According to statistics from UNESCO, over 40% of Malaysians chose to pursue a higher education.
This is a life-changing endeavour, but we’ve come across many students, who planned their higher education by following their friends’ choices or advices from family members, without fully understanding the options available.
Each higher education option has its own pros and cons, so what’s good for others may not necessarily be good enough for you.
In order to properly evaluate what’s best for you and your future, you need to firstly know yourself. This includes identifying your own academic capabilities, financial standing, career aspirations and preferred study environment.
Here’s what you’ll learn in this guide:
Why higher education matters
Let’s first make sure we understand why people pursue higher education, so that you can figure out how it aligns with your own goals and motivation.
Why is higher education important?
In short, for better employability.
Compared to a high school leaver, a university degree holder can pursue a broader set of career choices, which in turn often leads to increased income, personal choice and freedom.
When you have a higher qualification, you are generally perceived as more skilled and capable to learn, especially if the course is relevant to your desired job. And thus, improving your chances of passing the job screening.
What are the benefits of university education?
University education isn’t just about getting a “piece of paper”. Here’s what you gain, when you make the most out of your studies in university or college:
1. Knowledge and competences
You attend lectures, do assignments and work in labs to gain the hard skills required to excel in your chosen field of study.
2. Transferable skills
You are able to hone your soft skills such as communication, critical thinking, time management, teamwork and leadership, before joining the workforce.
3. Professional credentials
For certain professions, it is compulsory to obtain the relevant degree qualification e.g. doctor, pharmacist, dentist, nurse, lawyer, and architect.
4. Industry exposure and connections
If your university faculty has strong industry partnerships, it exposes you to latest technology, industry practices, research areas and potential employers.
5. Safe space for self-development
Being surrounded by peers, also with new-found freedom, makes university a fun place to experiment, build self-confidence and gain independence.
6. Experiences of student life
Whatever your interests, there are a variety of clubs, societies and social activities on offer. With luck, you’ll find those like-minded peers, meet new friends and make lifelong connections to students from diverse backgrounds.
Key choices in higher education
As a student, you should play an active role in making decisions about your higher education in consultation with your parents or guardians. This includes deciding what and where to study, which boils down to 3 key choices:
This is about choosing the field and subjects that you will specialise in during your studies. e.g. accounting, business, law, engineering and medicine.
But remember this: Your diploma or degree only makes it easier to pursue certain careers. It doesn’t stop you from exploring unrelated careers. So if you’re still unsure what your dream job is, no worries, you’re not alone.
People can, and do switch to a different field, so long as the occupation is not governed by a professional body e.g. for architects, doctors, lawyers etc. However, do note that it is rare to switch from a non-STEM degree to a profession in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).
For more guidance on choosing your course, please read Chapter 3 – Explore Careers, Choose Course.
Selecting study pathway
If you are just a secondary school leaver e.g. with SPM or IGCSE qualification, you are not qualified to study degree yet. Same goes for a UEC student who has attained less than 5 credits.
In this case, you have to complete another qualification as your study pathway to progress to degree. The typical pathways are:
- Pre-University. This is the most flexible pathway with a programme duration of just 1 to 1.5 years. Pre-U options include Foundation, Matriculation, A-Level, STPM and more.
- Diploma. With this pathway, you directly specialise in your chosen field but technically, you could progress to a degree in a relevant field only. e.g. from Diploma in Accounting to Degree in Accounting
Each pathway options have its own pros and cons, and are not equally accepted for entry into public universities. To learn more and determine which study pathway you should choose, please read Chapter 4 – Determine Study Pathway.
Most of the students, who we advised, struggled when it comes to choosing where to study, i.e. which university or college to apply to.
On-paper, many institutions offer similar courses for the same pre-u, diploma or degree qualification, but their fees vary greatly. What is worthwhile ultimately depends on your priorities, e.g. on university ranking/rating, reputation, exposure, peers and campus setting.
The evaluation becomes more complex still, if you intend to study abroad. To learn more about these topics, please read Chapter 5 – Shortlist and Choose University.
Know your academic and financial standing
When evaluating any higher education options, you need to determine whether they are feasible academically and financially.
In other words, you need to establish your:
- Entry requirements vs. academic results
- Overall education cost vs. funding
In addition, you may want to consider different study pathways as it affects the overall cost and funding as well.
To apply for your chosen course, your academic results need to meet the course entry requirements, which are set by the institution.
Similar course options would generally have the same requirements. Below are examples of common entry requirements:
- Subject requirements. If you are a SPM student, you need to score a minimum of C for Mathematics to study accounting. For engineering, you should have at least a C for Physics or Chemistry, plus a C for Mathematics.
- Minimum grades by qualification. You need at least 5 credits (C) in your IGCSE results to enter a Foundation course. Otherwise, you can take the diploma pathway (minimum 3 credits) or a certificate (minimum 1 credit).
- Additional requirements. It may include proof of English proficiency, portfolio submission (often for design-related courses) and interview sessions.
Top tier universities would typically set a higher requirement.
For example, instead of 5 Cs in SPM or IGCSE, University of Southampton Malaysia only accepts students with 5 Bs into their business foundation course.
A top-ranked university like Harvard University in the US have an acceptance rate of only 4.92% in 2020 (out of 40k+ applicants). Such universities would have tough requirements beyond just academic excellence.
You can only plan your higher education, if you know your actual or expected academic results. This refers to your overall results, e.g. number of As, Bs, Cs, and the grades of your respective subjects.
If you have your actual or forecast results (from your trial exams in school), you can start to shortlist courses that you’re eligible for. Note that many universities do accept forecast results for application.
If you have not taken your actual or trial exams yet, you should be clear what minimum grades to aim for per subject. Start shortlisting courses so that you are aware of the entry requirements and gaps from your expected results.
If your actual results do not qualify for your desired course, you may want to resit for certain exam papers. Do consult our counsellors for advice.
The better your grades, the more choices you have, including scholarship opportunities. So it never hurts to get additional support in your revision. Check out our videos of SPM past year papers here under edukaji.my.
Education cost and funding
The total budget available for higher education should include self-funding and fundings from external parties, namely:
- Education loans. The most popular one is the government-funded PTPTN loan. For some institutions, the loan amount is sufficient to cover 100% of the tuition fees.
- Scholarships. While full scholarships are limited, many partial scholarships are offered on a first-come-first-serve basis by private institutions to attract excellent students. Some scholarships also award recipients with a living allowance.
As for your self-funding, have an early discussion with your parents to understand how much budget they have allocated for your higher education. It needs to be sufficient to cover the following cost:
- Living Expenses. This is a monthly cost that you need to budget for. If you move out from home for your studies, then there’s the additional cost of food and accommodation to consider.
- Balance Fee. This is what you have to pay out of your own wallet i.e. tuition fees that your university or college charges you per semester basis (i.e. 2-3 times/year) minus your PTPTN loan and scholarship amount.
By using our Pathway Match, you can easily calculate the balance fee for:
- all universities locally and overseas
- that offer your chosen courses and pathways
- inclusive of matched PTPTN and scholarships.
Study pathways for all budgets
Regardless of your current budget, when chosen properly, we believe certain higher education options should still be within financial reach. e.g.:
- Part-time studies
- STPM as pathway to degree
- Pathways at public institutions
In fact, certain pathways are less costly or have access to more funding. So you may achieve a better education outcome with the same allocated budget.
- Diploma pathway
- Foundation pathway. vs. international pre-u programmes
- Twinning degree or credit transfer
To get insights on what’s best, speak to our experienced counsellors or find out more when you read Chapter 2 – Cost, PTPTN and Scholarships.
Identify your study preferences
Assuming you’ve just completed SPM or IGCSE, then you’ll be studying the next 4 years, minimum, to graduate with a degree. That’s a long time.
So it’s important to be doing what you like: studying a course you can relate to, both career- and interest-wise, in an environment you will enjoy.
Careers and interest
Interest here refers to your innate inclination towards a particular academic subject, which makes you want to learn more or master it. It can serve as a guidepost to shortlist what courses you may like (or dislike).
For example, imagine you do not like biology but you’re studying a health science degree. It’ll be a struggle to sustain your motivation, since you’ll be studying mostly human biology-related topics day-in and day-out.
As for potential careers, it is unlikely that you can make a firm choice without firsthand experience with the related field. So a good course and uni option should be able to provide you the avenue to further explore your field.
Therefore, as part of your decision-making, find out about the industry exposure and development opportunities offered by your shortlisted universities and study location, specific to your interest and desired careers.
Have you thought about the student life and experiences that you want during your studies? If you haven’t done so, then here’s some food for thoughts.
If you want :
Campus life with closeknit student community, where you get to spend a lot of time among students. Then consider institutions with on-campus accommodation and preferrably those further away from the city.
Vibrant urban life. Then find those institutions with a city campus, so that you can easily enjoy the activities and experiences that a city has to offer.
Active and diverse student activities. Then look for institutions with a huge student population, where you can find clubs, societies and interest groups of all kinds.
International and cultural exposure. Then check if there’s an opportunity to study abroad. For example, there are courses with twinning option. You may also consider a credit transfer to an overseas university after Year 1 degree.
As you have seen in the examples above, once you have identified your preferred study environment and location, then it becomes clearer which institutions are right for you.
Let’s Wrap This Up
Everything above should serve as a pretty thorough introduction to the key considerations when choosing your higher education.
If you’re looking to learn more about scholarships and PTPTN, plus the three key choices discussed in chapter two, we have dedicated guides to each of them.
Here are the links (we recommend starting with Chapter 2).