My Journey to the States

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Read about Syaza’s Journey to the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Hello 🙂 My name is Syaza Nazura, and I am a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Class of 2017. I’m a student under the MARA loan and am currently pursuing Actuarial Science (and probably a second major in Risk Management and Insurance). Before you start asking me about how I got here, let me share the story of how I came to the land of the free (or so they called it).

I sat for my SPM in 2011 in Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar (KTJ), Mantin. In January 2012, I started my A-Levels (partly sponsored by KTJ). Back then, I only had one aim: to get into a good UK university. I only had a few choices, since there weren’t many UK universities that offer Actuarial Science. These were the usual choices: LSE, Kent, Southampton, Warwick and Heriot-Watt. (Well, that was a couple of years ago. I don’t know if anything has changed since).

I was pretty enthusiastic about starting my A-Levels. To be honest, I was psyched. I mean, I love studying, it’s fun. Three months into the A-Levels and I was really enjoying it. Then came results day at the end of March, and I received 9A+ for my SPM – Alhamdulillah. I applied for various scholarships, but there were limited scholarships available for Actuarial Science.

I was rejected by almost all the scholarships I applied for, including Bank Negara Malaysia and Yayasan Khazanah. I only made it to the second stage of the Securities Commission scholarship, since they don’t really offer Actuarial Science but were interested in my intention to pursue MORSE (Mathematics, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics) at the University of Warwick.

Needless to say, I was, of course, devastated. I no longer had the enthusiasm to study anything, but I held my head up high and moved on. In May, I sat for five modules for my Advanced Subsidiary (AS) Level Maths exam, and received 4A’s and 1C (A’s for C1, C2, C3 and S1, and a C for M1. These modules are for Edexcel A-Level Maths I applied for the MARA loan for Actuarial Science in the US, but didn’t really put much hope into it (since I didn’t really want to go to the US in the first place).

When MARA began calling students for interviews, I was shocked that I was called as well since I didn’t really fill up the form. I took it up as a challenge, and went to the interview to try my luck. I wasn’t chosen in the first batch of students, which didn’t really come as a surprise, knowing that I didn’t write the essay they asked for during the application and everything. But I tried appealing, this time for the Economics program in the US, and somehow a miracle happened and I managed to get a placement.

Then came the hardest task I had ever faced at that time: convincing my parents to allow me to leave A Levels, start over with a completely new pre-u program and go to the US. My parents weren’t convinced at first, but somehow they came through and allowed me to move to UiTM’s International Education Centre (INTEC), Shah Alam to start my one-year American Degree Foundation Programme (ADFP) program.

During my year in INTEC, I received a CGPA of 3.62. I sat for my SAT Reasoning Test twice, once in October 2012 and December 2012. I also took up the SAT Subject Tests for Physics and Math 2, since I wanted to apply to the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn’s College of Arts and Sciences requires applicants to take two SAT Subject Tests). I also sat for my TOEFL in December, and received a score of 109/120 for my Internet-Based Test (iBT).

I applied to four universities, and was accepted to three of them. I was rejected by my first choice, the University of Pennsylvania, and had to choose between these three universities – University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Iowa and Purdue University.

I ended up choosing the University of Wisconsin-Madison for several reasons:

  1. It is one of the Centers of Actuarial Excellence as stated by the Society of Actuaries, USA.
  2. It is a pretty place with lakes all around (I like lakes, and rivers, and beaches).

(Lol, okay, to be honest, I have no idea why I chose UWM over the others. I guess it was pretty much my guts, I think?)

And so, after finishing up my ADFP in June 2013, it was time to head to the States. Once I reached Madison with my parents in mid-August, I really did not regret choosing Madison over the others. The place is super-duper beautiful (in my eyes), and I fell in love instantly. The wound of being rejected by UPenn was healed, as I managed to visit UPenn during my winter break.

All in all, it was a bumpy roller-coaster ride. I certainly did not regret taking up A-Levels, even if it was only for 6 months, since I met so many awesome people from my batch in KTJ. I also certainly did not regret starting over in INTEC, since now I know how much I adore the US education system over anything else.

My advice to you is: If you’ve started on your journey, but somehow feel like it’s not the one for you, don’t be afraid to stop and start all over. Sure, people will say that you’re weak and stuff for not making it through the end, but it’s your life. Would you rather put up with something that is not what you like and regret it in the end, or would you rather start over with something you love and enjoy what life brings you afterwards?

Think, and make your decisions based on what you want.

Links you might find helpful:

  1. MORSE at University of Warwick
  2. About the TOEFL iBT Test

Syaza Nazura copy

Syaza Nazura is a business student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA. While not entertaining the thoughts of whether or not Actuarial Science is the best path for her, she stuffs herself full of chocolate and blogs at This MARA scholar plays basketball and is in love with anime and manga.


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