Every so often, you meet a Singaporean girl who's already a degree holder at the ripe old age of twenty.
When you ask how she managed to graduate so early, the secret is often that she left Singapore to do foundation year at an Australian university, started uni before turning eighteen and graduated at twenty.
According to a recent report, more and more Singaporeans are opting for foundation pathways to overseas unis, mainly in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. These students are eligible to enrol right after their O levels.
They will do one year of foundation studies in lieu of the A levels, and can then enrol in the university or universities to which their programme is affiliated after foundation year.
To Singaporeans who like the idea of graduating as early as possible, taking foundation studies can sound like a good idea, but is it really? Here are seven factors to consider.
1. You start and finish university earlier
One big advantage of foundation studies is that you're spared from having to complete a two-year A level course or 3-year poly diploma before enrolling in uni.
In fact, the time saved is even greater when you consider that A level grads need to wait till March to receive their results.
This means that someone who completes her A levels in 2017 will have to wait till March 2018 for her results, and if she wishes to enrol in an Australian uni, will enter only in 2019 since the Australian scholastic year begins in January rather than September.
By contrast, a student of the same age who enrols in foundation studies would be ready to enrol in an Australian uni by 2017, putting her two whole years ahead of her friends who took the A levels.
2. It is easier to get into a relatively good university
Peek into any foundation studies class with a sizeable number of Singaporean students, and you might be surprised that not all of them are 17-year-olds who've just completed their O levels.
A good number will actually be 19-year-old girls or 21-year-old guys who did badly in the A levels and are now trying to get a second shot at entering university.
Foundation studies tend to offer students a very high chance of entering the university to which the programme is affiliated. Based on the course the student wishes to enter, they are advised on the subject combination to take to ensure they meet all the prerequisites.
What is more, there are many relatively reputable universities with foundation courses.
A degree from the University of Sydney or the University of Manchester looks better on paper to Singapore employers than one awarded by a private institution like MDIS.
3. Lower risk that you won't make it
It is quite common for JC students to do badly enough to not be able to get into a local university. Many A level grads end up going to poly, when they could have done so at age 17 instead of later on at age 19.
There's also a fair number who end up retaking their A levels, some more than once.
Foundation courses practically guarantee that you'll make it into an affiliated course, and even if you don't, you can still use your foundation results to get into other universities, both in the country and abroad.
4. Streamlined curriculum
Foundation studies tend to offer a less painful path to a university than the A levels.
You'll be asked which courses you want to enter at university, and then be able to choose your subjects based on the requirements and prequisites.
That means you won't have to deal with annoying subjects like project work or mother tongue that suck up your time without any return. There's also no need to worry about other nonsense like CCA points.
5. It's expensive
There's no way around it-studying abroad in an anglophone country is usually very expensive, and parents must be prepared to fork out the equivalent of an extra year's worth of tuition fees for their kid's foundation studies.
Fees range from $19,000 to $36,000, and you'll also have to factor in a year's worth of living expenses.
On other hand, if the student has not qualified for JC and wishes to take A levels as a private candidate, consider as well that the cost of enrolling in a private school for the A levels is likely to be well over $10,000, and there is no guarantee you will do well enough to get into JC.
6. Offers students with adequate O level results a higher chance to get into university
Doing well in the A levels is one thing. Even getting the chance to go to JC is another.
If you didn't get the requisite O level grades to qualify for JC entry, the prospect of doing one year of foundation studies before starting university can certainly look more attractive than doing a three-year diploma course or doing a three-year A level course at Millennia Institute.
Also note bear in mind that only 1 in 5 of polytechnic grads went on to a publicly-funded local university in 2016. If going to university is a priority for you, foundation studies will get you there more easily than going to poly will.
7. Completing your tertiary studies overseas will be expensive
Actually, it's not the high cost of foundation studies that students should be worrying about.
It's the fact that after their foundation studies they'll have to pay for 3-6 years of studies in a foreign university, in addition to living costs. So foundation studies should be an option only for those who are sure they want to and can afford to study abroad for the entirety of their degree.
Local universities are not cheap, but they're still much cheaper than universities in Australia and the UK.
With the MOE Tuition Grant, students in 2017 paid about $8,000 to $9,000 a year for most NUS degree courses, compared to the cost of £17,000 (S$30,011) to £21,000 for most degree courses at the University of Manchester, for instance.
Being able to continue living at home lowers cost even further.
There's a lot to like about foundation studies, but the main deciding factor seems to be whether you can afford the cost of high international student fees at an expensive British/Australian/New Zealand university for the duration of your degree course.