MARA: this is an acronym that will definitely crop up when you’re hunting for scholarships in Malaysia, especially when you’re an SPM leaver (like me). Standing for Majlis Amanah Rakyat, it is an agency under the Ministry of Rural and Regional Development. It has been facilitating socio-economic development since 1966.
Teaming up with JPA (Jabatan Perkhidmatan Awam), they have been offering a joint sponsorship programme this year under Program Khas Lepasan SPM 2013 (MARA-JPA). This sponsorship is open to Bumiputra applicants who wish to further their studies in one of a vast selection of courses: engineering, medicine, architecture, law, economics, and plenty more!
Hence, if you are a soon-to-be Bumiputra SPM candidate hoping to study overseas, I hope my experience will be a foretaste of what is to come for you. Note that you will not be bonded to MARA after graduation, but you will have to repay a part of the sponsored amount, the percentage of which depending on how well you do. The repayment rates vary according to the field of study, but it is roughly 10-20% of the sponsored amount, depending on your performance. However, it quickly becomes 50% if you need to repeat and 100% if you drop out.
First Stage: Online Application
Similar to other scholarship and sponsorship applications, this is where you fill in your details. Usually, it will be open within a short period of time after your SPM results are released, so you better get filling fast! You can check on the main MARA website (www.mara.gov.my), to see whether the application website is already online. On their application website, they will upload a list of programmes for you to choose from. The following will be listed:
- Field of study
- Programme code
- Type of pre-university study (A-Levels, International Baccalaureate, etc.)
- Preparatory college for pre-university studies
- Country to further studies in
- Duration of studies
- Conditions to study overseas
- Programme requirements
Though it is a joint programme between MARA and JPA, they offer their individual programmes. The programme code distinguishes the sponsoring body, with those beginning with JPA sponsored by JPA (no-brainer), and LN (overseas) and DN (local) by MARA.
Choose carefully, and note the requirements of the programme you want to do. This is so as different fields of study could have different pre-university studies, different study durations, different countries to fly to, and different conditions! For example, LN0207 and LN1001 are both engineering programmes bound overseas, but LN0207 will offer you A-Levels and ship you to the UK, US or Australia, whilst LN1001 offers Korean pre-university studies and sends students to Korea!
At this point, it is best to have your career option, study style and university in mind, because this will allow you to select the best programme for you.
On the online application form, you will be allowed to choose two programmes. However, both those programmes must be from the same sponsoring body, so you can’t pick JPA001 and LN0101 if you intend on doing medicine, for example.
After you have submitted your application (submit early!), you will be given a slip to be printed, stating that you have completed your application. Note the website address you can check your application results on, and make sure you check it EVERY DAY!
Second Stage: Psychometric Test
When the first stage of your application is successful, you will be notified on their website within a month. From there, you will be given a date and time for your psychometric test. This test will be done online, and has four sections: IQ, Personality, General Knowledge, and Morality. Make sure you sit for the test on time, and that your computer and Internet connection is up and running. Don’t fret, as it is quite simple – but be sure to manage your time wisely and check that you have answered all the questions. At the end, print the completion slip as proof that you took the test.
Third Stage: Interview
Next, after you take the psychometric test, you will be told your interview time and venue by phone and through the same website 2-3 weeks after sitting the psychometric test. It will be in the form of an interview slip, which you must print out. Alongside the previously-mentioned slips, the following must be prepared and brought to the interview:
- Certified true copies of your identity card as well as your parents’
- Certified true copies of your birth certificate as well as your parents’
- Certified true copies of your parents’ death certificate (if applicable)
The interview experience varies according to programme, from what I have read from past applicants online. For me, a hopeful engineering student, it was at Kolej MARA Seremban on a Saturday afternoon. Nervous, I took the train from KL Sentral to Seremban and a taxi from the station to the college, where there was a huge batch of hopeful applicants. At 2:00 PM, we were seated in a hall, where we were separated into groups of 10. After sorting out the paperwork, we were led to the interview rooms.
Firstly, our group of 10 was separated into 2 groups of 5. We were given ribbons, and were told to design 3 types of ketupat casings (since Hari Raya was 2 months away) and present those designs to the interviewers. With virtually no experience in weaving ketupats, it may seem like an impossible task, but what they want to see is the team-work amongst group members and how well we can adapt to something we most probably will have no experience in doing whatsoever. Besides that, the presentation provided a way for us to articulate our ideas clearly and show our creative and innovative side.
Then, we were asked questions on current issues. Mine was on my stance on abortion, and I articulated my opinion clearly as well as justified my stance on the topic. The questions are fully in English, and you will be expected to answer completely in English. However, for those who have not answered the questions, the interviewers asked the questions in Malay, but they must answer in English. What the interviewers wanted is for us to be able to articulate and communicate well in English as well as maturity in thought and awareness of what is happening throughout the world.
After that, we were told to form one group to discuss 3-4 case studies and come to a conclusion within a set period of time. At this point, we would have to demonstrate our ability to discuss and reason in a mature manner, to listen to everyone’s opinions and to ensure that everyone in the group agrees to our resolution on the matter. At this time, it is best not to out-talk the rest of the group, but rather engage every group member and let them all participate actively in the discourse.
At the end, we were asked to grade our group members, and then the interview was done. For me, it was a tiring yet fulfilling day.
Fourth Stage: Acceptance, and paperwork filling…
Interview results should be out within a month, through the given website address. I checked mine late one night, a few days before I flew back to my hometown of Kuching, and I was elated that I was offered a place. Quietly, I accepted the offer, and printed the slip – not telling my parents about it until the day before we left for Kuching! My father was happy for me, but my mother (who also has been anxiously checking the website as well) chided me for not telling her that very night I accepted the offer, claiming that she almost got a heart attack when I told her!
By this time, I was reading about my preparatory college, Kolej MARA Seremban, from blogs written by alumni, to know what to expect when I register in July. At this time as well, you will have to fill in online forms for the college registration as well as print permission letters – all through the individual college’s website. Around that time as well, you will have to fill in yet more online forms (so be prepared with all the information you will need!), and print out yet more forms.
For me, that part was a major headache, and took up most of my holidays. Be prepared to read your terms and conditions of your sponsorship, as well as to run around chasing after signatures and stamps, especially with your agreement contract. You will also need two guarantors. Only ONE parent (either your mother or your father but NOT both) can be your guarantor, so you will need to find another person to fill the gap. It can be any working adult below 50 earning above a stipulated amount of money and is not bankrupt.
Organise your papers so they won’t get lost or jumbled up, and when in doubt, call your preparatory college to ask for clarifications on filling up your paperwork. Also, this will be the time for you to get all your supplies you need before you register at your college.
Digression: the novelty of boarding life
Okay, this is aimed to all you non-boarders out there. Being in an ordinary secondary school for 5 years, I’ve always been the one who cherish the comforts of home, what with the privacy, hot showers, and air-conditioning. However, when I finally went to Kolej MARA Seremban, I didn’t have those three things in my dormitory. Hence, every morning starts with a mini-heart-attack-inducing cold shower, a hot trek under the sun after class, and 2 other guys who know that you embarrassingly sing along to One Direction when you study in your room.
Even so, after a month at Kolej MARA Seremban, I could safely say that life as a boarder is quite fun, what with the midnight strolls to the cafeteria, camping out in the library, and exploring every probably-haunted corner of campus! Also, you will share a closer bond with friends, with all those midnight stories they tell that make every night more interesting.
Yes, it might feel all Spartan at first, but it is an interesting way of preparing to live alone abroad, far from the delights of home – and perhaps take the chance to ponder on the future that is to come.
(Note: these things may sound cheesy and clichéd, but they are cheesy and clichéd because they are undeniably true.) I truly feel blessed to have been offered a sponsorship from MARA, because it has been my dream to study overseas in the United Kingdom. This sponsorship has not only eased the financial burden on my parents, but also given me a new pair of lenses to see the world through; so now, I see the world as a vast basket of opportunities waiting to unlock my hidden potentials, propelling me towards success. In this I hope, and I hope as well that you, dear reader, will see the world like that too. All the best, never give up, and keep moving forward!
Kiwan Richard is a Bidayuh MARA scholar from Kuching, who is now doing A-Levels at Kolej MARA Seremban towards the field of Engineering. He hopes to be accepted into the University of Cambridge, but the University of Oxford too holds a dear place in his heart. A keen lover of books, he also loves writing in his free time when he is not playing the piano (and rendering everyone else tone deaf with his compositions). With Rene Descartes’s ‘Cogito ergo sum’ is his maxim; he sees thought as the liquid gold that lines every facet of existence, and urges everyone to look deeper than the surface – to truly understand what it means to truly be.