DO YOU wake up every Monday morning thinking 'Oh no! Another dreadful week struggling with the A-level syllabus'? If that is the case, you might want to consider an alternative path to higher education. For Eugene Tang Chi-kin, 21, last year's A-levels were a frustrating experience because he failed two subjects. But after taking an associate degree programme at the University of Hong Kong's (HKU) Community College, he is now a business administration student at HKU. 'I regained my self-confidence and discovered the direction of my life in the college,' he says. Mr Tang attended the second year of the three-year associate degree programme. The second year - Advanced Certificate of General Studies (ACGS) - is designed for Form Seven graduates or those who have completed the first year of the associate degree programme, or the Certificate of General Studies (CGS). 'It was something in-between secondary school and university,' he recalls. 'We had many discussions, presentations and projects. The syllabus was also more related to what I am studying now. But we had fewer extra-curricular activities than at university.' Of the 12 courses he took at the Community College, English, Chinese, mathematics and computer studies were compulsory. And as a science student, he was also required to choose three courses from the science and technology domain. As for the rest, he could select from the arts and humanities, cultural understanding, social sciences and ways of knowing. Thanks to a course in art appreciation, Mr Tang is now a member of a drama group. 'The course was about different kinds of art. We learned how to sing better. There were also interesting things like what body language means in theatrical drama and what constitutes a beautiful painting,' he says. 'I used to like art, but never thought it could be so important to me.' Mon Chin Man-yin, 26, a CGS graduate and first year student of policy studies and administration at City University, is another success story. 'Many people say that associate degrees are not officially recognised, but they are wrong,' she says. As a Grade 12 graduate from an international school, she moved on to secretarial training and spent the next seven years working as a secretary, general manager and eventually, marketing manager, before returning to student life. 'I have no public exam qualifications. City University accepted me only on the basis of my CGS results,' she says. The CGS has a structure similar to that of the ACGS, except that students do not belong to any specific domain. It is open to those with at least six passes in the HKCEE. Ms Chin says she really liked the social science courses offered by the CGS, such as sociology and psychology. 'They helped me analyse social problems from different angles.' She says the teaching style also helped her adapt to university life more easily. 'After the CGS, I am used to doing presentations and writing essays, and you have to handle a lot of them in university. They can be difficult without the experience,' Ms Chin adds. 'It was a very meaningful experience, not so much the certificates or qualifications, but the knowledge I gained. It will stay with me.' Many local universities are now offering associate degree programmes. For more details, visit their homepages. However, both Mr Tang and Ms Chin advise secondary students to think carefully before taking the plunge. 'Be prepared for a very different path. Bear in mind that you can't go back to A-levels if you find out this is not for you,' Ms Chin says. 'Every path has its obstacles. Don't think of it as a way to avoid the A-levels,' Mr Tang says. 'This is an opportunity, not a shortcut.'