Applying for the JPA scholarship was not troublesome, that I can say. Compared to other agencies or organisations I applied to, which sometimes asked for essays and my CV, JPA’s was based solely on a two-stage selection process. The first was an online application in which all applicants were required to fill in their basic details, SPM results, preferred course and country plus a little bit of family members’ information.
If your application was taken into consideration, you would then receive an invitation letter for interview session via email from JPA. They usually hold their interview sessions over several days in each region scattered all over Malaysia, so fret not if you’re from Sabah or Sarawak, you don’t have to come all the way to KL just for it. Your interview location depends on which region you filled in earlier. Either way, in all places, the process would be the same. Included in the invitation letter was the dress code, which personally I thought was very simple during my time: just dark sports attire.
Next came the exciting part of the selection process; the second stage which was the interview itself. We were first divided into several groups of six or seven. From here on, the interview would revolve around 2 checkpoints. The first checkpoint was a group presentation, where they randomly provided a topic for each group to discuss within a time frame and present it visually on a piece of mahjong paper. Everything in this round was carried out in English. For my group, we were asked to discuss the pros and cons of working in the private and public sector. During the prep time, the JPA officers in charge would stay in the room and observe everyone, so it’s really important to be an active team player or team leader throughout the discussion. If you’re unsure about the assigned topic, make sure you grasp the whole concept before the prep time ended, as the JPA officers and other applicants from another group can ask anything related.
Let’s say you are suddenly aware of how passive everyone in your group is. The discussion still has to be done on time, so I’d advise you to take the role to lead the group by asking for their opinions and such. Contrastingly, if everyone seems to ooze with knowledge, then spice up the discussion by contributing more points and carefully manage the differences in input. Only then the team will come to a consensus. In case you have completed everything early, you probably will find it helpful if you occupy the remaining prep time with further discussion on possible questions that will be asked. As far as I can remember, the JPA officers didn’t go easy on us; they asked a lot of questions and even condemned our opinions when we were presenting just to see how far we could bend before breaking. Some of my teammates could not answer several questions posed, but luckily we had each others’ backs. Regardless, stand your ground and express your ideas clearly with supporting evidence. To the debaters out there, I’m pretty sure you would enjoy this round as much as I did because here’s when our defensive mode is automatically switched on.
Where at the first checkpoint we were assessed in groups, at the second the evaluation was more individual-based. Basically, all members in the group were assessed together in a room where everyone would have a go at the questions asked. However, the interviewers did not specifically mention which person they would like to hear from first, so it was all up to our prompt response to determine the turns. The first few questions they asked were our names, preferred courses together with our strengths and weaknesses. While it’s an easy task to brag about your positive traits, don’t forget to highlight on how these qualities can help you to propel yourself forward in your life, especially in the area you’re applying for. Instead of simply stating your weaknesses, remember to press on effort you’re currently putting in to fix them (just to tone down the said negative traits), and try to add the extent that your improvements have been successful. That’s one way to prove that you’re always open to beneficial changes and are willing to improve yourself in every aspect of life. At this stage, we were allowed to choose either to answer in English or Malay, whichever we were more comfortable with.
The interview questions revolved around government past and current policies plus our opinions on them, current global issues like refugees, brain drain, technology transfer, transnational corporations: basically anything debatable. From here, they would get a glimpse on the way we think, our personality and most importantly, if our traits and skills will be useful for them in the long run. So my advice for this section is to be extra careful on your choice of words: make sure they are not misleading but instead form sustained, coherent judgements. Keep in mind you’re applying for a government scholarship, so avoid any provocative remarks on their policies or decisions. However, do not spend too much time thinking to the extent that you look clueless about everything; even if you really have no idea on whatever they ask, try to extract some points from other applicants who have answered before you and elaborate them. Here hydration is not the key anymore, confidence is!
Overall, it was a fun experience. For my batch (SPM 2017), JPA also accepts applications for JKPJ Scholarship Programme (Program Khas Kejuruteraan Jepun, Korea, Perancis, Jerman) from those who have achieved all A+. I actually applied for both JKPJ and this PPN (Program Penajaan Nasional). Of course they were generous enough to send invitation for both programmes, but at the end they only offered me the PPN one even though I did not submit the PPN form on the day. It was odd actually, considering I always answered JKPJ as the programme I was applying for and never mentioned about applying for PPN throughout the interview, not even once. I suspect it had something to do with preferred language I chose in the individual assessment, as they already hinted their preference during briefing. It makes sense in a way, since all PPN scholars would eventually have to sit for IELTS before studying abroad meanwhile JKPJ scholars will take other languages proficiency assessments. Thus, if you’re aiming for either one of the programmes offered, it’s better if you just apply for the targeted programme.
On a different note, after receiving the offer you might want to consider several things before signing the agreement. One of them is the fact that JPA’s allowance is not that much compared to the amount provided by other agencies, which might be a huge problem unless your family/relatives can provide additional financial support. However, rest assured that they wouldn’t put too much pressure on you throughout your preparatory period in A-Levels as they’re pretty lenient about semester exam results and are always open for any proposed discussion. Those are crumbs of factors to be weighed up again.
I hope you will have an enjoyable time during the interview. Even if you are rejected, please think of all the new friends made, what the many new acquaintances including the evaluators impressed onto you, what new skills you’ve gained and what new observations you got out. I could go on and on, but I’m sure you will all try to find something positive from your participation. Whatever it is, all the best and good luck!
Tasha Aziera is currently a National Scholar under JPA. She is completing her A Levels at Kolej Yayasan UEM and is hoping to further her studies in the UK, majoring in psychology. You can often catch her nibbling on a chocolate cookie browsing through Instagram or looking at pictures of corgis. If you intend to contact the author, feel free to contact the CollegeLAH Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.