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  • Writer's pictureGoh See Min

Storytime: Transitioning from Poly to University

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

I could still vividly recall the day I stepped onto campus to attend class for the first time like it was yesterday. Now that AY23/24 Semester 1 is coming to an end, all that is mostly left for me are group presentations and final exams.

Me realising that Y1S1 is ending already but yey to my first winter vacation (Source)

Looking back at myself navigating through university life at the time of writing, it has not been very eventful (at least for now). Yet, I can confidently say it is similar yet completely different to polytechnic life. Do keep in mind that I am only speaking from personal experiences and observations because after all, we are all creators of our own lives.

So… what made me choose Poly over JC?

Growing up, most of us would have heard our peers and the adults around us saying things like “Don’t waste 1 more year go poly” or “JC easier to get into uni”. I do get where they are coming from actually. But I was not fazed by these comments because I was set on going to poly from the start. Why?

1. I dislike studying and JC seemed like secondary school all over again (ironic I know but mugging is really not it for me…)

Me when I need to prepare for tests and exams (Source)

2. I can enjoy more freedom and flexibility (class timings are not fixed and you do not need to attend classes every day from Monday to Friday woo!)

Me to more free time doing whatever I want (Source)

3. I took History, Geography and Social Studies and realised I enjoy learning about people, places, and cultures (humanities over sciences or math anyone?)

Me when I get to learn more about people, places and cultures around the world (Source)

Like anything else in life, there are also ‘cons’ to being in poly. For example, if you wish to attain a good GPA and get into a local uni, you need to be willing to put in the effort and be consistent throughout all 6 semesters. If you ask any poly student (me included!), this is definitely not impossible but it is not as easy as it looks.

Still, with these reasons in mind, it guided my decision to pursue Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM) at Temasek Polytechnic (TP). You may then be wondering, “Why did I not continue this path in uni?” Well, many people I met here were baffled whenever I told them what I used to study in poly. That is perfectly understandable with how I am currently a first year NUS CNM major. I will reveal why the change later on so stay tuned for that! But for now, I will briefly share what it was like for me as a TP HTM student.

My Poly Experience in a Nutshell

Proud of graduating earlier this May even though COVID-19 happened and everything!

Besides TP being convenient for me, a huge motivator to why I chose TP HTM was because I wanted to go on as many overseas study trips and immersion programmes as I could to more ‘fanciful and expensive’ countries around the world. I mean, the course is called HTM for a reason right? Not to mention how costs are also usually subsidised by the school. Here I thought I could easily go on more than 1 overseas trip throughout my 3 years there. But boy was I wrong.

Sadly, I entered TP in 2020 during the peak of circuit breaker as the infamous COVID-19 batch. Going overseas as a HTM student became a far-fetched dream. I also did not get to go through the full-on freshmen orientation experience because of the pandemic. To top it off, I had home-based learning for nearly the entirety of my first year too. Even till I graduated, all my lectures were asynchronous and certain classes were still held online.

To make things worse, I decided not to join any CCAs and interest groups because I wanted to take a break from being in a CCA with heavy commitments back in secondary school. I also did not get to know most of my Year 1 classmates on a deeper level. Thankfully, I had still managed to make friends as classes gradually shifted back to in-person in Year 2. It was also then I got to work and interact with most of my classmates in-person.

Admittedly, I had a rather non-existent social life, but I am thankful for having gained numerous specialised and transferable skillsets and knowledge during my time there. The ‘1 more year’ I briefly mentioned earlier is also a significant turning point in my academic and personal life. And that is my poly internship. I would also say it is the trigger to how I ended up in NUS as a CNM major.

Now… why the switch to CNM?

As you may or may not already know, all poly students need to embark on the internship programme as part of graduation requirements. Since internship typically takes place throughout 1 whole semester in either the first or second semester of Year 3, many poly students like myself take this seriously because it is a major component that can drastically bring up or pull down our GPA. It makes such a difference that you can literally go from having 3.5 to 3.7 or the other way round. And in some cases, your GPA also does not change much like mine did.

Now coming back to the main topic, I stepped foot into the events industry by interning at an events management company that organises trade and consumer shows. While my official title was Project Intern, it was in fact an event marketing-focused role. And here comes the twist: I specialised in Travel and Tourism and minored in Interactive Digital Media. This meant that many of the skills and knowledge I possessed pertaining to the sector were not so relevant in my internship. I do learn about the events industry still (but only briefly), and there were certain skills such as Canva and Excel that I could still put to use.

Unforgettable memories collated from helping out at events, celebrations, team lunches, farewells (including mine), and more!

There were times I thought I could have it easier if I were to intern in the travel, tourism or aviation industry instead. In fact, that has always been the plan given my specialisation. However, I applied to internships way later than most of my peers so I was ghosted by my first internship company choice. To those applying for internships, please don’t make the same mistake I did. Nonetheless, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise because the job posted by my now former internship company aligned more with my interests in marketing, media, and design.

It was then I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be the best time to challenge myself and step out of my comfort zone?” Despite the uncertainty and nervousness I felt, I decided to trust my gut feeling and experience what it is like working in the events industry. And sure enough, it proved to be a life-changing experience that I would never trade for anything else in life. Although I had to learn almost everything on the job, I saw it as learning opportunities that could broaden my expertises (and it did!). To make the most out of my internship, I also seized every chance I could to help out at events for experience. By assisting and being involved in numerous projects, I got to work and form relationships with colleagues from different departments. Needless to say, I do not and will never regret making this decision.

Taking photos onsite for social media at my very first event!

As time went by, I realised I enjoy doing the creative aspects of marketing like graphic design and video editing. Now, have you noticed how they are disciplines taught in CNM courses? Learning Visual Communication as part of my minor may arguably be what awoke my creative interest as well. While many of my peers either went on to study Hospitality Business in SIT, took a gap year, or worked full-time, I knew...

1. I was not ready to work full-time

Me knowing I have to work 9-5 every day and have more responsibilities (Source)

2. I would not take a gap year since my internship-turned-part-time job is technically already a gap year for me (not to mention I went for my internship in Y3S2)

Me surprisingly starting to miss school life after going into the corporate world (Source)

3. I did not want to study a business-related course again, but I wanted to study a ‘new’ field that is still relevant to marketing

Me deciding to pursue CNM instead (Source)

All in all, I had multiple reasons that fuelled my desire to make the switch to CNM.

P.S. If you are a soon-to-be poly graduate who is interested in applying to NUS, click here for more admission details! There is also the Aptitude Based Admissions Programme (ABA) which is similar to the Poly Early Admission Exercise (EAE) too.

Comparison Between Poly (TP) and Uni (NUS CHS) Curriculum

Entering an unfamiliar environment with new faces, it felt weird being a freshman again after being a senior back in poly. If you recall what I wrote at the start, university life is “same same but different” from poly for me. So, here are some similarities and differences between the two school curriculums. Note that this article only serves to provide insights on the mentioned curriculums and compare purely based on known facts and personal experiences.

Grading System

Similarity: Both TP and NUS use a modular system (i.e. each module/course equates to a certain amount of units and academic performance is graded by GPA)

Difference: GPA is measured on a 4-point scale in TP (i.e. out of 4.0) and a 5-point scale in NUS (i.e. out of 5.0)

Me and all other poly/uni students determined to work towards that perfect GPA (Source)

Explaining how the NUS grading system will be quite lengthy for this article so you may refer here for more information instead.


Similarity: Classes are not held at fixed timings from Monday to Friday every day

Difference: You get to plan your own timetable in NUS but timetables are set and given to you based on your assigned class in TP

Me when I have no classes (Source)

Although I managed to get most of my desired tutorial slots this semester, I still felt that I could have planned my timetable better. This is especially crucial if you do not stay on campus like me. You would not want to be allocated to 8am and 9am classes because you still need to factor in commuting time. So, trust me when I say NUSMods will be your best friend when it comes to timetable planning. (Be sure to also check out other must-have NUS resources written by another fellow writer!)

Gateway & Common/Core Modules

Similarity: It is part of the graduation requirements to read the gateway and common/core modules in NUS and TP

Difference #1: Common CHS courses comprises various fields (e.g. social sciences, humanities, sciences) while TP HTM core modules were all business-related (e.g. business law, marketing, accounting, statistics)

Difference #2: Anyone in NUS can take gateway courses for their declared major(s) and/or minor(s), but TP students can only take their course introductory modules (e.g. ‘Introduction to Hospitality & Tourism’ in my case)

Me when I realised I needed to read common CHS courses (Source)

Despite knowing that CNM is housed under CHS, I actually thought that I did not have to read common CHS courses. Before any of you come at me, I did do my research before deciding to come to NUS but apparently it was not enough (nervously laughs). Because of that, I was somewhat disappointed that I needed to take common courses that were not so related to CNM since the core modules I took in poly were still related to a certain extent.

However, if not for these common courses and the flexibility that comes with personalising your study plan at NUS, I would not have that many opportunities to mingle with students from other majors unlike in poly. Since I was stuck with the same classmates from Year 2 onwards, most of us would stick to the same project groups by the time we reached Year 3. It was only until my internship that I got to interact with other coursemates outside of my class as well.

Getting Around Campus

Difference: You need to take campus shuttle buses to get from faculty to faculty at NUS, but all schools in TP are reachable by walking alone

Me every time I cannot get on the shuttle bus at Kent Ridge MRT (Source)

Well, I am literally stating the obvious given how NUS is so much bigger than TP. Not going to lie, I would be frantically navigating through campus if I did not go to the CNM Freshmen Orientation Camp. Since my seniors had told us about NUS NextBus and brought us around FASS, I was less nervous when I had to attend classes during the first tutorial/lecture week.

So if you can, try to sign up for some of these orientation camps which usually happens during the summer vacation period (May - July). It is one of the best times you get to orientate yourself around campus, hear insider tips and information from seniors, and make friends with people who would potentially be your future classmates before school starts!

Words of Encouragement

To all the prospective students, especially those in poly, who are considering applying to NUS in the future, I hope that sharing my experiences has enlightened you and helped you in being more informed when it comes to what life in NUS is like. Not forgetting all the current freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors who read this till the end, I hope that you are still staying strong and hanging in there! Good luck also to those who are taking final exams soon. Remember we are in this together.

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