Nanyang Junior College second-year student Ashwin Lee, 19, has never seriously considered applying for a Public Service Commission (PSC) scholarship.
He plans to study at a local university and said that is also where the ambitions of many of his schoolmates lie.
That is a situation the PSC hopes to change. In an open letter published yesterday, PSC chairman Eddie Teo stressed that the public service needs and values diversity.
He said he was glad that students from Nanyang, Pioneer and St Andrew's junior colleges were starting to receive PSC scholarships, the bulk of which has traditionally been awarded to students from two top JCs - Raffles and Hwa Chong.
As a result, there is a belief that PSC scholarships "normally go to those from the top few JCs", said Nanyang JC principal Kwek Hiok Chuang. Pioneer JC principal Tan-Kek Lee Yong said the PSC "tends to be associated with high standards", so students might not be confident of their chances.
But perceptions can change. Two Pioneer JC students who did not have perfect grades but were outstanding in their co-curricular activities have won PSC scholarships, said Mrs Tan. "So the message is getting through to our students, that they don't need to be the top scorer," she said.
Both principals said the PSC has reached out to them with briefings and urged them to prepare their students for scholarship interviews.
Since 2002, when a polytechnic student won a PSC Overseas Merit Scholarship for the first time, others have done so. Ngee Ann Polytechnic student Clarence Ching, 18, has taken note and plans to apply for one.