Studying in America: a young Malaysian’s story

Posted on: October 29, 2014, by :

Although I am very “British” in my academic “pedigree”, having spent nearly twelve years studying in the United Kingdom, the most enjoyable teaching experience I encountered as an academic was when I taught American Degree Program (ADP) in different colleges in Malaysia. The breadth of knowledge, relatively flexible learning paths and the communication skills of ADP students were the key influencing factors for me to advise my son, Leland to choose to study in the USA.

Leland started to prepare for his Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) when he started his Form 4, at the age of 16. We went to major bookstores in town to buy four SAT preparatory books which formed Leland’s main learning sources. He studied diligently on his own and by December 2011 he was ready to take his SAT. He managed to achieve a respectable SAT score which was well above the cut off point of many reputable US state universities.

When he was in Form 5 (the last year of senior high school), Leland and I started to plan his studies with various alternatives in accordance to our modest budget. We knew that our budget would not be able to fund him for a full four-years studies in the US despite the fact that many top ranking US universities give variable amount of financial aids to international students based on merits. Even if one could secure a full tuition fees waiver, the living expenses for full four years in the US would still be a substantial sum. We decided that Leland should enroll in a ADP at a local private college in Malaysia and we opted for the credit transfer route.

With a reasonably satisfactory Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination performance (a public examination all high school students in Malaysia will take at their graduation year), Leland was fortunate enough to be granted a full scholarship by SEGi University to enroll in its ADP. Right into his second semester in ADP, we started our search for universities that were high enough in the various rankings but with total fees that we could afford. However when Leland wanted to apply to some of the “shortlisted” universities, we encountered our first hurdle. Our SPM certificate being written fully in Bahasa Malaysia would be required to be translated by officials in the Ministry of Education (MoE). Off we went to Putrajaya, (the Malaysian Government’s administrative city where the MoE is located) to get this done, a simple enough process especially if there have been many requests over the years for this translation service, but it took the MoE about 1 month to complete. Because of this, Leland had missed the deadline to complete his application to one of the universities he had applied to and forfeited the US$60 (RM194) application fee. Luckily we still managed to beat the deadline of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). However, UNL’s total fees was above our budget and we decided that if he was not successful in securing a scholarship, Leland would apply to another US university with a lower expenditure. In late May 2013 Leland received his official acceptance by UNL with a Global Laureate Scholarship that would cover about 60% of his tuition fees and our budget is just enough to cover the rest of the cost.

The next step was for Leland to secure his US student visa. A very important document called “I20” would have to be issued by UNL and couriered to us. But before this could happen, I as the sponsor would need to show UNL the evidence that I had the fund which could cover Leland’s entire first year cost of US$39,343 (RM127,078).  He also needed to register to pay for the visa application fees of US$200 (RM646) as well as visa processing fees of RM528 (US$160, to be deposited in Standard Chartered Bank in Malaysia). It was another two weeks before an appointment with the US Embassy in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur could be secured. In the mean time, we had decided on the choice and booked Leland’s accommodation at UNL. Leland had to fill in the bulk of the information for his student visa application online which was a good thing as it took him just a couple of hours (including waiting time) to secure his student visa. Only then did we contemplate sorting out his flights to Lincoln, Nebraska.

Although as a former deputy principal of a private college in Malaysia I had been personally involved in sending many of my students to the US, little of that prepared me to the kind of complicated processes, procedures and decisions which parents of US-bound students have to make with their children.

My advice to all students (and their parents) who are planning to study in the USA is to:

  • Plan at least one year in advance, watch for the deadlines for applications,
  • Plan to take tests like the SAT, Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) as early as the student is prepared. This will give the student time to re-take these tests if he/she needs a better score and lastly,
  • Have your funds ready.

If a student decides to take the ADP/credit transfer route via a local Malaysian college, he/she should make sure that the credit hours that he/she plans to study in Malaysia are transferable and he/she may need to adjust the timing of his/her transfer to the US accordingly. Thus I would strongly advise students and parents demand to see evidence of such credit transfer arrangements when they are on the “college hunting” trail.

Leland survived his arduous thirty two hours Journey to the West with 2 layovers and is adapting to life as a sophomore like ducks to the water. I hope he adapts to his studies just as well.


With so many decisions that students aspiring to study in the USA have to make, Dr. Chow’s advice is for them to plan with their parents very early on, preferably by the time they start senior high school (Form 4 in the Malaysian system). If any student or parent requires unbiased advising, Dr. Chow will be most happy to oblige, please click here for more details.

1 thought on “Studying in America: a young Malaysian’s story

  1. Hello,

    My wife and I developed a website, It is an interactive social platform for people who are studying for TOEFL. We specifically want to focus on Speaking Section of the test, because for non-English speakers, this section is the hardest of all. You can’t easily find people to practice speaking. When you find one, the dialogues between you two are not at the level of TOEFL’s expectation from you. So we created this simple website where you can answer TOEFL sample questions by directly speaking to your microphones just like the real test.

    Would you please review our website and tell us your suggestions to improve it?

    Thank you very much.


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