests

The strategy for most is via a university-first approach, which is to secure a spot in one of the more established autonomous universities (NTU, NUS and SMU). However, it matters more to choose a course that aligns with your interests rather than institutional prestige.

Stay open to exploring other possible interests that may have never crossed your mind. There’s no harm in looking into other options out there. Besides, other autonomous universities – Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) – are already making leaps and catching up (or even surpassing) with their counterparts.

How so?

Graduates from SUTD have reported a second consecutive year of higher salaries and full-time employment rate compared to their peers from other AUs in 2018 and 2019, while SIT graduates have progressively roped in steady increments in earnings compared to their predecessors from 2018 to 2019. Meanwhile, in their first graduate employment survey, the full-time employment rate for SUSS graduates was comparably high at 90.9% for 2018.

As for local private universities, hold your horses on the skepticism. There are legitimate concerns regarding the value behind their accreditations, as private university graduates indeed command a lower starting salary compared to public university graduates.

But you’re in for the long game, you’ll find that most employers recognise that the most valuable attributes – skillsets and character – are intangible (see below: How are things changing in Singapore). Once you’ve garnered enough work experience, your qualifications are going to matter a lot less. Hence, the biggest consideration factor would be the tuition expenses for private universities, which are marginally higher as compared to AUs.

Going to Polytechnic

Perhaps after your time in JC, you’ve formed a better idea of what you’re interested to make a career out of. You can certainly use your O-Level results to apply for diploma courses in polytechnics. Furthermore, MOE has recently announced that those equipped with an A-Level certificate can apply for course exemptions in 110 out of 230 courses across the five polytechnics. This means that using your A-Level certificate, you can potentially shave off up to six months in three-year diploma courses. On top of that, JC graduates can apply for a spot in August and secure their placement as early as the second semester in October. The earlier that you can get started on the course, the faster you can finish and move on to the next phase of your life.

Retaking your A Levels

If you i) cannot get over not being able to enter your dream course/school, ii) have exhausted all the options mentioned above, and iii) believe that the results you’ve received are not reflective of your true potential, you can consider giving the examinations another try.

The first hurdle you might face is the fear of lagging behind your peers. If it inspires any confidence, some of the most influential people we know today didn’t get an express pass in life as well.

Former First Ladies of the United States, Michelle Obama and Hilary Clinton both failed the bar examinations on their first tries.

  • Former Executive Chairman of tech company Alibaba Group Jack Ma was rejected from 30 jobs – including KFC – before he started Alibaba in 1999. Two of his colleagues, founders of Alipay and Taobao, also failed to get into MBA courses because they failed their math exams.
  • Singaporean Jack Sim, or more commonly known as “Mr Toilet Man”, who failed his O levels and graduated from vocational school with a certificate in hotel management. He would go on to become a millionaire by 29 and dedicate his life to tackle the world’s sanitation problems.

Rewire your mindset to think of it this way: Rather than a waste, the additional year spent is an investment towards the future you wish to create for yourself. After all, what difference does a year make compared to a lifetime headed towards the direction you want?

The second obstacle you might face is the inertia from getting back to the grind.

As the saying goes, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.”

Outline the intrinsic and extrinsic changes you must make to achieve your desired outcome. This component can include circumstances, personal discipline and motivation, or additional resources necessary to supplement your learning. As you consider these factors, ask yourself honestly if you’re willing to make the personal sacrifices to achieve your goals.

If you’ve made up your mind to retake your examinations, check with your respective institutions if you meet certain criteria required to retake your examinations in your current school. If not, you can enrol as a private candidate. Here are some guidelines to look out for if you’re looking to retake your A-Levels as private candidates.

This post is part of our 4 part series on routes O-Level and A-Level graduates can take after getting their results. Read the rest of the series here:

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