• Wong Wing Lum

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

Updated: Mar 3

Weigh your options on the routes you can take after getting your O Level results. Check out our final installment of this 4-part article to find out how you can walk a path less travelled by.


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


For ‘O’s


Choosing between JC or Poly


If you’re still deciding between going to a junior college (JC) or polytechnic, head over to this comprehensive article by theAsianparent who did a stellar job comparing the two options. Take a stab at the JC or Poly quiz by SmileTutor as well.

If O Levels was like climbing the Bukit Timah Hill, think of A Levels as hiking along The Great Wall of China. I feel that nothing ever truly prepares you for the rigour of JC. This brings me to the not-so-secret recipe on how you can succeed in JC: sheer discipline and diligence (for two straight years).


Sugar, spice and everything nice

Consider what your end goals are. If you have a clear idea of what career you wish to pursue, a polytechnic pathway might be a better choice as it will effectively arm you with skillsets that prepares you for work. On the other hand, JC might work better for those who are i) still unsure about what they want to do in the future and ii) looking for a more secure path into university.


Prioritising JAE options and applying via DAE


Let’s say you want to get into this particular school/course but you fail to meet the enrollment criteria. Unfortunately, since 2016, JCs have been stricter in enforcing standards requested by the Ministry of Education (MOE) to reject appeal requests from those who do not meet the cut-off point (COP). Hence, it’s not advisable to prioritise them in your Joint Admission Exercise (JAE) application if you did not meet the COP.


By and large, while the guidelines for polytechnic courses may not be as stringent, you need to be strategic in ensuring all of your 12 choices count. Look at how far off the points are. If you’ve only just missed the mark, it may be worth listing them high up in your JAE application. Prioritise the order according to the courses that you’re most passionate about, followed by those you have a general interest in. To increase the likelihood of success, remember that your aggregate score should be around the required JAE ELR2B2 for these courses.


You can also try to appeal directly to the course of your choice under the Direct Admissions Exercise (DAE). DAE allows applicants whose qualifications are inapplicable for JAE to apply for admission into full-time diploma courses across all polytechnics in Singapore. Visit the respective websites of the colleges to find out more details.


Exploring possible alternative interests


However, let’s say that you’ve missed the mark by a considerable margin. It may be a stretch to rank these options high up as applicants with lower aggregate scores will be deprioritised depending on the courses’ demand and supply. At this juncture, it’s crucial to allow more room for flexibility. Repivot and keep an open mind in exploring options that you’ve never considered before.

If you are unsure about where your interests lie, craft a list detailing the options for which you meet the cut-off points. You can find the full list of post-secondary courses in polytechnics (SP, NP, TP, NYP, RP) and Institute Technology of Education (ITE) and their information here. If you have an eye for art, cement your artistic inclinations by looking into specialised schools with diploma programmes offered by LASELLE College of the Arts and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA).


Find out more about each option by going to the school’s website or attending their open houses. One way to get authentic, in-depth insights into the school experience is to tap into your personal contacts of seniors who were ex-students of the said course or school. If you do not have any direct sources, find them on LinkedIn. Search for the course or school keywords and drop a polite message to ex/current students about your queries.


As long as you’re earnest, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how willing people are to offer their helping hand.



Questions you can ask:

  • Tell me more about the school culture (teachers, students, extracurricular activities etc)

  • What are some of the opportunities that the school offers?

  • What makes you excited about the course/school?

  • How has the school support you in your learning?

  • What are your career plans after you’ve graduated from the course/school?

  • Upon graduation, where have some of the seniors moved on to?

Going to the Institute of Technical Education (ITE)


ITE is an alternative route to tertiary education where you can be equipped with essential vocational skills that will allow you to be job-ready upon graduation. You will have the opportunity to study for a National ITE Certificate (NITEC) and progress to higher NITEC (1 year) or polytechnic diploma courses in related fields if you’ve met the minimum entry requirements.

Academic Progression for ITE Students | Credit: ITE

A lot of our work at Hatch entails speaking with business owners and company managers to learn about their hiring needs. What has been consistently clear in that process is that the technical skills ITE graduates are equipped with are critical to business and in demand. Our society’s stigmatisation against the capabilities and potential of these graduates is unwarranted, untrue, and self-fulfilling. Through our work, we hope to move towards a future where skills and character competencies are valued in and of themselves, and not through the archaic proxy of paper qualifications.


At present, we can take solace in the inspiration of individuals who have achieved success in their own right. Take the story of 23-year-old Nicholas Chan, who was “far from being a straight-A student”. Mr Chan had quit secondary school in his third year and later took his O and A levels as a private candidate. In 2019, he became the first ITE graduate to enter NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.



Success is not limited to re-entering mainstream education. The example here is just one of many exceptional ITE graduates who have demonstrated outstanding resilience in overcoming life’s detours. Mr Chan was featured because he has achieved commendable milestones that are out of reach even for those who’ve sailed through smoothly their educational journeys in Singapore.


What I hope that you take away from this: All roads lead to Rome. Even if your calling does not lie in these prestigious occupations, success in your definition is very much within your reach if you have the grit to work for your dreams.


Retaking your O 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 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 O-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:


Hatch is an impact-focused training and job placement enterprise. We believe that learning and job fulfilment should be accessible to all, and that's why we write articles like this.


Like what you've just read?


Here are some career-related resources you may like:

Learn more about what we do at Hatch:


About Us

Contact Us

Hatch is a training and job matching company that specialises in Digital Marketing and User Interface, User Experience. We aim to enable growth careers for young adults through these courses and support them in their pursuit of a fulfilling career.

© 2020 Hatch. All Rights Reserved. 

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Privacy Policy.