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What do you do when your dream seems unreachable?

01 Feb 2021

Nicole Ip

Hear it from Nicole Ip Oi Kei, who tried every avenue to making it in to her dream course. In this series on second chances, we follow Nicole to see if her story has a happy ending. By Dian Afiqah Salaihuddin.

Say you’ve set your heart on a particular course of study. How many rejections would you take before you gave up?

For Nicole Ip, giving up was not an option.

The story starts when Nicole, then in Secondary 4, came across her dream course: Diploma in Creative Writing for TV and New Media (DTVM) offered by Singapore Polytechnic.

“I grew up loving writing poems and stories, and I’m obsessed with TV shows, too. I knew that this course would be a perfect fit for me,” Nicole says.     

Sounds simple enough but things got a bit challenging after her N-Level results.

Nicole’s results made her eligible for the Polytechnic Foundation Programme (PFP) – but the Diploma in Creative Writing for TV and New Media was not available under the PFP.

Nicole could either take another course under the PFP or try for O-Levels. “I wanted to take the chance, to risk taking the O-Levels, even though everyone said no,” she says.

Signing up for another national exam was daunting, but Nicole’s heart was set on the creative writing course. “I had a friend who was angry that I didn’t go for PFP, because I was eligible for a course that she wanted. No matter what they said, I knew what I wanted.”

Struggles and a different approach

In Secondary 5, things started going downhill.

“Because I did well for N-Levels, I thought I would do well for O-Levels,” Nicole shares. “However, it was not an easy transition. I thought all I had to do was just revise the content I had already learned in N-Levels, plus one or two more chapters, but that wasn’t the case. There were different approaches to answering the questions.”

What Nicole found toughest was putting in twice the amount of energy into another national exam so soon after taking her N-Levels. “Having to do it all again was exhausting, and it was hard to stay motivated,” she says. “I remember tearing out DTVM’s course details from the SP Open House brochure, and taping it on my study table, to remind myself of my goal.” 

She also started approaching her studies differently from the way she had prepared for the N-Levels. “Instead of simply practising or revising on my own, I would ask many questions in class and approach teachers after school to make sure I understood everything. I found this helpful, as it made the experience feel fresh and less like I was doing the same thing all over again.”

Despite this effort, her Prelim results were not encouraging. They were far from the cut-off points for her dream course.      

Worried, Nicole decided to try applying through the Early Admissions Exercise (EAE), which is aimed at students who have strong aptitude and interest related to the diploma they are applying for, and not just their grades. “Visiting Singapore Polytechnic, and being able to participate in that exercise made me feel like I was taking a step forward in achieving my goal,” she says.

However, Nicole was not offered a spot in the course.

Staying focused

At that point, Nicole recalled asking herself: If the course that I feel is perfect for me doesn’t want me, then where am I supposed to go?

She felt frustrated and at one point even questioned her own abilities. Wha if she wasn’t good enough for this course?  But after stewing on this for a few days, she decided to focus her attention on the O-Level finals. “Just because I didn’t get the course that I wanted through EAE, doesn’t mean that I should give up entirely. That’s not the correct mindset,” she said. She knew that a good O-Level result would help her keep her options open.

O-Levels results release day came. She did well and thanks to her CCA, her score was in the ballpark of what the course required.

“My results were very close to the cut-off score and it was risky,” she says. “But because I did well in English, I just went ahead and applied for the course.

Bingo! Nicole got a place.

Says Nicole, “I had to think carefully about every step, even if it involved risks. But I’m glad to have gone for what I love, because I got there in the end.”

The course turned out to be everything she had dreamed of. The wide array of classes and exposure to different aspects of writing helped her decide on her next course of study – Literature.

Nicole  is now pursuing the Bachelor of Arts Honours Degree in English, at NTU. 

Making the most of your second chance

For those who find themselves in a similar situation, Nicole has these three tips to share:

  • Change your approach: "If you find yourself stuck, don’t be scared to change your studying approach. Breaking from the norm could give you a fresh, new perspective. Who knows, you could even find one that suits you more and is more effective."

  • Your mindset matters. "Life isn’t smooth-sailing, and there will definitely be some turbulent storms ahead. Knowing this beforehand and choosing to move forward, is a great trait to have. Keep moving forward and find that silver lining in a grim situation, and you will get out of any adversity."
  • Passion goes a long way. "If you know what you want, keep chasing for it - even if it involves risks. Finding a dream for yourself, chasing it and seeing it come true is a truly beautiful experience. As the phrase goes, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’."

For more stories of resilience, check out: