After the GCE O Levels, most teenagers will reach their first big educational crossroad in life: should you continue with the GCE A Level syllabus in junior college (JC), or pursue a more specialised diploma at a polytechnic?
The age-old question… Poly or JC?
Those from more traditional families may prefer JCs as a more prestigious and direct route into university, but contrary to popular belief, polytechnics are not just for those who “cannot make it to JC”.
In many ways, JCs are like “extended secondary schools”, and polytechnics are like “almost universities”.
With JC, you graduate with an A Level certificate, which is required to get you into university. But you can’t exactly start working yet, because you don’t really have any specialised skills or knowledge. However, with polytechnics, the courses are vocational, and you graduate with a diploma and are “work-ready”. In terms of tertiary institutes, it’s quite comparable to others like Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and School of the Arts, except those are quite niche and for arts students only.
Seeing as the type of education is quite different, the costs are too.
JC vs poly course fees in Singapore (2020)
|Yearly school fees||$200+||~$3,000 (for Singapore citizens)|
|Qualification awarded||GCE A Level||Diploma|
|Course duration||2 to 3 years||3 years|
|What do you study||Structured similarly to secondary school, with addition subjects like General Paper and Economics||Structured like university, with core modules and electives relative to your diploma|
JC school fees are just $6, and even after adding the maximum allowable $13.50 for miscellaneous fees, that’s only $19.50 monthly. That comes up to about $200+ per year.
Based on that, the cost of pursuing your A Levels in JC is quite affordable for most (unless you pick an independent JC that costs $3,600 to $4,800 yearly, of course).
So there’s not much to say on that end.
However, polytechnic course fees are much more expensive. It is the cheapest for Singapore citizens, and even then, it’s $2,900 per year after subsidies and excluding supplementary fees.
That said, if you intend to pursue a degree in university after polytechnic, it’s worthy to note that you may also be able to knock a few semesters off if you do a related degree. That could result in some savings too.
Let’s break down how much it costs to pursue a diploma at a local polytechnic.
Breakdown of polytechnic course fees, including MOE tuition grant
|Yearly polytechnic course fees||Full course fees (3 years)||Notes|
|Singapore citizens||$2,900||$8,700||Fees stated are after tuition grant|
|Singapore permanent residents (PRs)||$6,000||$18,000||Fees stated are after tuition grant|
|International students||$10,800 before GST||$32,400 before GST||No grants, GST not absorbed|
The course fees states are for admissions in academic year 2020/2021 (AY). The fees are cohort-based, meaning they’ll remain at the same fee for all 3 years of studies.
For example, Singaporean students admitted in AY 2018/2019 paid $2,800 in their first year (last year), so even though it’s $2,900 for admissions this year (2020), the AY2018/2019 students will continue to pay $2,800 per year.
As you can see, Singaporeans pay a lot less than foreigners. That’s because they’re automatically awarded the MOE tuition grant. PRs are also eligible, but they will need to actively apply for it and serve a 3-year bond upon graduation.
International students pay the most: there are no grants, so they pay the full fee, including GST (GST is absorbed for Singapore citizens and PRs).
The course fees for diploma courses are pretty much fixed for all 5 polytechnics in Singapore, excluding supplementary fees for examinations, insurance, and etc.
Supplementary fees are about $80 to $100, and are meant to cover expenses for examinations, insurance, facilities and etc.
To help those from lower-income families, there are a few education bursaries that are offered across all 5 polytechnics.
Tertiary education bursaries for all polytechnics
|Bursary||Bursary coverage (per year)||Citizenship||Income ceiling *|
|Polytechnic Foundation Programme bursary||$970 (one-time cash award)||Singapore citizens in PFP courses||PCI under $691, GHI under $2,751|
|CDC/CCC^ Polytechnic bursary||$2,350||Singapore citizens||PCI under $691, GHI under $2,571|
|CDC/CCC^ Polytechnic bursary||$2,150||Singapore citizens||PCI $691 to $1,000, GHI $2,751 to $4,000|
|MOE bursary||$1,650||Singapore citizens||PCI $1,001 to $1,725, GHI $4,001 to $6,900|
|MOE bursary||$800||Singapore citizens||PCI $1,726 to $2,250, GHI $6,901 to $9,000|
* Per capita income (PCI) and gross household income (GHI)
^ Community Development Council (CDC) and Citizens Consultative Committee (CCC)
There are 2 government-funded bursaries — the CDC/CCC polytechnic bursary and MOE bursary. They are 4 tiers of income brackets (2 each), and depending on which you fall under, you can get from $800 to $2,350 subsidy per year.
For those enrolled in the polytechnic foundation programme (PFP), if your PCI is under $691 or GHI under $2,571, you will also get a $970 subsidy.
In the National Day Rally 2019, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that they’ll be pumping in even more resource into making tertiary education more affordable.
Bursary coverage will be increased from up to 80% to 95% instead.
Private donor bursaries
You can also try applying for a private donor bursary. These are funded by donations, which could be from generous alumnae, charitable organisations and more.
Each polytechnic has over 10 of these, and the selection criteria is usually specific to the private bursary. To find out more about how you can get awarded, it’s best to book an appointment with your preferred school’s financial assistance advisor.
More financial assistance for polytechnic course fees in Singapore
Bursaries typically have stringent income requirements as they are meant to help the lower income families. If you do not qualify but still need financial help, you can consider these other schemes for needy students.
|Type of financial aid||Max coverage of tuition fees||Eligibility|
|Post Secondary Education Account||Edusave||100%||Singapore citizens with PSEA accounts|
|Mendaki Tertiary tuition fee subsidy||Subsidy||50% to 100%||Malay Singapore citizens and PRs, with per capita income of under $2,000|
|CPF education scheme||CPF education loan, to be repaid with interest||100% (limited by CPF withdrawal limit of 40% from OA)||All full-time students|
|Tuition fee loan||Loan, to be repaid with interest||75%||All full-time students|
|Study loan||Loan, to be repaid with interest||25% + $2,000 for living expenses||Singapore citizens and PRs who’ve taken up maximum tuition fee loan (above) and have GHI $2,700 and below|
|IMDA NEU PC Plus programme||Laptop subsidy||NA.||Singaporeans and PRs with PCI $900 and below, or GHI $3,400 and below|
1. Post Secondary Education Account (PSEA)
If you’re a Singapore citizen with a PSEA, you can use whatever funds in there to pay for your poly course fees. You may also use your siblings’.
If you’re wondering how you get money in there, it’s from your Edusave account, which becomes a PSEA after secondary school.
2. Mendaki tertiary tuition fee subsidy
The Mendaki tertiary tuition fee subsidy is for Malay students with a PCI of $2,000 or less. Both Singaporeans and PRs can apply, but PRs must have applied for and received the MOE tuition grant (as above) before eligible for this subsidy.
There are 3 tiers of subsidy coverage, depending on the applicant’s income. For the full 100%, your PCI must be $1,400 or below.
3. CPF Education Scheme
All full-time students can apply for this, but in particular, PRs must have executed the MOE tuition grant and international students must appoint a guarantor.
The CPF Education Scheme is a little tricky, but although you’re using your own CPF savings, you need to repay it with interest (pegged to CPF), almost like a loan.
Under this scheme, you can withdraw up to 40% of CPF in your Ordinary Account (OA) to pay for up to 100% of your tuition fee. You’ll need to start repayment 1 year after you graduate, and have a maximum of 12 years to finish paying.
4. Tuition fee loan
Now onto the “real” loans. You can also seek financial help from banks like DBS, UOB and OCBC to finance up to 75% of your tuition fees. All full-time students can apply.
Of course, because this is a loan and you have to pay interest, it should only considered if you’ve exhausted the other above-mentioned options. The interest rates are around 4.75% p.a. — you can read more about education loans in this article — but interest will only commence after graduation.
That means your loan is interest-free during your course of study.
5. Study loan
After taking up a tuition fee loan (above), there’s still a remaining 25% that some students may need help with. For Singapore citizens and PRs, you can apply for a government study loan to cover that, plus $2,000 for living expenses.
The income ceiling is GHI $2,700 and below. For those who have PCI under $951, the loan is interest-free. For those earning between $951 to $2,700, the loan is interest-free during the 3 years of study.
6. Laptop subsidy (IMDA NEU PC Plus Programme)
The NEU PC Plus Programme is by the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA), and is a subsidy for low-income students who need to buy laptops for school.
This is for students with PCI $900 and under ($1,125 if there is a permanently disabled household member) or GHI of $3,400 and under.
The prices are highly subsidised, ranging from $200 to $800+ for a brand new set. The models are fixed and recommended based on your diploma course. For instance, if you are in a design, media or arts course you may be required to use a laptop with superior RAM and graphics card requirements.
Which polytechnic should you apply for?
In terms of course fees, all 5 polytechnics are about the same. Different institutions may have courses unique to them though — like say, law in Temasek Polytechnic.
The different schools are also known for different disciplines. It’s been a long time since I was in school, but in general (based on online reviews and forums, anyway), this is what each is known for:
Ngee Ann Polytechnic — business and mass communications
Singapore polytechnic — engineering and life sciences
Temasek Polytechnic — design and law
Nanyang Polytechnic — IT and nursing
Republic Polytechnic — hospitality and sports management
There is no official ranking of polytechnics, so some will tell you to pick based on the above.
However, I feel that all 5 polytechnics in Singapore are quite comparable. If it’s not too niche a course — meaning it’s available at most polytechnics — you may want to consider just choosing the one nearest to your home.
You’ll be spending a lot of time in school, so you don’t want to spend unnecessary time and money travelling either.
Do you have any tips for financing a diploma course at a local polytechnic? Share them with us in the comments below!