November 30

I studied in one of the best junior colleges in Singapore. Should you/your child do so too?



Most articles like this start with a laundry list of the points needed to enter each junior college (JC).

Imagine the best students in Singapore, clustered in a pressure cooker environment. What will you get?
Imagine the best students in Singapore, clustered in a pressure cooker environment. What will you get?

I think that’s the wrong way to do it.

Because when you do that, you don’t share the real life experience of students who’ve been there, done that, and who can share how life was for them.

This article aims to be different.

This article hopes to educate the well-meaning parents who want to do the best for their child, but also the students who are moving onto junior college. The point of this article isn’t to say that Hwa Chong Junior College was bad.

It has three intentions:

  1. Help you make a better decision about which junior college you should go
  2. Understand if you should make the leap to a top junior college
  3. Know what to do to make the most of your JC experience

Some history

I moved from Hwa Chong Institution to the Junior College in 2012, and promptly struggled.

As someone from the Integrated Programme, and who wasn’t used to everything suddenly being laser focused on a national exam, I spent much of my first year trying to figure everything out.

I thought it was more important to get a great CV than to focus on my studies.

I remember the most memorable moment came when I was having the June holidays in 2012, during JC1.

I had played Fifa the previous night with a friend till 5am, and then woken up at 7am, and then went to train the next day at Sentosa.

Training till I was sunburnt, at Sentosa
Training till I was sunburnt, at Sentosa

The next day, at school, I promptly fell asleep.

My teacher complained.

It wasn’t until I finally got back my Alevel results in 2014, that I realised how poor my decision was to concentrate on my CCAs, and a fancy CV.

I scored badly. In fact, I scored BBAD. It seemed like God was playing a joke on me.

Nah, my results just didn't work out.
Nah, my results just didn’t work out.

Why? And what would I recommend other younger students, who are about to embark on a similar path as me?

This article is split into two parts. Firstly, for the parents.

Then for you, if you’re about to enter JC.

For the parents

Understand your child’s strengths

My parents were more traditional, and preferred that I studied the science subjects.

I promptly struggled.

I don’t blame them. At that point, I didn’t know what I was great at too.

But if you’re a parent, you need to know what your child is great at, and not simply good at. It might help you figure out what subject combinations they should take at JC.

Know what motivates your child

Often, when I work with parents who struggle with their children, the chief frustration comes because they are unable to understand what motivates your child.

If you think your child is motivated by carrots, then putting him in a school where he’s pushed to his limits, isn’t going to be a place where he naturally excels.

As BJ Fogg shares in his book ‘Tiny Habits’, often, people do things they like, and avoid things they don’t.

That’s why you may be avoiding exercise.


  1. When has my child excelled?
  2. What are those environments like? Stressful? Easy?

For the student entering JC

The best JC may not be the one your points get you to

Choosing the best JC for yourself, may not be about getting into the one that your points fit into.

Rather, it’s about figuring out what environment you work best in.

Are you someone who works well under pressure? Or are you someone who excels when there are more opportunities?

As a Hwa Chong student, I was constantly competing with the cream of the crop. We were told, from the first day I entered high school, that we were the cream of the crop in Singapore.

In Hwa Chong, every morning, I would hear announcements about yet another competition being won, or another medal being gotten, or another fancy award handed out.

Sure, those were great achievements. But it got to me.

That’s why a key question that you must ask yourself is,

How well do you function under pressure? Immense pressure?

Some pressure is good. But too much pressure can be bad. That’s why it’s a fine balance. You don’t want to be in a place where you’re too comfortable, but you wouldn’t want to be in a place where it far exceeds your capabilities as well.

Doing quite badly in Hwa Chong landed me in the University of Nottingham (that’s a story for another time), where it was not as competitive.

Of course the contexts were different.

But it brought me back to the time when I was in Xinghua Primary School, a neighbourhood school. I was given many opportunities there. I excelled, regularly topping the class.

But in Hwa Chong, I was always bottom.

I was more interested in smashing cakes on people's faces than my studies
I was more interested in smashing cakes on people’s faces than my studies

My personal advice, is to go for the school that you can comfortably enter, rather than one that’s a stretch. For example, if you were a 2-pointer, you might be better off choosing the 3/4 pointer, rather than the Raffles or Hwa Chong.

My reason for this is simple.

It allows you to be more relaxed whilst studying.

I’m a big believer in flow, and not having to hustle just to get to success.

JC can sometimes be about fun too
JC can sometimes be about fun too

Being relaxed, is a far likelier way that you would succeed than constantly being stressed that you’re not keeping up with the pacesetters.

And mind you, the pacesetters at the elite schools, can be legendary.

You might not even think they are human.

Community, community, community

Perhaps in Hwa Chong, looking back, the biggest thing I appreciated was the community I was a part of.

You spend every day with each other, that you end up forming unbreakable bonds.

At Hwa Chong, there’s a deliberate effort to encourage community right from the start – with all the classes having class benches clustered around two wings.

You don’t have a classroom to yourself. Only a bench.

You get to see people from the different streams, and have late night conversations.

If you were from the Junior College Admissions Exercise (JAE), meaning that you weren’t from the IP system, you would also be naturally integrated. You might think that the huge cohorts of Nanyang and Hwa Chong guys would mean that people from other schools would be excluded.

But from what I saw in my own class, the best friends often came across different schools, and IP students even had great friends from the JAE schools.

There’s no perfect decision

As cliched as this sounds, there really is no perfect decision. There’s only the one that you live with.

Helping your child, ornyourself to make a better decision isn’t about doing more research. Sometimes, it’s looking back and asking yourself, where have I done well?

When have I not?

And making a decision that’s best for you, and not for anyone else.


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