Polytechnic students who have opted to work right after graduation include (from left) Ms Charmaine Ong (social work), Ms Esther Chua (early childhood studies), Ms Guo Meiling (restaurant and culinary operations), Mr Indra Faridzuan (landscape architectur
GONE are the days when polytechnic students would head straight to work after graduation. Instead, polytechnics say most of their students would now get a degree before finding a job.
Still, some are bucking this trend, even though they can easily win a place at one of the six local public universities.
Take Nanyang Poly graduate Charmaine Ong, 23, who has an above-average grade point average (GPA) of 3.91. She wants to work first while most of her friends are going to university.
"I want to take a few more years to see where my strengths are before deciding to continue this as a degree," said the social work graduate.
Ms Ong is looking for a job that would let her work with at-risk youth. She said: "What you study in class are theories, but it's really a whole different ball game when you try to apply them in the real world."
Getting work exposure is also the top concern for Mr Indra Faridzuan, who studied landscape architecture at Singapore Polytechnic.
The 20-year-old, whose GPA is 3.993, won the Tan Kay Yong Gold Medal, given to the top student in design and creative arts.
"People are studying most of their lives. A university degree is important as it's an entry requirement for some companies. But a portfolio matters in the design industry," said Mr Faridzuan, who is working at a design firm where he was an intern last year.
More than 25,000 students, including Mr Faridzuan and Ms Ong, will graduate from the five polytechnics from next week.
Poly officials say many will head for university right away or after serving national service. Up to 80 per cent of them will further their studies - locally, abroad or part-time.
Many diploma holders prefer to get a degree before entering the workforce, as employers still pay university graduates more. Latest employment surveys show fresh university graduates are paid a median gross monthly salary of $3,050, compared with $2,000 for polytechnic graduates.
According to the Ministry of Education, about one in five polytechnic graduates is expected to win a place in the local universities this year, up from 17 per cent last year.
The Government has opened up more university routes and aims to provide publicly funded university spaces for 40 per cent of every cohort by 2020.
Another top performer, Ms Esther Chua from Temasek Polytechnic, is also opting for work experience first.
The 20-year-old, who graduated top of her early childhood studies course with a GPA of 3.97, is working for two years before considering pursuing a degree in the same field.
"I want to know which area of early childhood education would suit me better, like the teaching track, management or curriculum," said Ms Chua, who is working at an NTUC My First Skool childcare centre in Geylang East.
While noting that more poly students are heading to university, Singapore Polytechnic principal Tan Choon Shian said there are benefits to working first.
"Firstly, a young person gets a better sense of whether the profession and career suits him in the long term. After working for a few years, he has a clearer picture of what he wants to learn in further studies and why."
He also starts earning early, Mr Tan added. But whatever the case, the polytechnic ensures that its graduates are ready for either path, by equipping them with both theoretical and industry-relevant knowledge and skills, he said.