Best choice for college ever in 2017 for SPM holders

Similar to their seniors of the past few years, SPM 2016 cohort is also in the “buyer’s market” but with one distinct advantage. The SPM 2016 cohort is enjoying greater scholarship awards at more generous terms in 2017. With private institutions of higher learning in 2017 facing more severe competition among themselves he common strategy seems to be to offer scholarships to attract the best students. SPM 2016 cohort who are college hunting perhaps are well advised to follow the six tips offered by this article.

The entire private higher education sector, especially those working on student recruitment was thrown into major chaos when the Ministry of Education announced suddenly in mid February 2017 that there was a delay by two weeks on the release of Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM – Malaysian Certificate of Education) for 2016 cohort. Education fairs had to be rescheduled, marketing plans and newspaper advertising insertion plans etc. all had to be re-worked. Although most major players interviewed by The Star put on a brave face and said that their intakes would not be affected, signs as received from the ground (i.e. education fairs) are indicating otherwise. However the reason may not be the delay in the release of SPM 2016 results as will be explained later.

In my humble opinion those who told us not to read too deep into this delay did not take into considerations on the huge costs incurred for this sudden change of date for the release of SPM 2016 results. People who work in the student recruitment area would have had their personal plans messed up, hotel & transport bookings re-booked and at the company level, extra cost would have to be borned. One such “casualty” of this affair is the Star Education Fair in Penang which had to be postponed from March 4 – 5 by three weeks. One can only sympathize with the people who handled the logistics, installation and setting up for this event as well as the people who have to pay the exhibition venue owner for the sudden change of dates.

On the fateful day, March 16, 2017 many from the SPM 2016 cohort went to their respective schools with anxious anticipation. This author’s daughter (including her father and mother!) waited with great anticipation for the release of her SPM result, one which would have the effect of defining her next education path and perhaps her entire career path. When my daughter called back and sobbing heavily and semi-comprehensibly, my first thought was, “gee, she must have done badly” and I consoled myself with the fact that as a contingency plan, I had sussed out a vocational training programme equivalent to the learning pathway chosen by my daughter if she “tanked” her SPM. But as it turned out, my worried was unfounded. My daughter did not shame her grandfathers (both her paternal and maternal grandfather, as well as her mother were hailed from the teaching profession). She scored straight A’s (i.e. ten grade A’s). She was simply too happy and could not believe her own attainment. [For anyone who is unfamiliar with the SPM grading system, here is a quick explanation: SPM grades are split into nine grades with “grade A” having three sub-grades starting at the top with A+, A and A-, then “grade B” and “grade C” both having just two sub-grades of B+ or C+ and B or C followed by “single” grades in descending order of “grade D”, “grade E” and “grade G” which is a “failed” grade.]

Armed with my daughter’s official result slip, I went with my family for a visit to an education fair at Mid Valley Exhibition Hall on Mar 19, 2017. The plan was to visit the shortlisted colleges and find out with 10 grade A’s which are not all in the highest “A+” category how much in terms of scholarship would this young student manage to secure (this is because my daughter, did not score A+ in all ten subjects). All three institutions approached offered the same level of scholarship: 100% tuition fees waiver. Of course some would be more generous with the other fees such as laboratory fees, facilities fees etc. but the base line was the same.

As I have been serving in the private higher education sector for over two decades, it was natural for me to meet some of my old friends and acquaintances at this education fair. One of my old friends mentioned the severe competition he observed and that the “body snatching” was the reason why almost all players were very generous in giving out scholarships this year.

In 2013 when this author’s son was at the same stage of college hunting as his younger sister, computation for grade A’s for the purpose of scholarships was done by recognising only subjects where the students scored the magic grade A+ and sometimes grade A. Almost all institutions did not recognize grade A- as “grade A” for the purpose of deciding on scholarship awards. The fact that four years later in 2017, there is a “downward revision” in the definition for “grade A” to include grade A- means only one thing: there is intense competition in 2017 which is more severe than 2013. Each institution which offers this more generous definition of “grade A” for scholarship awards is hoping to grab as many students as possible.

Higher education business is essentially a number’s game. Each class / programme in a cohort will have a magic “break-even” number. Once you have breached this magic figure with full fees equivalent number of students, any further students that you add to the cohort (subject to the regulatory upper limit of student to lecturer ratio; 25 : 1 for non-technical programmes; 15 : 1 for technical programmes down to 7 : 1 for medical related programmes) you are going toward the surplus territory even if this extra student pays virtually no tuition fees. This is because of the fact that most scholarship awards do not cover miscellaneous fees, laboratory fees and facilities fees and thus providing a source of revenue to the institution even from those students having 100% tuition fees waiver. A lot of people do not know that in higher education, there is no marginal cost, it is just fixed cost and variable cost. For classroom-based classes, once the fixed cost has been covered by the break-even number of students, the variable cost for any additional students is virtually zero. For laboratory / workshop-based classes, this variable cost will be easily covered by the lab fees and other fees that each student, regardless of their scholarship status, must pay.

In actual fact, scholarships and bursaries as provided by the private higher education institutions in Malaysia are just product discount. A broad analogy can be made with the budget airline industry, once a plane (in this case a class / cohort) has filled up to the break-even number, revenue from any further passengers (students) will be the surplus, even if these people pay a very reduced fare (fees) disguised in one form or another. The higher education business model does sound very much like that of the budget airline industry does it not?

Similar to their seniors of the past few years, SPM 2016 cohort is also in the “buyer’s market” but with one distinct advantage. The SPM 2016 cohort is enjoying greater scholarship awards at more generous terms in 2017. A player informed this author that even those applicants offering just a single grade A (again it doesn’t matter if it is a A+, A or A-) would be qualified to receive some scholarship starting from RM500!

With private institutions of higher learning in 2017 facing more severe competition among themselves (having to compete with many “branded” institutions such as Xiamen University, Newcastle University, Reading University and Heriot-Watt University among many which have entered the market recently), the common strategy seems to be to offer scholarships to attract the best students.

The economic uncertainties faced by many in Malaysia together with the new and better structured Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM – Malaysian Higher School Certificate) will have the effect of attracting more SPM 2016 cohort to take up STPM. This author expects more than the usual forty five thousand or so of the SPM cohort to take up STPM. He further predicts that there may be fifty thousands or more students from SPM 2016 cohort opting for the STPM this year, draining at least a further 5,000 students from the private institutions’ market.

The increasingly attractive offers from Taiwanese universities (with increasing number offering programmes that are delivered in English) which have tuition fees level that are lower than many Malaysian private institutions of higher learning is another pull factor on the SPM 2016 cohort. This is especially so among the forty four thousand of the SPM 2016 cohort who took and passed SPM Chinese.

It is therefore a better buyer’s market for SPM 2016 cohort than ever. Students from SPM 2016 cohort who are college hunting perhaps are well advised to follow the following six tips:

  1. Check what level (and thus the absolute value in terms of tuition fees waiver) of scholarships the various colleges shortlisted by you can offer. Weigh this against No. 2 to No. 6 below.
  2. Check the conditions for the scholarship awards. Institution A may insist on you maintaining a CGPA of 3.7 throughout your studies compared to Institution B that demands only a CGPA of 3.0. This means that in order to continue to receive your scholarship, you will need to score a lot of grade A’s if you opt for Institution A, while for Institution B, you just need an average B+. Unless you are very confident of doing well, it will be risky to take up the offer from Institution A!
  3. Check what are the miscellaneous fees, facilities fees, laboratory fees, computer fees etc. that you have to pay. Often these could add up to a substantial sum. If any institution is unable or unwilling to provide data on these fees, your alarm bell should start ringing!
  4. Check what sort of college services or “community services” that a scholarship holder of an institution needs to contribute. While most institutions are only interested in using their scholarship holders to help with marketing and recruitment activities, some do have high demand of the said students to serve during term time. Some even demand their scholarship holders to work during term breaks. In general, the workload should not affect one’s studies. The good point for this is, you will have some working experience while studying, even if you do not get paid!
  5. Check what are the penalties if you decide to withdraw from the programme after you have commenced studies. To protect themselves and to ensure that the recipients are serious about accepting their scholarship offers (and serious about studying) almost all scholarship providers impose a penalty for scholarship holders who withdraw from their studies. The penalty could be substantial as you, by withdrawing is taking away the opportunity for another student and would mess up the financial projection for the institution too. This situation may arise should you, after commencing studies, receive a “better” offer somewhere else, a similar offer closer to home or there is a change of your family’s circumstances.
  6. Check that the programme that you are interested in is accredited or provisionally accredited (PA) by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA). A programme generally will receive a PA from the MQA after it is approved to be offered and the said programme will be eligible to be accredited only when the first cohort of students are nearing completion of their studies. Thus an institution holding a PA for a diploma programme should have this programme accredited by the MQA at the third year of its being offered. You should check MQA’s lists of accredited programme and provisionally accredited programmes for the institution that you are interested in. However, MQA has not been fast in updating the data of these lists. So do ask to have sight of the letter of accreditation or PA if the programme you are interested is not on either of MQA’s lists.

For those from SPM 2016 cohort who did not obtain the required grades to enter academic studies at tertiary level, there are plenty of options for you in the vocational education sector where there are still many private colleges and public training institutions which provide good alternatives. The Perbadanan Tabung Pembangunan Kemahiran (PTPK – Skills Development Fund Corporation) provides loan which covers training fees and living expenses to trainees taking approved courses. It is worth noting that not all SKM courses are eligible for PTPK funding. However all SKM programmes will need to be approved by the Department of Skills Development whose database of accredited centres and training programmes are worth checking prior to signing up.

In general, those who take the Sijil Kemahiran Malaysia (SKM – Malaysian Skills Certificate) route up to SKM Level III, if possess one credit and a “pass” certificate in SPM will still be eligible to enter academic diploma upon completion of the relevant SKM training. However individual academic diploma programme will have slightly different specific requirements for holders of SKM Level III and there is a need to double check with MQA. Indeed many vocational institutions are offering SKM up to Level IV (Vocational Diploma) and above with a few premier public polytechnics given the right to offer vocational-based degree programmes, the prospect for students from the vocational sector to earn academic degrees is getting better each day.

Good luck to all in the SPM 2016 cohort in their hunt for higher education. Be a smart higher education consumer, ask lots of questions and do your “homework” before committing, and whatever you do, don’t rush into a decision until you (and your parents) have analyzed all the facts and figures!

Lock in your tax benefit from SSPN-i saving NOW!

Hands up, if you have heard of SSPN-i?…

Hands up, if you have heard of PTPTN?…

My guess is, if you are a Malaysian living in the homeland, I would be surprised if you do not know what PTPTN is. Perbadaan Tabung Pendidikan Nasional (PTPTN or National Higher Education Fund Corporation) is the body that Malaysian students studying in accredited tertiary institutions apply for funding for their studies. One cannot help but notice news about PTPTN due to its defaulters issues.

Wait! What is SSPN-i? Is it related to PTPTN in any way? You may want to ask.

In fact SSPN-i (Skim Simpanan Pendidikan Nasional – National Education Saving Scheme) is the saving scheme of the PTPTN. It encourages parents to save for their children tertiary education. In fact, since Jan 01, 2012 tertiary students will need to have a SSPN-i account before they are eligible to apply for any PTPTN loans. SSPN-i pays dividend yearly which hovered between 2.5% to 4.25% with the latest figure for 2015 at 4%. Not impressed? But this should not be the main reason for you to invest for your children tertiary education fund in SSPN-i, especially if you are paying income tax. The key attraction to investing in SSPN-i for a tax payer like me is in the RM6,000 maximum amount of tax relief per year for net deposit in your child’s SSPN-i account.

You need not be a mathematics boffin to work out that the RM6,000 tax relief will count for RM1,200 for me as my average tax rate is around 20% (… gee am I revealing too much here?). Look at it another way, I would “gain” RM1,200 because I had deposited RM6,000 in 2016 to my daughter’s SSPN-i account. I would still gain a tax-free dividend of around 3 – 4%, which will be the same as what one would get from a normal bank saving account. 23% return on my investment with 20% “guaranteed” and “immediate” when I compute my tax for 2016 next year is nothing you can get legally anywhere in Malaysia. SSPN-i is also a government guaranteed investment. It is a no-brainer really, that is if you are liable to pay income tax for 2016.

In my case, I have just deposited another RM3,000 today adding to the RM3,000 I had already invested in October 2016 to  maximize my “returns”. As my wife’s business earning for 2016 is very minimal, and we have only one child who is a minor (thankfully our son has graduated from university last week!), we could not take full advantage of the “RM6,000 per child” SSPN-i tax relief. However if you have a dual-income  family where both spouses pay income tax (i.e. each of you earn more than the minimum “qualifying” annual income to earn the privilege to pay income tax), and you have children, you will do nothing better than to raid your children’s piggy bank, saving accounts etc. and invest to the maximum sum.

As the profile image has shown, if you hurry to deposit cash in related bank (I went to Maybank, USJ Taipan), a nice PTPTN staff will be on hand to help you with your SSPN-i if you need one and he/she will give you a nicely shaped “golden egg” as a piggy bank for your child and a very good quality recycle bag for mom or dad. Do hurry, at the time of writing (Dec 22,2016) there are only five more banking days left! If you have already opened SSPN-i accounts, you need not go the bank to deposit, Maybank and CIMB online banking portals also accept your money online. Whatever you do, please beat the Dec 31, 2016 deadline!

Since 2015, there is another type of SSPN-i account called SSPN-i Plus which comes with life insurance (Takaful) coverage. However you can only gain the additional RM6,000 tax relief (in addition to the RM6,000 for SSPN-i) if you have not topped the Employee Provident Fund /Life insurance quota of RM6,000. And for SSPN-i there is some monthly commitment of a minimum of RM50. So for most income taxpayers, SSPN-i may be the better choice. More details are found in this Lowyat discussion forum.

Wishing all my readers Merry Christmas (for those who are celebrating) and a happy and prosperous 2017.

Whose choice is it anyway?

I still get calls or Whatsapp messages a few times a year from friends asking for advice on how they can choose tertiary studies for their offspring. My favourite response, “It’s their future, let your kids chase their dreams. By all means, influence their choices but let’s not force them to live YOUR dreams!”

This article was first published in 2015 as a part of my contribution as a working committee member of Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce’s Newsletter Publication Committee. As I am not sure of the reach of the newsletter, I am publishing this article on my blog to benefit more of my readers.

I still get calls or Whatsapp messages a few times a year from friends and acquaintances asking for advice on how they can impose their choice of tertiary studies on their offspring or which field of studies is “hot”. My favourite response, “It’s their future, let your kids chase their dreams. By all means, influence their choices but let’s not force them to live YOUR dreams!”

I published a related article on this area in late December 2014 citing an article I wrote for the now defunct The Heat (but the online version is still alive).

A survey carried out and published by Penang Han Chiang College on over 300 college-going-age students in early 2015  confirmed two important trends in Malaysia. When it comes to the choice of study and choice of college for high school students: (a) Parents are often the decision makers; (b) Students want to decide for themselves. One will wonder why these two trends are at a tangent to each other.

Parents in Asia, including those in Malaysia are very concerned with their offspring’s education. While Malaysian parents usually make pretty straightforward choices concerning primary and high school education, the same cannot be said about the tertiary education level. High school graduates and more importantly their parents are faced with more and more tertiary education choices and an information explosion that compounded the issue. While the bulk of the high school graduates want to decide on their choice of study and college, many, because of deep-rooted Asian upbringing differ to their parents’ wishes.

“I want him/her to study medicine/law/engineering etc.” is a common phrase one will hear from fellow parents with teenage children. In many cases parents think that they know best without learning about their child’s aptitude for the field of study and the child’s preference for a particular college. They also have the wrong impression that one must take up a career in the field of one’s undergraduate studies. This article gives four real life examples (though only the real name of this author is given!) of university graduates not taking up a career in their fields of study and making a success (or in this author’s case, a good career)  in what they do.

My Story

I studied agriculture at Queen’s University of Belfast, Northern Ireland and moved on to read Biotechnology for my Master’s degree culminating with a PhD in plant tissue culture. As yet, I have never farmed after my undergraduate studies. I have also not worked as a plant tissue culture scientist for close to 20 years after my stints at the National University of Singapore and later in a commercial plant tissue culture laboratory.

Instead, since 1996, I have been serving in the education and training industry at diverse capacities, allowing me to learn enough to be hired as the CEO and Principal of a private not-for-profit college (in 2015), working to upgrade it to be a university college. However, my three university degrees are not “wasted” as they allow me to pick up more knowledge and skills and prepare me to take on many difficult tasks. When I first started to work as a lecturer in Klang, Selangor, I had to call upon what I learned in “Farm Management, Planning, and Control” to provide tutorials to a group of engineering students on a twinning degree programme with the University of Adelaide, Australia in  a subject on project management. The “Business Policy” subject  I learned during my Master’s degree became very handy when I served as the Director of Special Projects for a publicly-listed education group where I often had to churn out full business proposals complete with financial details to bid for funding or “sell” to prospective business partners. The six months of 12-hour day writing my Ph.D. thesis forced me to pick up writing skills which allowed me to serve as a columnist and feature writer for the weekly publications, Focus Malaysia and The Heat recently. I think ‘education not wasted’ is a good way to describe my experiences in utilising what I learned at college!

ML’s Story

While at university, ML and I became very good friends. In fact, I stayed at ML’s house for almost two years when I was completing my Ph.D. studies. ML was trained as a surgeon and in 1988, he bought his first second-hand personal computer and asked me to teach him how to use it (I, being a scientist was always curious and was already a self-taught advanced user by then). ML also used to take things apart, fixed them and put these back together to work better. ML and I once spent a few days working in the pit of the garage of Belfast’s Malaysian Centre where he and I took apart the engine of his car, sent it for repair and put it back together (with me providing just the muscle as I was not into cars). Towards the end of 1990, ML got a job in Singapore, working for an international computer hardware & software company as its medical system specialist.  He came from nothing to an expert in a medical computing system in less than 18 months! He went on to form his own IT system company a few years later, but sold it when it was at its peak, finding his first pot of gold. Despite the bursting of the “dot-com” bubble in the early 1990s, ML founded the first share discussion platform in Singapore and built it to be the talk of the town, eventually selling it to a large publication house in Singapore. This medical doctor friend of mine retired at the age of 48. He had not practiced as a medical doctor for about 20 years, yet I think, like me, he made use of all the knowledge and skills he had picked up at medical school and from his many hobbies and applied these to his best advantage.
[Sadly, my good friend of 34 years, ML passed on on Feb 12, 2016, RIP.]

SB’s Story

I first met SB when she was a Jabatan Perkhidmatan Awam (JPA – Malaysia’s Public Service Department) scholar who was sent to my university. SB was very popular, smart, and networked readily with her peers. She earned her degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering with ease. Our paths crossed again in the early 1990s when I was working in Singapore and she was then working as an electrical and electronic engineer. We met up again in the late 1990s in the Klang Valley when I learned that SB was doing well as an investment adviser handling her clients’ mutual fund portfolio. Naturally, I became SB’s client and I must say, I have not been disappointed with her professionalism and sound advice. Today, SB is very established in her business which brings her tremendous financial freedom. I think if she had stayed as an engineer she would not have attained her wealth so quickly. SB made use of her knowledge as an engineer to quickly became adept at financial investments to provide good advice to her clients. I was once told by a financial analyst that the best people to pick up financial analytical skills are those with engineering degrees as they know how to apply their mathematics knowledge easily. I think SB provides the classic example for this!

MP’s Story

MP was heavily pregnant when I first met her while I was working as the head of a department at a private college in 2001. She was very friendly and humble. I allowed her the 5-minute sale pitch that I would entertain sales people whose disposition earns my attention. She was at the right place at the right time as I was looking for some medical insurance for myself and my family. I soon learned that MP graduated from a local public university as an electrical engineer. Like SB, she did not pursue a career in engineering. MP gives great professional service and was willing to service my life insurance policies bought from another company. She also looked after my family’s general insurance needs. Naturally, not only my family but my sister-in-law also became her client. When my sister-in-law needed to file for her medical insurance claims, MP was fast and efficient in her service resulting in a quick settlement of the claims. One day, during one of MP’s routine visits to my home, I asked her why she did not pursue a career in engineering. I was not surprised by her answer: she wanted flexibility and a way to build up a business. Like SB, the technical training as an engineer made it relatively easy for MP to pick up the new skills and knowledge needed to be an effective professional investment advisor in the insurance sector.

You are what you make out of your knowledge

‘You are what you make out of your knowledge’ is perhaps the most appropriate way to describe why in the four real life examples above the people concerned did not follow the paths of their undergraduate studies when it comes to a career. So if you are the parent of teenagers, you should perhaps sit back and hear out what tertiary study plans that your offspring have. Your job is not to dictate which field of study your child should take. People of Generation Y are a lot more independent-minded and they have access to multiple channels to information relating to tertiary study options. As parents, you must try to draw out from your teenage offspring his/her real interests. You can influence them by providing sound advice while at the same time take their views into consideration. Parents should not impose their view forcefully upon their offspring. I have personally witnessed a few examples while I was at university of friends struggling to cope with their studies due to the lack of aptitude and interest. Give your child the benefit of thinking about his/her future “under their own steam” i.e. without you putting words in their mouths.

In my own experience, my son was able to decide on his choice of studies pretty fast when he was studying for his Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM is a public examination taken by high school students in Malaysia before graduation) and is now on the verge of completing his studies in Finance at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA. My 16-year-old daughter’s tertiary education desire (now completing her SPM examination) was a bit more challenging for us to discover. But through many sessions of discussions and our sharing of our views and knowledge about different professions, my wife and I finally found out what she wanted to study recently. She was taking selfies as a child with my camera (and later my mobile phone) long before the word “selfie” was invented. Naturally, she hopes to pursue her studies along the videography and allied field!

Whichever the study options my children choose for their tertiary education, I am not sure these would be their career paths in the future. What I know for sure is, if they have inherited the combined wisdom of my wife and I, they would be using the knowledge and skills that they have gained at college to strive out a career for themselves in whichever fields that they so desire. Our job as parents is simple, to provide our children with our RINGGIT and support them with our SPIRITS.

Studying in America: a young Malaysian’s story

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.

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