Ruth Koh smiling
Taking a leap of faith, Ruth finalised her decision to sign on during her
post A-level break after months of consideration. Photo: Ruth Koh

Once out of junior college (JC), polytechnic, or the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), many young Singaporeans would waste no time in applying for university admission. However, this isn’t the case for Ruth Koh, 19, a JC graduate who’s decided to sign on with the Singapore Army.

“JC was undoubtedly the most stressful experience of my life,” she recalled. Instead of going through another academically challenging stint, she decided to hit the brakes on her studies to pursue her ambition of working as a combat officer.

“It’s a very meaningful job and a way for me to give back to the country that has protected me for the past 19 years,” she explained.

Many of her peers are waiting anxiously for their university application outcome or getting ready for enrolment.

A study carried out by The Straits Times (ST) and Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) last year found that 93.4 per cent of the 1,056 youths aged 19 years old surveyed want a degree, with 81 per cent doing so to improve salary prospects.

Although going to university is now the mainstream option, there are those like Ruth who make up the exception to this pattern.

19-year-old Leona Chong is a final-year Optometry student in Singapore Polytechnic who plans to enter the workforce immediately after graduating next year.

Eager to get a head start in her line of work with a diploma, Leona looks forward to getting a taste of industry practices. Photo: Leona Chong

“In such a hands-on profession, I feel that as a diploma-holder, I’ll get to practise the same technical skills as an optometrist with a degree. While they might acquire broader knowledge, I believe working experiences will give me an equal footing as them,” Leona said.

Before enrolling in her course, Leona admits that university was “always part of the plan”. However, as she spent more time honing her skills, she realised that her favourite aspect was interacting with patients at clinics.

“I don’t see the allure of getting a degree for the sake of it anymore; I found my passion and want to pursue it relentlessly. Hopefully, I’ll open my own spectacles shop someday – slowly but surely,” she smiles.

Other than Ruth and Leona, Ryan Peck is another 19-year-old that isn’t heading to university.

Hoping to bring joy to people through his food, Ryan looks forward
to owning his own café in the future. Photo: Ryan Peck

With a Higher Nitec in Pastry and Baking, Ryan decided to focus on his dream of working in the Food and Beverage (F&B) industry after years of struggling with his studies.

“My parents are supportive of my decision to continue learning about F&B through Food Science in polytechnic. I don’t think university is for me,” he shared.

Regardless, he has decided to give it his all to achieve his aspirations, with or without a degree.

Ruth, Leona and Ryan belong to a small group of young Singaporeans who believe they can do without a university degree. See the perspectives of their peers who feel otherwise in this infographic: