CollegeLAH’s Guide to Using Common App

Creating your CommonApp account

  • Go to and click on “Create An Account”
  • Fill in your email address and create a password. Note that the password must be between 8-16 characters, containing at least an upper case alphabetic letter, one numeric character, and a symbol (!@#$%^&*).

1 login page

2 keying in password

  • Fill in your details and click on I am a(n): “Applicant planning to enroll within the next 12 months”.
  • Tick both boxes and click on “Create” to create your brand new CommonApp account.

3 creating account

  • Once you are logged in, you are able to view your Dashboard and your full CommonApp Account.


Your CommonApp Account

4 dashboard

  • Your CommonApp Account is separated into four main functions: Dashboard, My Colleges, Common App, and College Search.
  • Dashboard: The Dashboard is the central monitor to your applications. Once you have added colleges to your applications, you will be able to view them on the dashboard, showing you the deadlines, requirements and your progress.
  • My Colleges: The My Colleges tab shows the colleges that you have added into your account. You will complete your work for each college here. Some colleges will require extra essays or questionnaires answered. As these might vary depending on the different faculties/schools within the college that you are applying to, they will appear only appear after you have completed the “Questions” section.
  • Common App: Your Common application. Here, you will fill up relevant details for your application, from your profile, educational background, SAT/TOEFL/ACT test results to your dreaded Common App Essay.
  • College Search: College Search allows you to search for colleges/universities by different criteria, i.e. by name, country, state, term, applicant type or deadline. You may also perform multiple searches by separating terms with a comma, i.e. Boston, New York, etc.

5 college search

6 adding college


The Common Application

7 personal info



This is the part where you fill in everything about yourself – name, address, contact details, demographics, geography, languages, citizenship, scholarship information, and common app fee waiver. It provides the most basic understanding of who you are to the admission officers. Most of this section is very straightforward but we will clarify the bits that might not be.

Scholarship information – This is a new feature that allows you to apply to scholarships that use the Scholar Snapp platform. Basically, it’s a “Common App” for scholarships. These can be scholarships offered by external organisations.

Read more about Scholar Snapp here:

Common App Fee Waiver – Nothing is this world is free. Likewise, applying via Common App costs money as well. However, if you think that you face sufficient financial difficulties such that you might be unable to afford the application fees, then you can apply for the fee waiver. Your counsellor will be contacted to provide evidence of financial difficulties so don’t try to cheat.



This is a relatively straightforward section, where you are required to fill in information about your family background. It is divided into 4 subsections: Household, Parent 1, Parent 2, and Sibling. You will need their basic information such as name, age, occupation, country of birth, education level etc.



This is where things get gradually less straightforward. You will provide your educational information here, from secondary school to your Pre-U studies. Here’s a clarification that will be useful for most readers here, especially if you’re from Malaysia. Even if you are enrolled in, for instance, Taylor’s College, KDU, Taylor’s University (ADTP), INTI University, you are indeed still in school. Likewise, the terms “college” and “university” are interchangeable in the USA i.e. Taylor’s College is not a college but a school while Bates College is a university and/or a college.

Current or Most Recent School: Unless you’re studying at a school in the USA or US Territories, your school might not be listed here. Search for your school’s name and if it does not appear, select “I don’t see my high school on this list”. Likewise, if you are homeschooled, select the “I am/was homeschooled” option. If you’re studying in an American-styled school, you should have a designated school counsellor. Otherwise, this can be any teacher or academic staff member who has good knowledge and understanding of the non-academic aspects of you. Therefore, it is entirely up to you whether you want a teacher from your secondary school or one from your pre-U school to be your counsellor. Common App references are significantly different from what usual Malaysian references would be, so be sure that your counsellor knows about the writing style.

Other School: If you are doing your Pre-University education in a different institution as compared to your secondary school, you will need to fill up this subsection. Just do exactly the same as the previous step for each High School you have attended. That said, please do not key in your primary school and kindergarten. Likewise, given that High School means the schools where you did SPM/IGCSE till IBDP/A-level/STPM/Matrikulasi/AP, please do not include your PMR school if it was different than the one you did your SPM/IGCSE at. Otherwise, please do.

Community-Based Organization: If any of these organisations helped you with your Common App application, then do declare them. These are generally non-profit organisations that are representative of particular civil societies e.g. Black communities, underprivileged suburban children.

Education Interruption: If you are finishing your Pre-University studies later than scheduled, please declare it in this subsection. Otherwise, tick “I have no interruption to report.”

College & Universities: If you have completed a university level course, be it online or through a physical college, fill up this subsection. For the occasional Singaporeans who might be reading this, declare your H3 Subjects here. Likewise, if you have completed an actual uni/college level course, declare here. Please keep in mind that your Pre-University education (A-level, IBDP, STPM, Matrikulasi, AP) does not count here.

Grades: There are 4 options under the class rank reporting, mainly

1) Exact: For instance, 53 out of 187 (187 will be filled in under “class size”)
2) Decile: Top 10%, 20%, 30% …  
3) Quintile: Top 20%, 40% .., 80%
4) Quartile: Top 25%, 50% … and so on.

If you are on a Pre-U programme that does not use GPA/CGPAs (A-level, IBDP), leave the relevant sections blank. Likewise, if you’re doing Matrikulasi or STPM, declare your CGPA as well as the GPA scale (‘4’ for STPM, Matrikulasi etc.) Whether or not your GPA is weighted depends on this question – do all contributing subjects/modules/aspects have the same individual contribution to your GPA? If your answer is no, then your GPA is probably weighted.

Current or Most Recent Year Courses: This is where you declare your Pre-University subjects as well as your Year 11 subjects (SPM, IGCSE etc). In other words, A-level History counts as one course, STPM Ekonomi counts as one course.

Honors: If you have won awards, competitions or scholarships, declare them here. Important point to note here is the grading system, Grade 9 refers to Form 4 and equivalent, Grade 10 being SPM/IGCSE while Grade 11 refers to your AS-level. Intuitively, Grade 12 is your A-level/IBDP/STPM. The exception here then is that if your pre-U course lasts only a year e.g. Australian year 12, SAM, Matrikulasi. In that case, Grade 12 refers to that and Grade 11 refers to IGCSE etc. Basically, it all depends on the number of academic years your Pre-U studies contribute to. PG generally applies to those who undertook gap years.

Future Plans: Write about your future career plans and highest degree you intend to earn here.



Test Taken: Check ‘yes’ to self-report your SAT, SAT II, IELTS, TOEFL, IB, A-levels scores. You should list all tests that you expect to take and have already taken.

If you have taken courses such as SPM, STPM, IGCSE, IB Middle or IBDP, elect ‘yes’ for the last column with the prompt: “Is promotion within your education system based upon standard leaving examinations by a state or national leaving examinations board?” Do note that if you took AP, you do not have to check this box.

Senior Secondary Leaving Examinations: If you check ‘yes’, a new section indicating “Senior Secondary Leaving Examinations” comes up. For each test chosen, another column will appear; this is where you should fill in the specifics of each test. This means that if you have already sat for your A-level, IBDP, STPM, then tick “yes” and fill up accordingly. For most, who are still studying for the actual examinations, tick “no”.



After indicating ‘yes’, you have a maximum of 10 columns for you to fill in all activities. You’re given a maximum of 50 characters to state the name of the activity, and another 150 characters to describe the activity. Once again, an important note on the grade level system, intuitively, Grade 12 refers to A-level/IBDP/STPM. If you are taking a gap year after your Pre-University studies, any activities done after graduation comes under “Post-Graduate”. For sports specifically, if you are in your school/state/national team, then you are involved in Varsity/JV sports. If you are not in the main team i.e. reserve, secondary or development team, then you are in JV.

For example:

Music Club – Founding President

Spearheaded 2 national music concerts; raised $10,000+ for the Malaysian Elderly Association. Honed leadership skills working with 60 members.  (142 characters)

Keep your description concise to minimize character count and convey your message clearly.

Do note that the activities included here are assumed to be the most important and relevant since Year 9. It is important to arrange the activities in order of relative importance to you and your application. Feel free to include any previous or current jobs.

You might want to consider carefully which activities to include as this section is vital in portraying who you are both as a student and as a person. It is highly recommended that you state activities that you are interested in continuing in university. You may include hobbies only if these are relevant and if you feel that you have gained a lot from these activities.



Personal Essay

You have a choice of 5 questions to choose from. Choose one from the list below:

8 essay prompts

Our advice would be to briefly write down the main outline of your response to each question. With this in mind, you can roughly compare the quality of your responses across all questions. Try not to overthink the process; choose the essay that gives you the right platform to best express yourself.

That being said, essays about everyday activities and/or volunteering work might be deemed mundane by the admission officers, unless you’re able to write creatively about the topic, or if you feel that your application will be incomplete without that particular story to reflect who you are. Ultimately, this is where you have the opportunity to showcase your unique identity and personality.

Here’s a link to another article on CollegeLAH about writing US essays.


Disciplinary History

Honesty is the best policy! Do not be afraid if you have a tainted disciplinary record. This does not mean that you will be rejected solely based on this.


Additional Information

It is not necessarily the case that your application would be in any way disadvantaged if this section is left unfilled. If there is nothing else to add, there is no need to include unnecessary details.

However, if you do wish to include additional information, here are examples of what could be added:

1) Description of the 11th extremely important activity (because you can only write about 10 activities in the previous section)

2) Clarification of extenuating circumstances –
“Took a gap year after Year 11 because …”
“SAT scores were unusually poor because…”
“Discontinued a music syllabus after Year 10 because…”

3) Information regarding yourself that you think the application will not be complete without

However, please do not continue your unfinished essay here.

Congratulations on completing this CommonApp section!


College Essays

Hurray! Don’t be too happy yet, this is not the end of your application to the States. Colleges/Universities have more questionnaires for you to answer. Most will also have extra essays, known as supplementary essays. That means more essays to write! Fret not, CollegeLAH essays editing services are here to help you!



9 recommender

In every tab for the colleges that you are applying to, there is a subsection called “Recommendations and FERPA”. This is where you invite your preferred teachers to be your counsellor and recommenders. A counsellor cannot be a recommender and vice versa. You can invite as many recommenders as you want. Ultimately, you will be the one deciding whose references to put in. Likewise, you can have non-academic referees e.g. sports coach, music tutor (more relevant for those applying for sports/music scholarships). Waiving your FERPA rights means that you agree legally not to have access to your references or transcripts and have your counsellor send them on your behalf. Please note that once your recommender is invited into your application for a particular university, his/her reference can also be used for other universities.

Written by: The CollegeLAH Team


Application to Stanford University


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General Questions

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself

I’m Ying Hong. I go to Stanford University, and I’m a sophomore. A large part of my life has revolved around science and math. The culmination of this is my representing Malaysia in the annual International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) several times in secondary school. I make bad puns and am not ashamed of them. I have the uncanny ability to draw very round circles and have recently translated that skill into drawing and sketching. I can write words in very uniform straight lines on blank, unlined paper.

2. What was included in the application process to your university?

There was the CommonApp, and Stanford had plenty of shorter essay questions meant to probe my personality, among those that I have record of are “a letter to your future roommate” and “reflect on an idea or experience that has been important to your intellectual development”.

3. How did you approach your essays?

I talked about my experience at the last IMO I participated in. I did not focus on the competition itself, but more on my experience as a leader, being the most experienced (read ‘oldest’) in the team. The gist of it was that overall, the team did not do as well as hoped, including myself. I am not a natural leader, and telling others to accept failure and move on (the competition wasn’t over yet) would just sound contrived. But having been through many such disappointments I knew how they felt and was able to talk them through it.

How did I write it? My writing style is very economical. I do not add flowery language and fluff to distract the reader. The point I want to convey here is my personal growth through this sequence of events I am chronicling. 500 words is very little. Spend them wisely.

Did you perform any internships before applying?

Not really, but I did work as a camp facilitator several times at Olympiad math camps with Ardent Educational Consultants (run by our IMO trainer Mr. Suhaimi). These camps run for several days. I also taught and trained my secondary school (SMJK Katholik) math team.

What are some of the activities that you participated that you think helped your application?

I played chess, and represent my secondary school and district (Petaling Utama) to MSSD and MSSS.

I was concertmaster in the school symphony (playing violin).

I also volunteered at a local Tzu Chi recycling centre (probably not very helpful in application but what the heck

6. Did you have to take any tests?

SAT – The essay has to be written in a specific format. For the vocab section you just have to memorize lots of words (SAT vocab books are a great resource) and the passages portion is rather tricky. I attend the Princeton Review course, but honestly once you know the tricks, they are pretty easy to nail down. I think the books are good enough. And lots of practice. As for the math portion… well…

SAT II (subject tests) – I took physics, chemistry and math. The A-Levels should be more than sufficient to master these, but even if you’re planning to take them before you complete your A-Levels, they are not very hard, because they do not go too deep into the concepts. Again the books are good resources, and do lots of practice.

7. How was the interview session?

There was no interview for Stanford. But I did have an interview for MIT (where I got waitlisted the first time I applied). It really depends on the interviewer. They are Malaysian alumni, so in general they want to help you. Mine was very ‘chill’, and I just talked very naturally. He got me to talk about what I was passionate about, and the interesting things I do outside of school. I talked about the crazy random projects I built and some cool origami and how they were in fact very mathematical creatures (you can construct the cube root of 2 and trisect an angle with origami. Not doable with straight edge and compasses).

8. What do you think contributed to the success of your application?

I think my IMO credentials (silver medal) weighed in heavily. But I also think that wrapping it up in a cocoon of fuzzy personality stuff and showing that I am not a robot who just does math and programming all day (although sometimes I do that) helped me distinguish myself from just another nerd. Then again, Stanford IS nerd nation. Anyhow, they certainly want students of a certain calibre, but once you get past that point, there are a lot of randomness and variables that can affect your application, from the lack of coffee to the excellent Californian weather.

9. What advice would you give to future applicants?


Stress over it, have nightmares about it, fuss and cry about it, but if you really want to get into the school, it is worth it.

Don’t just apply to schools you want to go to, because most probably everyone else is applying there too. Apply to some of the lesser-known schools as well. You may have to explain to your future job interviewer where in the world it is, but the experience of living in the US or any foreign land is priceless.

START EARLY. Can’t repeat this often enough.

Ask friends or teachers or strangers to read your essays. Get honest feedback. Read them out loud (to yourself). If you don’t feel comfortable then you’re not earnest about it and they can sense fear…

US-specific Questions

1. Does your college require you to submit any supplements? If yes, how were they?

I don’t fully recall… There were some short essay questions as mentioned above, and I’m pretty sure there were short questions like what your favourite books are and favourite music and even movies… Don’t sweat it.

2. Did you apply via Regular Decision, Early Decision, or Early Action? What impacted your choice?

Regular. MIT was my top choice, but early action (or decision? I’m honestly still confused about the two) was only available for Americans. So I waited…

3. We know that the US places a focus on ECAs too. If a student wasn’t too involved in secondary school, is it too late to start during Pre-U, and where would be the best place to start?

I’d say it’s not too late, but you’ll certainly be at a slight disadvantage, given others have probably already accumulated years of experience and held many leadership positions. But as long as you show the initiative to learn and grow as a human being, and not just a certificate collector, then you should be good. Also, ECAs most certainly do not have to be ‘president of the marching band’ or ‘head prefect’. I’m sure if you weren’t too involved in those things, you must have done other things that may have profoundly impacted your life. Dig deep and find what truly drives you.

4. Any advice on how to ask for recommendations from your teachers/lecturers?

Ask. No way around it. Make eye contact. Don’t shake and convulse at the sight of your math teacher.

Get someone who knows you best as a person and not just about your academic achievements. The recommendations are there to fill in that outsider’s perspective of you as a human being, and your grades should be reflected on your side of the application.


Ying Hong Tham is pursuing a Computer Science degree at Stanford University under Astro scholarship. You can find him sneaking into lecture halls at night to use the chalkboards for math scratch work and random doodling.

Financial Aid for US Universities


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Hello prospective Class of 2019 (and later)! I am Annabelle, a sophomore at Mount Holyoke College. When I applied to American universities, I remember being overwhelmed and frustrated (well… mostly frustrated) by its tedious financial aid application process, a phase I am sure most of you are going through right now. I hope my article does its part in tiding you through the process.  

Before we begin, let’s get our terminology straight.

Scholarships (merit-based) versus Financial Aid (need-based)

Merit scholarships are awarded based on merit on the nature of academics/extracurriculars. On many cases merit scholarships alone might not be sufficient to offset the total cost of attendance because they are not tailored to a student’s financial need. However, note that one or more merit scholarships can also be part of a need-based financial aid package.

Need-based financial aid is offered based on your financial need, i.e. the difference between the total cost of attendance of a university and how much your parents/guardians can afford to pay. A typical need-based financial aid package is comprised of one or more of the following: grant, merit scholarship(s), student loan and work-study.

State/public universities generally offer only merit scholarships for international students whereas private research universities and liberal arts colleges usually offer both need-based aid and merit scholarships.

Need-aware versus Need-blind

Universities that offer need-based financial aid are either need-aware or need-blind.

Need-blind universities are universities that do not consider your financial need when deciding your admissibility. In other words, applying for financial aid will not “hurt” your chances of being admitted to these universities. Conversely, universities that are need-aware will take into account the fact that you applied for financial aid when considering you for admission.

**In case you still have trouble differentiating the terms I introduced, keep in mind that the word, “need-based”, describes a financial aid policy, whereas the terms, “need-blind” and “need-aware”, are used in relation to admission.


Drawing from what you read earlier, if you are admitted and offered a need-based financial aid package by a university, you now have the financial means to attend this particular university. Is this true? (You have 5 seconds to scroll back and check if you dozed off reading just now.)






The answer is no. (“What?! But you said […]”) Okay, to be fair, that was a trick question. Note that not all universities that offer need-based aid promise to meet 100% demonstrated financial need.

Need-based versus Meets Full Need

Some people might have a hard time differentiating between the concepts of need-based and meeting 100% demonstrated need, so I am going to show some calculations below in regard to this.

Say you, an aspiring scarer, applied to Monsters University and got admitted with a need-based financial aid package.

Total cost of attendance for Monsters University: USD 58000
The amount your parents can afford to pay: USD 9500
Your financial need: USD 48500
(This is how much financial aid Monsters U should offer you in order for you to attend)

However, Monsters U does not promise to meet full need.

Monsters U adcoms are aware that you need USD 48500-worth of financial aid in order to enroll but unfortunately the university does not have sufficient funding, so you are awarded USD 30000 in financial aid and have until May 1st to decide if you want to enroll.

****** 10-minute water break ******

Choosing universities

The ideal university for a financial aid applicant would, of course, be one that offers need-based aid, is need-blind in terms of admission and promises to meet 100% demonstrated financial aid. Sounds too good to be true? Well, good news for you – they do exist! As of now, there are six need-blind universities in the States that meet full need: Amherst, Dartmouth, Harvard, MIT, Princeton and Yale. (Technically, Amherst is a liberal arts college, but for the sake of consistency I will maintain the usage of the term, “university”, in this article.)

“But… as financial aid applicants, we don’t only have six universities to choose from, do we?”

Of course not! There are many universities in the States that, albeit being need-aware, offer need-based aid and promise to meet full need upon admission. When I applied, I had the fortune of stumbling upon a website that had an almost comprehensive list of need-aware, full-need universities. Set the filters to “100% financial need met” and “financial aid available for international students”, and voilà – some 69 universities miraculously pop up.

Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 1.06.56 PM

There are, however, two shortcomings about this site:

  1. There is a very rigid toggle limit for the %-of-financial-need-a-school-can-meet function. The next percentage down from 100 that you can select is 80. Even schools that meet 99.9% need, only 0.1% down from full need, will be ruled out if you set the filter to 100%. I believe that universities that meet more than 98% of financial need should not be ruled out because, speaking from personal experience, there is always the possibility of appealing/negotiating for more aid upon admission.
  2. Some universities don’t report data on financial aid.


For international financial aid applicants, you typically submit the CollegeBoard CSS/ Financial Aid PROFILE or the International Student Financial Aid Application (ISFAA). Sometimes the Certificate of Finances (COF) is required along with the ISFAA. In rare cases, some universities, like Bates, Franklin & Marshall, Hamilton and Middlebury, use their own financial aid application forms for international students. In addition to your main financial aid application form, most of the time universities will also ask for certified copies of your parents’ statements of income and tax return forms.

  • CollegeBoard CSS/ Financial Aid PROFILE (Base fee of USD9 + USD16 per university)

This is an online form and the only form that allows you to fill in amounts using Malaysian Ringgit. If you are applying to universities that use a combination of PROFILE and ISFAA and/or COF, I suggest you start with PROFILE and plug in the numbers using the current exchange rate to other forms later.

  • CollegeBoard International Student Financial Aid Application and (sometimes) Certification of Finances (free of charge)

These forms come in .pdf format so you can either complete these forms with Adobe or print them out and fill them in manually. Everything in both forms should be completed in USD.

  • Statement of Income

This would generally be your parents’ monthly pay slips. If they are not in English, translate them into English and have your parents’ employers certify the copies. Companies have these in soft copies – so ask your parents to try to get the soft copies for translation purposes. It does not matter in which currency the amounts are denominated as long as the currency used has been clearly stated. There is no specific requirement as to how many monthly pay slips you should submit, but I submitted three consecutive ones for both parents.

Back when I applied some universities asked for an annual statement of income instead of monthly statements. Neither of my parents’ companies had one of those, so I printed the numbers on my parents’ company letterhead and had my parents’ employers certify them. Below is a template for this in case any of you ever need it.

To Whom It May Concern,

Verification of Annual Income and Taxes Paid in Year 201X

I hereby verify the details of my employee, XXXXXXX as followed:
a) Total Amount of Income Received in Year 201X: RM XXXXX
b) Total Taxes Paid in Year 201X:  RM XXXX

Yours faithfully,

  • Tax Return Form

For parents who work in private sectors in Malaysia, this would be the EA form. If you have to translate this form, an English version is readily available in .pdf online. Again, your parents’ employers need to certify these.


The financial cost of applying to American universities can add up, and it doesn’t help that we have to multiply everything by 3.20 or so. Here’s how to not break your (parents’) bank on your way to ‘Murica:

1. Have your college application fee waived (You save:USD 60-80 per school)

Have your school counselor write an application fee waiver request on your behalf, attesting to how the application fee is going to put a strain on your family’s finances. Support with evidence like your annual household income, number of dependants in your family, the total cost of application you have to pay and the current exchange rate. Alternatively, you can write it yourself and have your counselor certify it.

How to submit your college application fee waiver request:

Most colleges want you to mail it physically. However postage can be costly (not as costly as the application fee, but still.) so I asked my counselor to scan and attach the waiver request within her online recommendation letter. For schools that specify they need to receive a fee waiver request before you apply, you can always try sending them a scanned copy of the fee waiver request, explain how posting it will strain your family’s finances, ask if they can accept the scanned copy for now and promise that you will have your counselor send it online along with the rec letter.

How to submit Common App with a fee waiver:

Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 1.16.26 PM2. Have your test scores sent through counselor (You save: RM100 for IELTS per school and USD11.25 for SATs per school; not sure about TOEFL)

In order to do this, you need to write to individual schools and ask in advance, or schools will deem your application incomplete. You don’t need a formal letter like the fee waiver request; just shoot them an email stating how sending scores via CollegeBoard/ETS/IDP will strain your finances and ask if it’s possible to send them via your counselor instead.

Which score report to submit:

CollegeBoard doesn’t provide you with a physical copy of your SAT test score report unless you request and pay for it. Instead of doing this I downloaded the Online Student Score Report that is available free-of-charge to everyone who has taken the SAT and had my counselor submit the first page of both my SAT I & SAT II reports. There will be a watermark that says “NOT AN OFFICIAL SCORE REPORT” embedded somewhere highly visible on your online report, but fear not – this report will be considered official by most schools once your counselor stamp and certify it.

Where your counselor should attach your test scores:

If you have all your scores ready by the time your counselor submits the Mid-Year Report, have him/her attach them in the Mid-Year Report. Otherwise, wait till all your scores are in and have your counselor submit an Optional Report. I would suggest that you consolidate all test scores and submit them in the same report, i.e. either the Mid-Year Report or the Optional Report. Submitting them separately can be very confusing for the adcoms, and they are already doing you a favor by accepting these score reports via your counselor (this means the extra workload of entering your scores into the system manually), so be considerate!

3. Have your PROFILE fee waived (You save: Base fee of USD9 & USD16 per school)

You do this in two ways:

  • Ask for a PROFILE fee payment code by explaining your financial hardship

For reference, schools that provided me with a code were Amherst, Colorado, Cornell, Duke, Lafayette, Mount Holyoke, NYU and Skidmore. Not all schools offer a fee payment code, though. And if they don’t, go for option b.

  • Ask if they accept the ISFAA and COF in lieu of the PROFILE

Schools that I applied to had varied responses to this. Some agreed to it; some didn’t but agreed to hold off my PROFILE requirement until (if) I receive an admission offer; others sent me their own financial aid application form that they reserve for only students who cannot afford the PROFILE.

4. Have your financial documents (e.g. parents’ statements of income and tax return forms) sent electronically (You save: Whatever postage costs)

Additional Notes:

  1. The bulk of what I wrote above applies only to those with lower/mid-level household income. If you do not fall under this category and attempt to abuse these fee waivers by misrepresenting your application, know that in life what goes around ultimately comes around.
  2. When approaching the schools for waivers, be polite but persistent and assertive. You will be surprised at what you can get simply by asking.
  3. Financial aid applicants should also consider the availability of funding for unpaid summer internships and study abroad programs in a particular university before applying. This might not seem as important at the moment, but – trust me – it will be highly relevant in a year or two.


Annabelle Ooi is a neuroscience major in Mount Holyoke College. She is probably one of the few unartistic left-handers in this world who can’t draw and is tone-deaf. Feel free to email her with questions on financial aid, NeXXt scholar program, liberal arts colleges and life in an all-women’s college.

Bank Negara Kijang Scholarship


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What is the Kijang Scholarship?

The Kijang Scholarship is one of the two overseas scholarships offered by Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) (also known as the Central Bank of Malaysia) aimed towards SPM graduates, making it one of the many generous institutions that offer scholarships at this level. Applicants are able to request to be sponsored to study at the UK, USA or Australia at university level to read one of a certain few disciplines – Economics, Actuarial Science, Law, Accounting & Finance and Mathematics. These specific subjects are chosen because BNM is a Central Bank, thereby requiring its human capital to be proficient in these fields in order to regulate the economy effectively.

What is the difference between Kijang and Kijang Emas?

While this article will be on the Kijang Scholarship predominantly, some obvious differences between Kijang Emas and Kijang will be made clear here. In terms of grade requirements, Kijang Emas is exclusively for straight A+ students while 8A/A+ is the requirement for Kijang. The difference in criterion stems from the terms of the scholarships themselves. While the Kijang Scholarship limits itself to the 3 countries and 5 disciplines mentioned earlier, Kijang Emas permits its holders to pursue any discipline in any country. However, applying to Kijang Emas doesn’t guarantee you assessment for the Kijang Emas; if BNM thinks that your application is more suitable for Kijang, you may be shifted. In contrast, I have never heard of the opposite happening thus far.

Is there a bond that comes with the scholarship?

There is a service bond for holders of the Kijang Scholarship – 2 years of work with BNM for every year of sponsorship. This means that getting sponsored for 2 years of A-level plus 3 years in the UK means 10 years of bond. The plus point is that you get job security in a Central Bank. This is, I believe, explicitly stated in the BNM scholarship webpage. In comparison to other scholarship bodies in the financial or governance sector e.g. Maybank, Sime Darby and JPA which all have bonds of between 4-5 years, Kijang Holders have to serve a far longer bond period. Kijang Emas scholarship recipients, however, are not bonded to BNM, though they are called to contribute to Malaysia, also for double the period of the sponsorship.

How is the assessment process?

There are two major stages in which your suitability for the scholarship is assessed.

The first, of course, is the online application. Right when SPM results are released i.e. early March, the BNM website will commence its scholarship applications, of which links can be found on their website. It is imperative that you do not apply to the wrong scholarship given that there are scholarships for undergraduate level and beyond as well, in which you may have proven your lack of competence if you do so. The online application is relatively simple: just key in whichever details they ask for e.g. personal details, SPM grades, co-curricular achievements etc. I have heard that applicants have to write short timed essay at this stage (I did not have to in 2013, but heard that 2014 applicants had to). Whether it is true or not, if you truly know what you want to apply for and why, plus if you are a competent student, you will fare well.

Your co-curricular achievements will definitely help in making you stand out from the myriad of applicants, all of whom have stellar grades. Perhaps by coincidence, but a significant portion of people that make the cut all the way until the end and eventually attain the scholarship itself, are debaters. A more intuitive observation was that people who get shortlisted have at least national-level achievements. I, for one, had an international-level achievement, about two national-level achievements, amidst several state and district-level achievements plus 8A+, 1A in SPM. It is imperative that you excel in co-curricular activities while in secondary school rather than going full bookworm. If you haven’t, you are probably not going to make it, unless your application seems strong even without it.

If you are one of the lucky ones amidst a huge pool of competent applicants all across Malaysia, your second stage would be the 3 day 2 night Kijang Academy which will be held at Lanai Kijang and Sasana Kijang. I have no way of assuring that this will be the length of the Academy at the time this article is read. It is usually at this stage where people realise how sophisticated the Central Bank can be. You will be staying at Lanai Kijang, their residential building while a majority of your assessment will be in Sasana Kijang, the futurist glass building equipped with cutting edge technological gadgets and a huge library. There will be good food for the famished.

So what is this Kijang Academy?

If you have hundreds of equally competent applicants on paper, how do you choose a handful of scholars? The solution would be the usual – interviews, group tasks etc. This is where Kijang Academy occurs. However, the Kijang Academy is designed in such a way that it is impossible to fake it through. Who and what qualities they are looking for are never known explicitly. So my advice at this stage for you prospective applicants would be to be yourself at your best and be a humble person.

Stage 1

The first stage during my year was an essay on the first night of our stay. Questions were generally personal i.e. your qualities, studying attitudes etc. My inference was that this task aims at showcasing your thought process, reasoning, structure and effective communication. It is imperative that one writes concisely; verbosity hinders communication. They want to know more about you rather than to see you show off your flowery, bombastic and glorious language mastery.

For my case, it was done in a relatively short period of time (not exactly short if you reflect on it after a year of A level) in a ballroom sort of hall.

Stage 2

The second stage begins on the following day in Sasana Kijang. Do note that this may be drastically different by the time you are reading this article as scholarship assessment methods change over time at their discretion. This stage consists of several group-based assessments – interviews and tasks. You will be put into groups of approximately 10.

The first portion of the group stage was intuitively an ice-breaking session. I was required to introduce another member of the group while she did the same for me. The setting was designed to make everyone less stressful or tense and know each other more for the remaining of the group stages. So for strategic purposes, get to know everyone in your group well; perhaps knowing their strengths will do.

The second portion of the group stage, if my memory doesn’t fail me or if nothing changes, was an interview done under the disguise of a series of role-play tasks. We were supposed to give talk shows presuming that we are experts of our desired fields of studies. By desired, I mean the disciplines you applied through the system. Essentially, it means that they want to know even more about why you applied for your desired subject of choice under a less pressured situation.

The third portion of the group stage was a obligatory group task as per what other scholarship bodies also do – a group presentation based on a business problem i.e. to come up with a solution for a situation portrayed within 30 minutes of discussion/preparation within your group. The presentation would last approximately 10-15 minutes in extension to Q&A by the assessors. Fret not about your knowledge in business jargons as the questions are designed to be fair to everyone regardless of pre-existing knowledge on business. It aims at exposing how you function as part of a team. Keep in mind that this is not a game for dominance by anyone; your purpose is to contribute towards a working solution as a team. If you, in any way, decide that being “shiok sendiri”, shutting out others or being a dictatorial leader is a good way of working as a team, all the best!

The fourth and final portion of the group stage was a creative group work, in which most will find this part the most memorable, enjoyable and stress-free. You will be using limited resources e.g. limited amount of papers, tapes and sticks to build something within an hour. We were tasked with building a tower. Creativity counts here as well; hence, artistic members of the group will be of great use here. With the creativity cap removed, my group produced a futurist twin tower ultrapolis. My advice for this part is the same as the previous paragraph: you are part of a team striving for a creative solution, so do your part and contribute effectively.

The Break Announcement

At the beginning of the Kijang Academy up until now, there will be about a hundred of applicants per batch. Intuitively, they are not going to interview everyone personally if they can cut down some by this stage, which is exactly what happens. The assessors will be able to identify who may secure the scholarship and who definitely won’t by the end of the group assessments. Only those who may secure the scholarship by the judgment of the second stage stay onto the next stage – the individual interview and presentation. The announcement is done differently in my year than in the following year. However, the main characteristics stay – a list of students will be announced and be told elsewhere that they have been dropped out of the selection process. Either that or those who make the break will be told elsewhere.

Stage 3

The final stage of assessment consists of two parts – the individual presentation and the interview. By this stage, approximately half of the applicants would have been dropped out, leaving every group with on average 4-6 members. There doesn’t seem to be any quotas of participants making it to this stage as some teams have significantly more or less members at this stage.

The first portion of the final stage begins such that you are given 15 minutes to prepare a presentation based on one of the questions from a list. There are general questions similar to SPM-level questions and more external knowledge-based questions. Most interviewees went for the general questions. Do note that while all of the applicants prepare together, not everyone gets interviewed immediately after. This does not mean that you are allowed to make edits after 15 minutes of preparation to your flipchart. When it is your turn, you will be asked to present whatever you have for about 10 minutes plus 5 minutes of Q&A session by the assessors. Effective communication, reasoning and making sense is still the key here.

The second and ultimate portion is of course the interview itself, which may be rather lengthy. Mine, for one, lasted almost about an hour. In practice, your interviewers want to know more about what they have learned about you in the previous stages e.g. why your chosen course, why Bank Negara and of course, showcasing through your ECAs/school life why you are suitable for the scholarship or even working in Bank Negara as a whole. Essentially, they want to be sure that you are suitable for the scholarship. There is no point awarding a scholarship to a student who won’t fit into working at Bank Negara. The criteria of assessment remain difficult to decipher, my advice remains the same – be yourself at your best.

What happens after Kijang Academy?

This is arguably even more stressful than the assessment itself if you make it thus far. You have to wait for almost 3-4 weeks before you get the decision from BNM. There is only so much you can do at this stage, go on with interviews from other scholarship bodies, continue college education or get on with life as usual. If you are awarded the scholarship, you will receive a phone call from BNM telling you the discipline you are sponsored to pursue; you will also be told of the country in which your undergraduate studies will take place, hopefully. There are people who do not attain their first choice, presumably that the assessors think that their second choice suits them more. By words, you can decide to either accept or reject the scholarship through phone.

There will be a day dedicated to briefing you and your parents about the scholarship terms and preparatory colleges (KTJ, KYUEM or Taylor’s), probably about a week after you get the call from BNM. On this day, you will be briefed on the scholarship contract just like how legal firms and banks normally would.   Make sure that you get as much clarifications as you can on the terms; your following 1 or 2 years in the prep colleges will be directly affected by them. After which KTJ, KYUEM and Taylor’s will brief you on their schools/colleges.

What to do after being awarded the scholarship?

If you are awarded the scholarship, it means you have attained a privilege to have free overseas education, arguably a dream everyone would have. Don’t let it go to waste. Keep in mind that attaining the scholarship is just a stage but retaining the scholarship is another. The universities which you are allowed to apply to are extremely competitive ones, which is rather intuitive because who would want to sponsor stellar students to average overseas universities on par with local universities. This means that you will have to study even harder to get your places in the overseas universities. In your preparatory colleges/schools, life will be even more hectic than in secondary school with more academic content and co-curricular activities. My ultimate advice would be to prioritise smartly; the Bank sent you to whichever place you end up in to study, not to flunk your grades because of anything.

imageedit_4_4122498761Suah Jing Lian is currently a Bank Negara Malaysia Kijang Scholar who’s pursuing his A-level at Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar and hopefully Economics in the UK. He has a penchant for Baroque music, particularly Bach’s partitas, and debating, which he claims provides sparks to his life. People claim that he looks and speaks in an intimidating way but not really, he’s one of the most eccentric people you will ever meet.

Biomedical Science Personal Statement

This Personal Statement was part of this student’s sucessful application to study Biology in Imperial College London, Natural Sciences in University College London and Durham University as well as Genetics in University of Edinburgh.

What happens if chloroplasts are injected into your bloodstream? How can a human breathe underwater? What happens if you jump into a hole drilled through the earth’s core? These are some of the intriguing questions asked by my younger brother. These are not questions which answers can be found in textbooks so I have to rely on logical reasoning to answer him. Of course, these questions are impractical in reality but I enjoy trying to solve the unsolvable. After a period of intense questioning, I myself developed this peculiar habit of asking why and what. I consider this to be my greatest strength because it allows me to look at science from a different perspective. History shows us that the biggest discoveries are not those with the biggest answers but those with the biggest questions.

Most people will define science by its three main subjects; biology, chemistry and physics. However, my view of science is that there are no rigid boundaries separating the subjects. Learning only one of the subjects is inadequate because those subjects are related in a thousand and one ways. For instance, the chemical composition of purines and pyrimidines is what allows the precise replication of DNA. Even mathematics can be found reappearing in nature as the Golden Ratio. Throughout my studies, it has always been a thrill to be able to apply concepts I learnt from one subject in another. Not only does this enable me to understand the subjects better, it gives me an immense satisfaction of being able to connect them; like same-coloured tiles of a Rubik’s cube coming together.

My particular interest in biology has leaded me to do a hospital attachment. I witnessed a gastroscopy and a biopsy being done to test for H. pylori. One branch of biology which intrigues me more than the others is genetics. Genetics is more than just the study of genes; it explains how one’s phenotype arises from the complex relationship of its genotype with its environment. The idea of nurture vs. nature and which has the upper hand in determining an organism’s characteristics appeals to me. Darwinism and Mendelism complement each other so beautifully and the unification of both theories is something I want to learn to greater detail. Genetics immediately caught my attention when my high-school teacher taught us about DNA replication and transcription. The way free nucleotides which have no sense of order at first, could suddenly line up next to the exposed DNA strands in a precise arrangement is simply elegant; order from chaos. When I read The Violinist’s Thumb by Sam Kean, I stumbled upon transposons. Further research left me in awe because these “jumping genes” further prove that something as inanimate as DNA could do as much as something living, if not more. The way transposons work raises many questions, so I am eager to learn more about it at a higher level. I even requested for an interview with a local geneticist to find out more but I am still waiting for a reply.

During my schooling years, I consistently top my batch in exams and was awarded with numerous top-in-subject awards especially in maths and science subjects. I was also named the Top 50 Best Scorer in Malaysia for the Malaysian Certificate of Education (SPM). I took part in many maths and science competitions to try a different approach in learning these subjects. As a result, I found out that I enjoy the challenges set by the competitions and gained a lot from them. An example of my achievements is I was awarded a High Distinction in the National Malaysian Chemistry Quiz. I also emerged second for the KDU’s Maths and Science Competition. Badminton and squash is my forte and I took part in tournaments. Debating was also a passion of mine in secondary school and it had taught me to think critically and analytically, which are important assets in the science field. I gained leadership experience by being the Assistant Head Prefect and I was also the Vice Captain for my school’s Blue House.

DISCLAIMER: The personal statements on this site are strictly meant as a starting point to give an idea of how successful personal statements look like. There is no surefire formula to writing good personal statements. COLLEGELAH IS STRICTLY AGAINST PLAGIARISM OF ANY KIND. UCAS employs a plagiarism check system that checks applicants’ work against other published writing so please DO NOT PLAGIARISE.

JPA Ivy League Dan Setara Scholarship 2013 – A Memoir.

One of the requirements of this JPA scholarship

One of the requirements of this JPA scholarship

My name is Victor Tan. I’m a rising sophomore at the University of Chicago and a current holder of the JPA Ivy League dan Setara Scholarship. When I got into UChicago, I was absolutely ecstatic, yet I was shipwrecked in denial – I wasn’t sure if I could afford more than three years in the States without my family having to sell a house; but at the same time, I wasn’t keen on working at Bank Negara or Sime Darby for the better part of my youth…

Hence, I applied for the JPA Ivy League dan Setara scholarship. 6-year bond. Only applicants who have gained admission (read: unconditional offer) to one of the universities in the Times Top Universities Rankings need apply. The only stipulation was that I had to return to Malaysia to find a job in a private corporation for 6 years: Since most people who study in the States do return to Malaysia, I was totally okay with that! One online application and three stages of interviews later, I received word in November of 2013 that the JPA overlords had decided to award the scholarship to lil’ old me.

With that in mind, this is a memoir of my process of applying for the scholarship and being assessed, inclusive of the interview process, as well as some advice for prospective applicants. If you’re interested in applying for the scholarship and you eventually do, I hope that it helps some of you go through the rollercoaster of happiness and awesome emotions that I went through on the day I received the scholarship!

Anyway, down to the application process!

The application process.

So the whole thing took about five months from start to finish. As I mentioned, there is an online application. During my time, the online application was only open for a week, so keep your eyes peeled to make sure that you don’t miss the deadline! In the online application, you fill in the university that you’ve received an unconditional offer from and submit your pre-university results. During my year, you didn’t have to attach scanned copies of your results and conditional offers, but you had to bring these documents to the JPA office on the actual day of your interview, and I think that this has changed ever since. What remains the same, however, is the fact that if you do not have an offer from one of those universities, you are not eligible to apply. JPA happened to look favourably upon me, so they called me for an interview at the JPA Putrajaya office.

When I reached the JPA office, I saw about 80 different people dressed in varying degrees of business casual/formal, and I was pretty worried that there would be lots of competition: It was then and there that I silently cursed myself for applying for only one scholarship, but I also silently thought to myself that I had done well to reach this stage, and decided to make the best of it. Later though, I found out that everyone was scared too, so I guess it kind of evened out (because I’m inclined to schadenfreude like that :P).

During the first part of the morning, we handed in all the documents that JPA had asked us to furnish on the day itself, including the unconditional offer letters that we had obtained, and our academic results for both pre-U and our SPM/IGCSE equivalents alike. Subsequently, we were separated into groups of three people – My group was composed of an old acquaintance whom I had met at a competition a year ago, in addition to this Malaysian girl who claimed that she was going to Stanford. I say ‘claim’, and I will elaborate on this at some later point during this piece. The three of us were made to go through three stages of interviews, conducted in Malay and English alike, and I’m guessing that you guys are dying to learn about how they worked out.

Without further ado…

The first stage!

The first stage of my interview was conducted entirely in Malay by two JPA officers in one of the JPA conference rooms. Pretty depressing atmosphere – It looked like a university lecture hall, and there were actually chalkboards where we could write down our ideas. We were given a case study that was written entirely in Malay, which was basically a newspaper article about haze in Malaysia. The three of us were tasked with outlining the nature of the issue, several possible solutions, as well as some considerations to take into mind with the stakeholders.

We were given about twenty minutes to discuss our response to the prompt … in Malay, while being observed by people who had spoken Malay for their entire lives, so that was mildly intimidating! The issue for most of the people who were applying for the scholarship at this point in time was that they were first and second year university students years removed from the Malaysian education system. As a result, most of them couldn’t speak Malay very well and thus struggled during this interview. I was very prepared, though, so I went into the discussion with a pretty open mind, wrote a couple of points down, and discussed a few others with my peers during the discussion.

During the discussion, however, whatever trepidation that I had about delivering this presentation faded away – I performed a small division of labour, and we talked a bit about what we were each going to say. (Although keep in mind that plans like these don’t always work out!)

The presentation itself was pretty simple – I introduced the group, then gave a little bit of background on the issue, while Eng Keat and “Stanford girl” spoke a little about the stakeholders involved as well as some possible resolutions before we moved into Q&A and were forced to defend our answers. Considering that the prompt was about haze, it wasn’t very difficult to talk about the issue considering that I read the news and I knew about some of the complexities regarding the issue. So I spoke everything that was on my mind, always trying to ensure that my colleagues got airtime to the interviewers too – Overall, I think they were pretty impressed with our presentation, because one of them praised us with a “good job” after the presentation!

Next, we have…

The second stage!

The second stage of my interview was conducted entirely in English by two JPA officers. In this stage, we were tasked, once again, with conducting a presentation – except in English.

This stage of the interview was slightly abstract, because the case study we were given was essentially a picture of the national flag, followed by the following question: How does this inspire feelings of patriotism within you?

Again, there was a discussion period of twenty minutes, which in this case I didn’t actually need, but I went along with the charade anyway. At this point in time, I was pretty sure that they wanted to test our rhetorical skill, which I had absolutely no problem with because I had been involved in Model UN and debate alike – In other words, I had no problem with bullshitting and structuring a presentation on the fly, with absolutely no planning, absolutely no consideration of the things that I was going to say.  My friend had a rough idea of the things that he wanted to say, so we spent the majority of the time helping “Stanford girl” come up with ideas for topics to talk about.

I don’t have very much to say about the second part of the interview apart from the fact that this interview went really well, because I was completely composed, and I had lots of preparation from previous debate tournaments, Model UN speeches drilled into my brain, etcetera. When you’ve mastered the art of giving seven-minute speeches in English, there really shouldn’t be a problem, or any degree of fear when you’re making things up on the fly, so that was cool.

Now, for the next (and last!) stage of the interview…

The third stage.

This interview was conducted partially in Malay and partially in English. By this point, I was assuming that the third stage was going to be some sort of Q&A session where I could talk about my interests and what I did in college, and I was right! This interview lasted about an hour total, and it was basically two JPA officers grilling us about national issues and our college backgrounds – Though to some extent it was about our background knowledge of the courses that we were going to study, I felt that on some level, the interviewers were simply trying to see how well we could cope under pressure.

The interview began with introductions. Name, the university that we were going to, and the course that we were going to study. Victor Tan, Economics, University of Chicago – (Insert name of friend), Maths, University of Oxford…. (Insert name of “Stanford Girl”. Applying to Stanford, seeking a degree in business and administration.)

The interviewers were curious about “Stanford Girl”, and they pressed further – Did she know how the scholarship worked? Did she have an unconditional offer from the university? In response to the first question, she said that she wanted JPA to apply for the university on her behalf. In response to the second question, she said no she did not have an offer from Stanford. Considering that she didn’t even understand the basic requirements of the scholarship, it was pretty much a given that she didn’t receive it in the end. However, seeing that she and her mum had spent over RM1000 booking flights and hotels in Kuala Lumpur, I felt pretty sorry for them both.

At some point, the interviewers stopped pressuring “Stanford Girl”, and they moved on to asking legitimate questions, which I can summarize in the following set of bullet points:

  •         Why are you interested in pursuing your field of study?
  •         Why the university that you chose?
  •         Will you come back after graduation?
  •         What is 1Malaysia?

The interesting thing about this interview, however, was that the interviewers were making up questions on the fly – And I was happy that I had the opportunity to actually engage someone in a conversation rather than talk at their face for 20 minutes straight.

When my friend noted that he was studying math at Oxford, the interviewers asked him the following – “Why does 1+1 = 2?”, to which my friend responded by noting that numbers and the rules of addition are part of an axiomatic and logical system in which meaning is absent when we do not abide by those rules – He also noted that numbers are arbitrary and carry a representational function, meaning that “3” could equal “2” if we had chosen to define our number system as such.

He explained this in Malay. The interviewers did not understand him, and it was kind of amusing to watch.

When it came to my turn, they asked a little bit about my university (in Malay) and why Economics, to which I gave them a bunch of generic answers which you can probably look up if you Google the name of my university. Additionally, they asked me how my knowledge of Economics would help Malaysia (in English), specifically about the allocation of BR1M payments to the poor as well as the removal of petroleum subsidies by the Malaysian government. My response included a short analysis of the historical trend of poverty in our country, (some!) discussion of national issues as well as the need for the NEP, BR1M, and other schemes in light of the economic inequality between the races, though whether I personally believed in those arguments was a separate issue entirely. (I had mentioned racial tensions, and my interviewer specifically zeroed in and asked me why those racial tensions occurred, so if you’re not very prepared to talk about something, make sure you don’t say it!)

They pretty much ignored “Stanford Girl”.

Subsequently, they had some fun pressuring us about whether or not we were going to come back after graduation. Trick question: if you receive that question, always say yes because you pretty much have to return after graduation, that’s what’s stipulated in the scholarship package. 😛

Lastly, they asked us about 1Malaysia. This was problematic, because much like the majority of you reading this article, I had no idea what 1Malaysia is, and I don’t care even now. It was okay though, because I just made up something, as did my friend, and the interviewer ran with that. Again, “Stanford Girl” was ignored.

And that was it!


In November, I was midway through Fall Quarter in UChicago, and I was studying for midterms one night (as usual!). A friend of mine messaged me to tell me that the scholarship results had been released, and naturally, there was a pretty big element of fear and anticipation on my end.

I remember the moment when I realized that all of that fear was unfounded… Because both my friend and I, we each received one of the five to eight JPA Ivy League dan Setara scholarships that were given out that year.

Needless to say, I was absolutely overjoyed. I remember calling my mum, my brother, anyone and everyone who would listen about the fact that I had gotten the scholarship, and I remember the 80 USD phone bill that resulted because I hadn’t considered the possibility that I might end up paying an exorbitant amount of money. Please don’t be like me, and try using Skype instead 😛

In reflection, I had a pretty good support system when it came to applying for this scholarship, because I had created a small Facebook group for all the scholarship applicants, and we had run a couple of mock interviews for ourselves throughout the course of applying for the scholarship. With that in mind, I’d like to specifically thank Dylan Ler for helping to conduct mock interviews for the scholarship, for in general being chill and helping us by speaking in Malay – By the day of the scholarship interview, we were all extremely well-prepared, and we could tackle pretty much any question that was thrown at us.

I was very, very happy as a result, because I knew that I had given my very best and gotten the result I was looking for.

With that in mind, here’s some advice.

Advice for prospective applicants.

  •         Don’t abandon your Malay just because you’re in college. You’ll need it for scholarship interviews, and if you can’t perform, ask yourself the following: If I were a scholarship officer seeking people to represent my scholarship body, would I pay RM1 million to send someone overseas when they can’t even speak the national language?
  •         Get informed. Know things that you would be expected to know as an informed citizen of this country. Do not compromise on reading the news, do not compromise on being updated about current affairs. If you don’t even take the effort to find out about how your country is being run or what’s happening in the world, nobody is going to be impressed by you no matter how well you’ve done academically.
  •         Dress well, cut your hair, and always be aware of how you are perceived. Granted, this may come off as hypocrisy considering the fact that I now have blonde hair and look like an ‘Ah Beng’, but I wore a suit on the day of the interview and I looked like a perfect ‘guaikia’. However, let me share the following anecdote with you: One of the scholarship applicants, an Imperial kid, if I’m not wrong, was in an elevator with me and an elderly gentleman as we moved from one floor of the JPA building to the venue where the interviews were being held – He was dressed in business casual, yes, but he hadn’t cut his hair. The elderly gentleman noted the following :”You’re going for an interview, and you look like a mess. How can we give you the scholarship like this?”

It’s true that this little incident may not have affected the overall outcome, considering that only five people did get the scholarship. However, it’s always important to be aware of how you are perceived and the way you carry yourself, because again, as a JPA scholar, you will be a REPRESENTATIVE of this country. Act like it.

  •         Hang out with other scholarship applicants! Use Google, add people on Facebook, organize organize organize! A great resource to use is, a scholarship forum on which I met a lot of different people who were applying for the scholarship – In fact, I’m willing to bet that the majority of you who are applying for this scholarship at this point in time have read Recom. Malaysia is a small country, with a small pool of people who are vying for the same thing. Don’t view people simply as competitors but rather as collaborators – Meet up, talk to each other, learn from one another, because you have nothing to lose and everything to gain!
  •         PRACTICE. Your interview is important, and it is the only factor that you can control. You can’t influence which university you’ve already gotten into, and this is the only real way that you can have an influence on the outcome as an applicant, your only shot to engage with your stakeholders as a human being. Remember that in your interview, every word has significance; everything you say forms an opinion on someone’s part about you, every gesture that you make informs someone about your character. If you lack confidence, it will show. If you lack the ability to speak in public, it will show. If you’re not someone that the scholarship body would want to interact with over a meaningful period of time… It will show. With that in mind, always make sure to practice. Get used to speaking in public, get used to talking to people and having a conversation, because these conversations with your JPA officers will not be one-dimensional. Maybe get a little group together, and conduct mock interviews among yourselves to see the extent to which you are prepared for the interview, and you’ll have at least some measure of preparation (and hopefully a better performance!) by the actual day.
  •         Ask for help and reach out! If you’re not sure about certain things, or if you’d like to get help with the scholarship application, don’t be afraid to ask previous scholars, because chances are we were in your position not all that long ago, and we will be willing to help. Drop emails, be nice – We won’t bite!

Concluding thoughts.

All in all, if you decide to apply for the scholarship, good luck! It was an extremely rewarding experience, and I made a bunch of new friends after my involvement in the process, so that was great. I still conduct mock interviews upon request (over Google Hangouts and Google Docs), so I still get involved from time to time. If you’re interested in getting in touch, do drop me an email at victortanws (AT) gmail (DOT) com. All the best

Victor Tan
The University of Chicago ’17.

imageedit_2_5394042979Victor Tan constantly questions why JPA thought that giving him a scholarship was a good idea. He is currently blonde and therefore a DVD-selling ahbeng, he occasionally blogs at Please make sure that your children never end up like him. He will (eventually!) finish reading Economics at The University of Chicago in 2017.

Penangite Guide to Studying Medicine at Cambridge


Image Source

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hello there, my name is Ming and I’m from Penang. I studied at The International School of Penang (Uplands) for my entire secondary school, ending with the International Baccalaureate for my sixth form studies. The next step is Cambridge, where I’ll read Medicine and graduate in 2020. I haven’t ever been under a scholarship and won’t be under one at Cambridge as far as I know.

What was included in the application process to your university?

Well, like any other applicant to the UK, I had to go through UCAS, which means a predicted grade from the school, a personal statement of 4,000 characters and a boatload of information they requested. Then as a medical applicant, I had to sit for the UKCAT, an aptitude test for admissions to most medical schools in the UK. On top of that, as a Cambridge medical applicant, I had to sit for the BMAT, which (as far as I know) is an aptitude test only for medical admissions to Imperial, UCL and Oxbridge in the UK.

I had the option of writing additional essays for Cambridge on COPA, which is the application portal for Cambridge (basically doing UCAS a second time). I chose not to write additional essays because I knew I wouldn’t be able to write something of good quality within the short time I had.

How did you write your personal statement?

The personal statement has been described to me (by an applicant to the USA, might I add) as “mechanical” and “formulaic” although it is meant to be unique and personal, as its title suggests. Perhaps applicants to both the USA and UK may think that because they write touchy feely essays for Commonapp about how their life was shaped and all. In my opinion, you do need some structure to your personal statement, but you also need to make sure it doesn’t sound computer generated. I chose to include why I want to do Medicine, how I’ve shown to have passion for it and the skills required for it (and thus elaborating on my extra-curricular activities), and how my previous experiences in the field have affected me.

Did you perform any attachment before applying?

Attachments and internships are important not just for your CV and application, but to find out if you actually like what you think you’re interested in. I (rather obviously) chose to do a few attachments at a hospital, watching surgeries, shadowing consultants, observing in Accident and Emergency etc. I found that I didn’t particularly like surgery and that I’m rather interested in oncology, which I think was useful for me. If I could go back a few years, I would also do some care work, like volunteering at a home for the aged, as such things are quite common for medical applicants and are useful to talk about at interviews.

What ECAs did you participate in?

Leadership and organisation is something all universities and subjects appreciate. You want to be able to stand out in a crowd of thousands. I’d say stick to your strengths, wherever they may lie, and be the best at whatever it is. Don’t force yourself to do something you don’t like because you want a nicer CV. You might hate it, and you might not do as well. For me, notable ECAs included music (orchestra), sports (basketball and badminton), leadership (Student Council), charity (founding a volunteer/charity organisation in my school), public speaking (Model United Nations), organisation (Student Council committee, organising an MUN conference, organising events for the charity organisation). So there you see I did things I like, and thus had the passion to excel at each.

How did you prepare for your admission tests?

I sat for the BMAT and UKCAT. Aptitude tests are generally difficult for me because my thought process is rather slow and my reading is yet slower. My tip is to just do lots and lots and lots of practice. A week before my UKCAT, I realised I was on track to get 50% (poor is an understatement), and so I put everything on hold and just did UKCAT for that entire week and ended up in the 98th percentile – I suppose it paid off. Don’t stress yourself out like that, learn strategies and do lots of practice early, using the ton of books available out there.

How were the medicine interview sessions?

I had three interviews in total, one for Cambridge, one for King’s College London and one for Southampton University. King’s and Southampton gave me very standard medical school interviews, asking questions such as “why do you want to be a doctor?” and “why not be a nurse or someone else in the medical profession?” At King’s, there was one interview; at Southampton, there was one group interview and one individual interview; and for Cambridge, I was interviewed in Malaysia and thus had one individual interview.

In each case, I tried to make the interview a discussion, which didn’t work at Southampton, but worked to an extent with Cambridge and King’s. This made things a lot less awkward and tense as I was much more able to connect with my interviewers. Most of them were friendly except those I encountered at Southampton, perhaps because they were medical practitioners while the rest were academics.

To prepare, I read up on medical news, be it advancements or ethical case studies (which are quite important). I also practiced some interview questions in a mirror to take note of my facial expressions and how to change them to reflect more positively on myself. I don’t think the latter helped me very much though.

What do you think contributed to the success of your application?

I believe universities look for individuals who add to and improve the standing of their schools. As such, you should look into the course you are applying to and the university you are applying to in order to know what sort of people they are looking for. In my case, it was a well-rounded, passionate and compassionate communicator and scientist, and so I included experiences and achievements that (I felt) showed/helped develop these qualities. I essentially moulded all the activities mentioned above to fit these and included the more significant and recognised ones.

What advice would you give to future applicants?

START EARLY! I think that’s the most important thing. Resources will be different for everyone, so starting early will give you the time to look up all the things you need to be the best applicant possible. If you’re stuck, look to forum sites like ‘The Student Room’ as you are almost definitely not alone in your struggles. Good luck!

imageedit_12_8589795891Lai Ming Yi is a Penangite heading to the University of Cambridge to read Medicine. He is interested in leadership, management and all things frisbee, and can be frequently found in hawker centers on the streets of Penang.

Of Robes and Long Dining Tables, of Fireplaces and Scholars.


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Besides being THE most prestigious university in the world, Cambridge has been my dream. A dream that never was. I mean, me? Surely, there must be more qualified candidates around the world.

So there I was, scrolling through Cambridge’s entry requirements after receiving my AS Level results. Imagine my joy when I found that I met the minimum entry requirements. But that was only the first step of a long and arduous journey.

Personal Statement

THE personal statement. Quite possibly the most formidable step of the UCAS application. (Interviews aside, of course.) What on earth do you write? How do you get someone to take notice? Well, it might be a good idea to grab hold of some successful samples online, just to have a brief idea of what to include. Generally, the outline would be: catchy introduction and why you chose your subject; what you’ve done that demonstrates your passion towards the subject; your extracurricular involvements and the type of skills they inculcate. But of course, you already know the drill.

  • I like Physics/Chemistry/Biology. No, no, no. Be a little bit more subtle.
  • If you’re going to start your personal statement with some cliched quote from Darwin, Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein, forget it. At least use a slightly obscure quote that no one else ever uses. It might pass you off as slightly more intelligent than the other candidates.
  • If you’re going to mention the New Scientist or Cosmos magazine, please be a little more original. At least every other (if not all) Natural Sciences personal statement includes a mention of those articles.
  • If you have no idea what to write, grabbing a few books off the suggested reading list or watching public lectures related to your subject might be good starting points.
  • Demonstrating how the activities you’ve partaken in qualifies you for a Science degree undoubtedly requires some creativity. Being a club member improves your team-working skills, and that will help when you’re in a research team, for example. Well, if you’re involved in a remotely interesting club (like Geography), that would hone your patience, which is ABSOLUTELY essential when carrying out experiments.
  • But do try getting yourself involved in international science competitions, volunteering for science fairs, attending public lectures and writing about them in your personal statement subsequently. They would vastly increase your chances of getting noticed.

Interviews (Or not)

Next go hours, days and months sitting before the computer screen, waiting for that all-important email. Certain colleges require that you send in copies of your written work prior to your interview (essays, assignments etc.). But don’t worry if you don’t have any – just send them an email to explain. I didn’t have any either.

As the interview would likely be centred on your personal statement and whatever else you wrote on your COPA, it would be helpful if you familiarize yourself with whatever you wrote. Say, if you wrote that you like evolution, read a few books about it so that you are ready for whatever the interviewer throws at you. They’ll probe you just to check that you actually know what you wrote about, but that’s about it. The other questions will likely be about A level topics, specifically, the modules you wrote about in your COPA.

There will also inevitably be a section on drawing graphs, so just be prepared to draw a graph for a given equation and explain why it should be like this or that, etc. Oh, while I’m at it, just think aloud. It’s good entertainment for the interviewer as he/she tries to figure out your thought process and deliberate on whether you’re teachable. My interviewer was actually trying to teach me about proteins during the interview session. There will also be paper and pencil laid before you, so feel free to use them if you need to illustrate your thoughts.

The good thing about Cambridge interviews is that you don’t need to smile and put on a whole bubbly, cheerful personality. Just be yourself (in the truest sense of the word). One interviewer once said that what distinguishes offer-holders from non-offer-holders is the sparkle in their eye. Be really passionate and treat the interview as a tutorial session.

If you were having your interviews in Malaysia, there will be a TSA assessment followed by an essay question a few days after the interview session. It would be worth going through “Thinking Skills” by John Butterworth and AS Level Thinking Skills past papers. As for the essays, they would likely be on stuff that you have learnt during your A levels. You might find some sample questions on college websites (I think Magdalene College has it).

That’s about it for applying, I guess. Good luck and may you achieve your dreams!

This student will be pursuing Biology in University of Cambridge, although she has also received an offer from Imperial College London. The aforementioned student has chosen to remain anonymous for fear of invoking the anger of Geography students.


This Personal Statement was part of Jun Long’s successful application to the University of Oxford to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE). The same personal statement also gained Jun Long offers to read Economics at the University of Edinburgh, University College London and King’s College London.

Besides being of monumental significance to the global economy as well as the politics of my country, the year 2008 was also the year I started reading the newspaper. That was what got me interested in economics and politics.

Over the years, I watch the development of the global economy, ranging from the European Sovereign Debt Crisis, the fluctuations of the global oil price, to the slowdown of global trade. My observations of the tepid recovery of the global economy suggested to me that the global economy is suffering from structural problems. To understand more about economics, I expanded my knowledge by reading widely, including Time, The Economist, local newspapers like The Star and also books.

I read “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by Thomas Piketty, which informed me about the nature of income inequality in current times. In the book, Piketty argued that the growing inequality was part of the structural design of our current economic system, and as long as r remains larger than g, income inequality will continue to grow. Many things from this book were surprising, however the patience and ingenuity that Piketty had in assembling his data as well as his urge for his fellow economist to focus more on empirical data were two things that I gained. I also read “The End of Alchemy” by Mervyn King. In here, King suggested that the structural problems of the current banking system, not greedy bankers, were to be blame for the global financial crisis. All the economic actors were stuck in a prisoner dilemma, they had to act the way they did. The role of incentive was a central message that I gained. King suggests banking is inherently unstable due to its design, and gives a solution that I find interesting, but at the same time idealistic.

Why too idealistic? The changes in the Malaysian political scene across the years gave me clear insight on the difficulties of implementing changes through politics. After many years of promise of change by politicians, nothing much has come out. This led me to question the idea of democracy as the best system for governance.

Recently, I started reading “The Republic” by Plato. I have not finished it yet, but from the parts I have read, I was surprised by the argument of Plato that to maintain justice in a nation, a government that was autocratic and restricted individual liberty was needed instead of democracy. Through my various readings, I also came across one article that talked about how the founding fathers of United States created an election system that attempted to reduce the power of the masses. Originally this idea seems to be against the principles of democracy, but the fact that Donald Trump has a possible chance of becoming the president led me to think that the founding fathers’ idea had some rational.

Meanwhile, my participation in student government allowed me some insight into the nature of governing. I learnt about how hard it is to satisfy the different stakeholders, the college management and the students. I also had a first-hand experience on why governments suffer from efficiency problems. Bureaucracy, without a doubt was the thing that slowed many changes. In order to implement changes in the college, there were many process which sometimes required months of following up. However, managing to eke out small victories like extending classroom hours to allow students to study was something that motivated me to continue being in student government.

Economics require excellent mathematical skills, which I have been developing and had managed to obtain a gold medal from the Kangaroo Math Competition and Distinction in the Euclid Competition. Currently, I am attempting the DOE gold award and I continue to be active in my college Toastmaster’s Club. I enjoy running and sometimes participate in charity runs. I also enjoy reading during my past time. Currently, I am under the National Scholarship sponsored by my country.

DISCLAIMER: The personal statements on this site are strictly meant as a starting point to give an idea of how successful personal statements look like. There is no surefire formula to writing good personal statements. COLLEGELAH IS STRICTLY AGAINST PLAGIARISM OF ANY KIND. UCAS employs a plagiarism check system that checks applicants’ work against other published writing so please DO NOT PLAGIARISE.

Wesleyan’s Freeman Asian Scholarship: More Than Just Full Tuition


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One of the most common questions I get in college is, “Why did you choose to come to Wesleyan?”

My short answer, which I say half-jokingly and half-seriously, tends to be: “They gave me a lot of money.”

I’ve been fortunate to have received the Freeman Asian Scholarship, a merit-based award valued at around USD 50,000. The bondless award, such that I don’t have to work for any particular organisation after graduating, covers my full tuition fees for all 4 years at this liberal arts college, not including food, accommodation, health insurance and pocket money.

There are a total of 11 scholarships available, which are awarded to one student from each of these countries: The People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. In short, there is only one scholarship up for grab in Malaysia.

Since financial aid was a priority in my college application, it made perfect sense to apply for this scholarship.

The Application

My application comprised of the Common Application, the Freeman Essay and the Financial Aid Application (which, unlike the Freeman Scholarship, is need-based and covers living expenses).

Since I’d already completed the Common Application, I only had to work on the Freeman Essay, whose prompt was: “Please tell us how you would use your Wesleyan education to make a contribution to your home country.” I wrote the first draft in the evening, on my bed (specifically before dinner) several days before the deadline, just to give myself time for editing and proofreading, which didn’t take up much time.

It was one of the easier essays to write because I’d already had a good idea about the academic opportunities in Wesleyan which piqued my interests, and how I could use what I learnt beyond the classroom. These were thoughts I’d flirted with during the frenzy that was the college application process, so it wasn’t too difficult to translate them onto paper.

Writing the essay came very naturally also because I wrote about debating, something I felt very strongly about. Having spent weeks thinking of potential ideas for strong college essays—for context, I applied to 6 other US colleges—I’d observed that superficial subjects with which I had no profound connection were harder to write about.

The Interview

There were two parts to the interview day, the individual interview and the information session.

Three alumni interviewed me. It was highly conversational, which is the case with many US college interviews. The alumni were interested in putting a personality to my application so they could make appropriate recommendations to the admissions office.

We spoke very casually about the opportunities at Wesleyan which attracted me, my academic interests and extracurricular involvements. My favourite part of the interview was talking about what I was reading at the time, The Emperor by Ryszard Kapuściński, short stories by Borges and The Land at the End of the World by António Lobo Antunes.

I’d been through interviews before (both for college and non-college purposes) so I had a sense of how things would play out. I was very calm before the interview. Ironically, since I was early, I checked out the exhibition of Australian universities which was held downstairs. I politely told the representatives I was not interested.

My parents accompanied me to the information session, which took place several hours after the individual interviews. Since it was rather informal, it was a great opportunity to chat with Wesleyan alumni and the seven other candidates who were shortlisted. During this time, we watched videos of Wesleyan alumni and faculty members talking about their Wesleyan experience. Little did I know that I’d eventually take an Economics class with one of the professors!

After the Q&A session with the alumni, I had a much rounder idea of Wesleyan and the Freeman community.

Receiving the Scholarship

It was 4.45 PM, I’d fallen asleep in the library and missed my bus home from school.

I called my mother to tell the bad news, and in turn, she told me the good news.

The Wesleyan community was very welcoming. Not long after accepting the award, I received emails and Facebook friend requests from upperclassmen and graduating students. Prior to attending college, I met with Wesleyan students and alumni, Freemans and non-Freemans. As I learnt more about Wesleyan, I was satisfied with the choice I’d made.

What’s nice about the Scholarship is the community you’ll be part of. The Freeman scholars are pretty tight—we plan and attend events together—but not limited to each other. The Freeman alumni come back every once in a while to meet up with current scholars. All in all, being on this Scholarship has made for a very rich college experience.

Amanda Yeoh is currently studying at Wesleyan University under the Freeman Asian Scholarship. If you intend to contact the author, feel free to contact the CollegeLAH Team at



IMU-Otago Credit Transfer: Dentistry


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The Partner Dental School Course is implemented jointly by the IMU, Malaysia, in collaboration with partner universities, with the students spending the first phase (5 semesters, 2.5 years) in Malaysia and the later years in the partner universities. The students will receive the degree from the respective Partner University after graduation.  University of Otago is one of the Partner Universities for Dentistry. You can find more info in

I recommend those who are interested in the PDS programme to apply fairly early, as there are very limited spaces each year. I applied online in March/April the year before intake starts. An interview will be carried out around November.  The interview was pretty informal. The interviewer will provide a situation and you need to solve it. The question I got was if someone was having a heart attack on the plane, which place will you fly to (A,B or C)? My answer was I couldn’t choose as I have no idea which place is the plane closest to. The questions they asked are usually easy, as long as the answers are not too far off logically and are ethical you will be fine.

There are many things to adapt to in the first year. Lectures are like learning a whole new language as there are many new terminologies, especially anatomy. Some lecturers may have a strong accent. Dental students will be having the same lectures as medical students in 1st and 2nd years, in addition to dentistry lectures. Clinical and simulation sessions are extremely important as it builds a strong foundation in the future. It may seem overwhelming at first but just remember your classmates are in the same boat as you.

In the 5th semester (3rd year) those who are in the PDS track are required to list PDS in order of preference. You will be required to write about yourself and why you chose the specific partner school (something like personal statement). A computerized system will then assign each student to the PDS. Partner schools have the right to decline acceptance if you do not reach the minimum IELTS requirement so do not take it lightly. If you (touch wood) failed to secure a place you may opt for the local BDS track (5 years in IMU).

As University of Otago intake starts middle of the year, I only had limited time to apply for student visa. I applied through visa agency (Selset) but that is optional. You need to have chest Xray, medical report, translated ICs and photocopies of important documents stamped by public notary. Some of these processes take time so visa application process need to start as soon as PDS result is out. There will be a refreshers course for dental students in Otago to familiarize you to the clinic and the Otago way of doing things. There is considerably more clinical exposure in Otago compared to Malaysia as you are exposed to more patients in the clinical years. Patients in Otago are also more medically and dentally complicated than Malaysia.

Otago lecturers and staff are very friendly and encouraging. Don’t be afraid, they are not there to reprimand you, they are there to guide you through. There is a very strong student support group there. There is an Otago Malaysian Student Association (OMSA) ready to give support for all new students coming to Otago. I felt like home whenever I join OMSA activities. Plus great discounts everywhere as an OMSA member. More info about OMSA can be found here: There is a lot of Asian restaurants in Dunedin so don’t be worried about not finding Asian food. Dunedin is a small student city that is generally cold, so I would recommend people to invest in a good warm jacket.

All in all, just enjoy your student life as much as possible and as long as you study regularly and attend all the classes, you should be fine. All the best!

Ong Jinn is currently a Dentistry student at the University of Otago.

Life@BAC – Law


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While locals all over the world put their local universities as one of their choices, it is sad and disheartening to see that not many Malaysians practice this option.

While most have dreams and ambitions of what they want to be, I on the other hand was still deliberating all the choices. In such a circumstance, I figured that taking the A Levels would be the best option for me after talking to several counselors as it keeps my career path as wide as possible.

Though I completed my A Levels in the Subang campus of Taylor’s College, I did not further my tertiary studies in Law in Taylor’s University as it was just introduced and I would be the first batch for it making me very hesitant. Hence after much surveys and scouting around the Law schools, I decided to be a part of the famous Brickfields Asia College (BAC), “The Fastest & Smartest way to over 50 UK Law & Business Degrees”.

Well, my university sure provides the fastest way to most of its courses. In the United Kingdom, the A Levels course would take a whole 2 years to complete. In most typical Malaysian college, that course would take a duration of 1.5 years to complete. But BAC knows how much Malaysians like to have everything from speed to results so they came up with a shorter duration of time allowing students to complete it in just 1 year!! The awesomeness did not end there you know how we all like to request freebies whenever we purchase an item, BAC gives out freebies without even a request!! When I enrolled for my UK Transfer Law Programme, I was given a free course for a programme called Achiever’s Programme and also a set of free books to start my year with. On top of those academic programmes, we also get a free membership for the gym, Monster Fit.

To enrol into BAC, one can pay a visit to the Petaling Jaya Campus which is in VSQ Square just beside the Luther Centre and register yourself for the next intake. BAC offers three intakes: the normal September intake; the express January intake who will graduate the same time as the September intake; and the April intake. There is two types of programme that you can choose to undergo, the University of London Programme which would not require you to twin to other UK universities or the UK Transfer Programme where you can choose to the 2+1 which means that you twin for one year or the 1+2 where you twin for two years with any of our partner universities.

As I underwent the 2+1 UK Transfer Law Programme, I took the 4 compulsory subjects of common law, public law, criminal law and contract law. However, in Year 2 we were given a slight freedom in choosing one of our electives which are the company law or family law with 3 compulsory subjects along with it: tort law, land law and evidence law. In Year 3, those in 2+1 programme would have to prepare themselves to bid their friends goodbye as most would go to different universities of their preferences. Though we are allowed to choose 4 electives of our own choices, twinning students would have to take a compulsory subject of EU Law with 3 other electives of their own choices for those who are firm in doing the Certificate in Legal Practice Malaysia examination (CLP). As for those who are considering to do the Bar examination in UK, it is advisable to take up both EU Law and Jurisprudence as some Bar schools requires both though there are some who would accept students without knowledge of the Jurisprudence. Two of our partner universities: Cardiff University and University of Northumbria, offer the Bar examination. As for those considering the CLP examination, BAC do provide it too with additional privileges for their own students.

Besides studying, BAC provides many opportunities for students to explore their talents. There are classes such as Zumba, Martial Arts, Free Trial music classes and many more. A recent talent exploration I had a privilege in participating was to be part of the press team for BACMUN (Brickfields Asia College Model United Nations) whereby I could explore various writing expressions under guidance from those with experience.

Though Law course is one which is demanding in terms of understanding and memory, it is important to enjoy your university life before stepping out of our comfort zones and start working. Aside from that, one should give importance to self developments to further appeal your future employers and equip oneself with self-esteem, confidence and interesting personality.

Jasmine Tan is currently reading law at Brickfields Asia College (BAC) under the 2+1 UK Transfer Law Program.

Computer Science Personal Statement

This personal statement is part of this student’s successful admission to King’s College London for Computer Science. As this student wishes to remain anonymous, the other university offers are not listed here.

As a student in the 21st century, computers and digital technology have become an integral and almost ubiquitous part of my life. However, in my country of Malaysia, especially in rural areas, digital literacy on the whole is still relatively low. A study conducted in villages to determine the level of ICT literacy amongst secondary school students in 2012 by the Faculty of Information Science Technology at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, showed that ICT literacy among them was generally very weak, mainly due to little availability of computers and having to acquire ICT knowledge either through self-learning, or through friends.

In a developing country such as Malaysia, I believe that it is imperative that students are equipped with proper ICT skills. The world is charging ever more deeply into a “Digital Age” where ICT skill requirements are becoming increasingly important for procuring a job. Prospective employees are expected to possess basic skills such as word processing, and the ability to create and use spreadsheets and presentations. Even more important are the skills of data and information management, as these can significantly increase the productivity, work rate, and output of an organisation.

Over the past ten years or so, the Malaysian government has been devising strategies to improve income of the local agricultural industry through ICT implementation and skills development. This plan is based on statistics from the Ninth Malaysia Plan of 2005. However, the actual usage of ICT amongst the agro-based entrepreneurs, for business management and marketing purposes, still remains relatively low, according a study conducted in 2009, with many of them still relying upon traditional methods of mass media communication such as television, radio and newspapers for marketing.

Such studies show that adequate ICT skills are still lacking within certain communities in Malaysia. As such they are less able to make significant advancements in their lives, whether it be in their education or their income. This is one of the things that I would like to do with Computer Science and Software Engineering: to develop user-friendly interfaces which will aid people with low ICT skills to help them improve said skills to better their livelihoods, and to also learn how to integrate computers more effectively into their lives to improve their living standards.

Personally, Computer Science and Software Engineering has always interested me because it is able to provide a number of solutions to everyday needs or problems. A great example of this is Google’s involvement in the Open Automotive Alliance, which aims to provide a means for Android users to safely access mobile services whilst driving in a seamless manner. Hopefully, it will provide solutions to improve the lives of many people here in Malaysia. I can be quite meticulous and pay close attention to detail, and I believe this is a positive trait when it comes to developing software, as I would need to pay close attention to what I’d be programming to prevent errors in the software. I have been doing some basic programming on to help me get a feel of how certain programming languages such as Python and HTML work.

In addition to this, I am currently attending an introductory course on electronics which provides me with an insight into basic circuitry design. I also take part in a variety of extracurricular activities such as acting and Taekwondo. I played the lead male role in my school’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific”, and have also taken part in the 2014 Southeast Asian Forensics competition at the International School of Kuala Lumpur, in the Duet Acting category. I hold a blue belt in Taekwondo which keeps me fit, active and disciplined.

The world of technology is progressing at an accelerating pace, and I would like to see that Malaysia does not lag behind as the rest of the world pushes forward.

DISCLAIMER: The personal statements on this site are strictly meant as a starting point to give an idea of how successful personal statements look like. There is no surefire formula to writing good personal statements. COLLEGELAH IS STRICTLY AGAINST PLAGIARISM OF ANY KIND. UCAS employs a plagiarism check system that checks applicants’ work against other published writing so please DO NOT PLAGIARISE.

Economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)


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This write-up will explain largely the key questions surrounding applications to read Economics at LSE – Composition and direction of the Personal Statement and subject choices. I am currently studying BSc in Economics (L101) at LSE, having studied A level (History, Economics, Maths and Further Maths) at Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar previously.


The Personal Statement is undisputedly the most important component of your application. Tons of other applicants will possess stellar grades, which is where your statement will differentiate you from the others and land yourself an offer. If your grades aren’t stellar, likewise, this is the hinging factor that might place you over the others. Evidently rejections from LSE often fall back to faults in Personal Statements being not up to the standard LSE wants or that they do not reflect what LSE looks for in an applicant.

Let’s establish three simple principles to follow in writing your personal statement, which will apply to arguably all other university applications through UCAS. Firstly, your personal statement must reflect that your academic potential or interest. Secondly, your personal statement should be about academics. Thirdly, your personal statement should reflect you. Being able to follow these three divine commandments will, hopefully, bring out the essence of your application to British universities, with LSE included. Keep in mind that Economics at LSE is extremely competitive, you have no reason to slack off on your personal statement.

How shall I display my academic potential or interest?

The most intuitive way to do this is to display curiosity, sophistication and clear understanding of economic issues that deeply interest you. Given that, it might be helpful to start planning and think about burning questions or issues that you love way beforehand rather than to glide through economic books or textbooks to find the “most interesting topic”.  You will be able to talk about topics that interest you deeply more intelligently, passionately and interestingly.

In my case, my initial draft largely consisted of brief mentions and analysis of books of different topics, ranging from financial crises, development, income disparity to policies. A clear problem was that it lacked depth and sophistication. Surely it displayed evidence of reading but certainly not competency. Realising that, my further drafts focused on largely a central topic – development. In doing so, the number of books mentioned was reduced significantly. Each book mentioned revealed a different aspect of developmental economics, while complementing and extending one another. At this point, it is easy to slip into a trap of summarising books you read. Avoid this and relate the content to what you have understood, or how it revealed a new aspect that sparks curiosity. A good way to do this is to either express an opinion in extension to your analysis of the book or an intelligent question.

A crucial aspect that might easily be overlooked is mathematics. Maths is the Holy Grail for LSE, especially for economics, which is maths-intensive. This means that you should display mathematical competency in your Personal Statement, not forgetting to relate maths with economics. Developing this portion in depth, supported by your understanding and perhaps, achievements in maths would be great. Remember however that listing your achievements in maths competitions is good but isn’t impressive in comparison to a candidate who shows awareness of relation between maths and economics in context.

How should I make my Personal Statement academic?

An appropriate answer to that would be to strike out/cut down on ECAs and personal interests that have no direct relation with Economics. However, that does not mean that your personal statement should be strictly without ECAs etc. Having internships and ECAs that directly relate to Economics would be very helpful if you are able to show that they facilitate your understanding of the subject. Intuitive examples could be debates and internships at the government/think tanks/financial institutes/research institutes. To be clear, it is imperative to discuss them in an academic context and not the typical “leadership/teamwork skills”. Surely the latter is interesting but less importance than the academic portions.

If you do feel the burning need to include unrelated ECAs or personal interests, to the point that you will not gain sufficient closure, do it by all means. However, do minimise it to perhaps, a short paragraph at most. It will contribute at most marginally, if not nothing at all, to the strength of your application, which also applies to generally highly selective universities. It is your personal statement regardless, do whatever that makes you most comfortable.

How do I reflect myself in my Personal Statement?

Given that UCAS Personal Statements are academic in content, having an essence of individuality would, supposedly, make your application more differentiable and perhaps, impressive. Notice how US college essays explicitly, and sometimes strictly, emphasise on revealing yourself as an individual. Your goal is to achieve that effect within the academic construct of a UCAS Personal Statement.

Understandably, it is relatively easy to achieve this effect in the introductory paragraph of your Personal Statement. A situation, observation or experience that relates to an Economic problem would be appropriate. Of course, do expound on it and if it relates to you to the point that it deserves to be in the first paragraph of your statement, you should be able to raise intelligent, sophisticated and nuanced questions/understanding.

Extending that, an issue that closely relates to you would also be an appropriate theme of your personal statement. This general theme allows you to explore a topic in depth easier and in context, particularly when you know first-hand about the economic problem/topic in discussion. Take the freedom in exploring in breadth but writing along a familiar theme comes with good depth, understanding and relative ease. Moreover, your Personal Statement avoids the pitfall of being a barrage of loosely linked academic topics, with a touch of dryness.


What subjects should I take?

LSE is part of the Russell Group universities, which are all selective research-intensive universities. A common thing that all of them share explicitly is their preference for traditional subjects over vocational/soft subjects. LSE, in particular, discourages explicitly its applicants from taking soft subjects such as Accounting (yes, even if you’re applying for Accounting and Finance), Law (even for Law applicants), media studies etc. Economics applicants should, therefore, take the precaution of taking traditional subjects given that your offer will exclude Further Maths from being part of the A*AA offer. Your grades for Further Maths, however well you do, will only count towards the “Pass in A2 Further Mathematics” segment. According to LSE’s international officer James Brown (2015), taking a soft subject will put your application at a disadvantageous position, which could, however, be amended by getting impressive grades (metric is uncertain but the mid-high 90s UMS range would make sense).

There is also an ever-going discussion over the necessity of Further Maths as a fourth subject. There are practical benefits of taking Further Maths if you are applying for Economics at LSE as well as at other universities. University Economics generally requires good mastery of mathematics. More than half of your first year modules in LSE will be about maths, which means that taking Further Maths will help you in going about university easier than those without.

There is a saying that goes “taking Further Maths will not give you any advantage but not taking it will disadvantage your application.” Although there are people who have obtained offers without taking Further Maths, there is no reason to deliberately put one aspect of your application in a weaker position.

Given that, an optimal subject combination should comprise of Maths, Further Maths and 2 hard subjects. Hard subjects include but are probably not limited to the following: History, Economics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, English Literature, Geography, Classical Studies and Languages. A list of “non-preferred” subjects is available on the LSE website itself under the page titled “LSE’s entry requirements”.

On a less related note, given that people applying for similar subjects might be viewing this, specifically Econometrics and Mathematical Economics that normally doesn’t accept first year entries, it is stated on the subject page on the LSE website that taking at least one physical science would be attractive, from which you will also find out that they don’t normally accept direct entries into first year.

What if my AS exams were to go wrong?

I suppose this segment is only relevant to those who would take their AS exams in summer (May/June) before UCAS application opens. A quick answer would be that you’re probably doomed. Fear not, however, as mentioned previously, your spectacular, groundbreaking, marvelous, impressive, stellar Personal Statement might be able to save you. Nonetheless, if your AS grades are only a grade away from the grade requirements and that your predictions meet them, you’re probably still in for the game. I cannot stress how important it is to perform well in your AS exams. Re-sits are possible but you might have to compensate on your A2. Worst of all is that the not-so-good AS grades will have to be declared on UCAS.

In instances where extenuating circumstances such as medical conditions, staffing issues etc. have affected your grades, declare them. In my case, I had a history teacher crisis in which there was a lack of a teacher for disturbingly long period of time. Unsurprisingly, I managed to obtain only a ‘b (76)’ for my AS History.. The point is that if your extenuating circumstances have affected your grades such that they do not reflect your academic performance, declare them with the utmost and shameless honesty. It is still possible that you stand as strong as or stronger than others with better grades.


Suah Jing Lian is currently a Bank Negara Malaysia Kijang Scholar who is pursuing Economics in the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He has a penchant for Baroque music, particularly Bach’s partitas, and debating, which he claims provides sparks to his life. People claim that he looks and speaks in an intimidating way but not really, he’s one of the most eccentric people you will ever meet.

Economics Personal Statement

This Personal Statement was part of Sukhdev’s successful application to the LSE, UCL, the University of Warwick and the University of Manchester to read Economics.

Growing up in the capital of a developing nation, I have observed rapid change around me. Despite significant government funding, there has been an alarming increase in the nation’s relative poverty rates, according to the United Nations Development Programme. Excess welfare handouts are generally criticised for being politically motivated as Household Debt to GDP ratio increased worryingly from 60% to 88% in the past 7 years. An also consistent rise in National Debt to GDP ratio exhibit similar trends to Greece prior to their debt crisis, but to a lesser extent. As I seek answers to policy problems in my nation, I am convinced that economics will provide some.

The use of handouts by the Malaysian government convinced me that Malaysian policies were largely Keynesian as I learnt that they affect Consumer Expenditure and Aggregate Demand. Paul Krugman also emphasised on such policies in his book “End This Depression Now!” but what I found to be highly interesting was his reference to Fisher’s Debt Deflation Theory where the more people repay debts in their economy, the more their debt grows due to a deflationary effect as a result from reduced expenditure. Not only did Malaysian household debt grow as a result, exacerbated by a property market bubble, but GDP growth also slowed down with the recent Goods & Services Tax. Krugman used this theory to explain the slow recovery to America’s 2008 economic depression when austerity was thought to be the solution.

Nevertheless, as household debt continues to approach unsustainable levels despite handouts, I inferred that there was a larger structural problem at hand. This led me to Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century”. His theory on how income inequality is fuelled by the use of capital is supported by his “r greater than g” theory. This resonates with the long-time Malaysian dilemma of the Chinese consistently dominating the housing markets and businesses despite affirmative action and special socioeconomic privileges given to the Malays. Stark differences in racially polarised ownership of capital such as land estates and means of production since the colonial era generated grave wealth inequality. Piketty’s solution to enforce taxes on capital rather than income may actually eradicate inequality in Malaysia given that there is a tangible difference between income and returns from capital.

Piketty’s constant use of calculus made me realise that Economics is very mathematical. While the formulation of the Gini Coefficient in statistically proving income inequality is impressive, I am sceptical of the overreliance on it as the predictions are conditional on numerous assumptions. Miscalculations on returns for secondary derivatives which became one of the factors to the Minsky moment in the 2008 financial crisis is a testament to my worries.

Last summer, I interned with the Business Development Team of Maybank, the largest banking conglomerate in Malaysia. One significant thing I learnt here is that financial services are targeted differently at specific income groups. I hypothesised that this is because there is severe inequality which might stem from a faulty economic structure, or perhaps some services are simply better suited for different income groups. If it is the former, I perceive that banks play a vital role in mitigating this effect. As a Maybank Scholar, I believe that I can make an impact on these issues.

While studying, I also took up British Parliamentary Debating, consistently debating at national-level and varsity tournaments where I learnt to critically analyse economic issues. Debates ranging from the use of Quantitative Easing during a recession, to the relevance of an extractive economy in developed nations have taught me more about Economics in ways which books cannot.

I look forward to the challenges that University has to offer and I hope that a UK degree in Economics will aid me in my future endeavours to contribute back to the global community.

DISCLAIMER: The personal statements on this site are strictly meant as a starting point to give an idea of how successful personal statements look like. There is no surefire formula to writing good personal statements. COLLEGELAH IS STRICTLY AGAINST PLAGIARISM OF ANY KIND. UCAS employs a plagiarism check system that checks applicants’ work against other published writing so please DO NOT PLAGIARISE.

UK Architecture Application

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Hi there! I am Louisa from Kuching, Sarawak. I did my A-levels at Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar (KTJ) and am currently pursuing the Foundation Course in the Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA School). This will lead to my First Year in Architecture.

When you hear the word ‘architecture’, you will probably think of buildings, sketches or the people responsible for creating space, function and form while the engineers grumble over that these architects draw dreams that they have to create. Architecture is, however, a long journey of 5 academic years for the master’s degree and another two years of working to earn your RIBA part 3, which ultimately proves that you are a fully-fledged architect and are able to sign off your drawings. It is encouraged to take a break to work for a year after the third year of your degree. So this journey would be about 8 years long – “as bad as medicine”, people would say.

You have to be certain of your choice and you must have a passion for this course. Otherwise, it will be absolute torture for you. The hashtag ‘#architorture’ is a thing on Instagram, go check it out. This is not the course for you if your plan is to get rich quick. The famous architects you hear about don’t represent more than a bare minority and they had to work long and hard to reach where they are now. Hard work, perseverance and passion are necessary to survive this craziness.


The big major question everyone has in their mind. The major headache of every art student. Honestly, presentation is what is important for the portfolio the most. You need to give good quality images of your work and then be able to explain it well. Have a side note to each image and tell them what inspired you to do this – the thought process. To each student their own because the portfolio is almost like an extension of your character. Especially now with my course mates, when I see their portfolios, I see their characters in the images and the way they present their images.

There is no right or wrong with portfolios. It may vary according to the school you apply for, they may be looking for students with certain qualities or styles. That is why it is important to research on the schools you are applying for, to understand their approach to teaching the architectural course.

When I applied to the AA School, my portfolio was very much comprised of fine art with a bit of graphic design thrown in. My friends have portfolios showing just sketches or just photographs or every style of art under the sun; showing their experiments and approaches. The AA School likes students from all styles as long as you can communicate and explain your work. They are more interested in the way you think, the way you approach things, rather than actually seeing what you can do, though that is necessary too.

Personal Statement

Another headache. At this time, the UCAS students are shaking their heads and panicking because the deadlines are here or for the Oxbridge candidates, pass and the agony of waiting is upon them. The important thing about personal statements is to speak about your passion in architecture and what influenced you to choose architecture. Let them understand without question or doubt as to why they should choose you for a place in their university for architecture. Explain how your skills and ECA activities tie into architecture or how they are useful.

Spend a small amount of time, small being the crucial word here, to explain why you choose the university. Of course for UCAS applicants, you have to be very general about it but explain why the university would be necessary for your future and how you are important to the school too, how you could contribute to them. Talk about how your experience and leadership skills acquired in high school can be used in the clubs and societies offered in the university.

For applicants applying to private universities or applying to a university individually, this is the time to really research on the university’s teaching style. Is it technical or more creative? Explain why you want to pursue those aspects that the university can offer. These are mere examples. Remember, do not oversell yourself or ‘butter up’ the school too much. You will come off as desperate or a sycophant, both of which will decrease your favourability to the universities and you do not want that to happen. Unless you state it, the universities will have no idea which other universities to applied to, this is especially so for UCAS candidates, until you have chosen your firm and insurance choice.

In my personal experience, I would say, be prepared to work hard but remember to work smart. Every day, do something and little by little, it will build up into something amazing. Do not get discouraged if your first topic was bad. Keep working on it, Rome was not built in a day after all. You can only get better with practice. Do proper research, read a lot and observe. Take photographs, sketches, make annotations of buildings and anything at all that captured your attention. You never know when these things might actually help spark that creative streak in you down the road when you are stuck in the studio in the middle of the night trying to come up with an idea. You start to notice what works and what does not in architecture, architecture will take over your life.

Important point is, that even with an architectural degree, you do not necessarily have to practice architecture. There are people with architectural degrees doing product design, interior design or even event planning. The sky is the limit, it does not stop with architecture. In fact, it gives you a better understanding of things. In architecture, you learn model-making, observational study, photography, and an excellent understanding of the Adobe Creative Suite which includes Photoshop to name a few.

I personally enjoy my course even though it can get extremely tedious. Honestly, there are moments when I love it and moments when I question my life choices. But if you are certain about this, and you have a passion for it, I say ignore whatever other people say and go for it. This is your future, you should do something you enjoy and if need be, go against the current. I am all for being unique. After all, that is how amazing things happen – with confidence, tenacity and hard work.

Louisa Wong is currently reading Architecture in the Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA School) in the United Kingdom.

Life@John Hopkins: Meta-study abroad


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A long-haul transatlantic flight brought me to this country in the far west, which many people are seemingly familiar with, due to the enormous cultural influence it has cast upon the world. The same insecurity and excitement surged within me once again, even though I was much more capable of containing these emotions now that I have spent two years reading biological sciences at UCL. I have since settled down in a flat that is just 5-minute walking distance from the gorgeous Homewood Campus at Johns Hopkins University. I am really grateful for having this opportunity to go to the US while studying abroad in the UK (hence, the title) and would like to share my experiences and also my perspectives on the differences between these two most sought-after study abroad destinations.

Academics. It is undeniable that a UK degree is more specialized than its American counterpart. In the UK, you have very limited flexibility when it comes to course choices. For instance, in my second year, out of 4 credits I have to accomplish, at least 3 have to be biology-related and it is rather rare for you take elective modules offered in another school/department, due to various reasons (mainly administrative and pre-requisite requirements), unless it is a language module. On the other hand, in the US, many students are allowed to juggle Virginia Woolf, the nodes of Ranvier and epidemiology in the same semester. Even though you still have certain requirements that you need to meet for your major, you have much more freedom compared to UK students. In this semester, I am taking neuroscience courses, which are completely foreign to me, as my specialization back home is molecular and cell biology. I am planning to do a course on natural catastrophes next term, since I finally got the chance to quench my thirst for studying geology. I simply cannot end this paragraph without comparing the grading systems. In the UK, grades are categorized into classes: first class, upper second class (2:1), lower second class (2:2) and third class. The grades are absolute. If you get higher than 70 (which is hard, trust me), you are considered first class, regardless of how your peers perform. In the US, you are assigned a letter grade for each course you take, and that letter grade corresponds to a GPA score. At the end of the term, you will get a weighted average of your GPA score (depending on the credit weight of the courses). How is the letter grade assigned? It depends on the course, many courses use normalized curve, which means that if you obtain a mark that is around 90% of the highest score below the 4th percentile, you will be assigned an A grade (and of course those top 4% will get an A+). Some courses may apply different strategies, for example, you probably need to get a score that is one standard deviation above the average grade to be in the A range or just to be top 10% of the class to achieve it. This is very dissimilar to the UK system, as you will face situations when you do not ‘reap what you sow’ and experience tension and competitions amongst your peers at all times. The advantages are that you are going to be more diligent and fastidious, as you will be very concerned about the scores of each report and midterms (I don’t even know what it was before coming here), and know how to manage your time so that you can learn happily and get a good grade. The UK education requires a huge amount of self-discipline and rigorous independent study, as in many cases; only one final exam (for each module) that counts heavily towards the final mark is given in the end of each academic year. This does not mean that it is easier. The exams in the US comprise mostly short-answered, analytical, problem-solving questions – you are normally given a set of data which you have to interpret and analyse logically and apply it – while in the UK exams are essay-based, in which you have to write pages and pages explaining how we can target EGF receptor signaling to stop tumour growth (as an example). The former demands clear thinking and complete understanding of learning material while the latter requires the ability to present your understanding and critical thinking about a topic in the most succinct and lucid form and also loads of memorization. So, which is more suitable for you? If you are determined on what you want to do in the future, the UK system may suit you best, as the specialized education equips you with the specific skills and advanced knowledge that are indispensable for your chosen path. Students who have not yet decided on their future career path should take advantage of the holistic, well-rounded undergraduate education of US universities, as you can always change your concentration in first or second year and balance your personal interests with academic preferences.

Social life. Owing to my ALDH2 (the enzyme that should digest the by-product of alcohol degradation) mutation, I am not allowed and not in the position to comment on the clubbing (seriously not my style) or drinking social life in both countries. However, I do participate in societies and hang out with friends who share common interests. Homesickness is an illness that every international student is highly susceptible to. To me, meeting fellow Malaysians and eating Malaysian food are the most effective remedies for this malady. As US is further away from Malaysia than the UK and is blessed with more decent universities (therefore, sparser distribution), you will most likely find fewer than 10 Malaysians in one university (we have 6 at JHU, including me!). On the other hand, Malaysians constitute a huge part of the international student communities in many UK universities. The opportunity to organize glamorous events that can unite all Malaysians across the country is surely deprived in US universities, as most do not even have an association for Malaysians, let alone organizing events. On the flip side, you are relieved of the burden of being obliged to cling to people from your home country (that is if you do not like it) and get to interact more with local students. A major part of my social life in the UK is eating out with my Malaysian friends or holding potluck sessions at someone’s apartment. In the US, I mostly hang out with some other exchange students and also people from the society I joined. So far, I felt that US universities are not as diverse in terms of student body in comparison to UK universities (mostly due to the lack of Europeans). Most of my course-mates are Americans (of different ethnicities, though). This may be slightly biased as I am studying biology, a subject that attracts fewer international students.

Travelling. I have to write a separate paragraph regarding this important activity. I reckon everyone is aware that UK is located slightly above Continental Europe, the dreamland of all travellers. The flights to all European countries are affordable and the travelling time is bearable to almost everybody. I am blessed to have so far been to many gorgeous towns and cities in the continent and am still looking forward to visiting many of them next year. In the US, this is not the case. Flight tickets are relatively expensive and it takes hours to travel one from location to another. Planning requires much more time and research that I expected, as many cities do not have convenient public transport service which you can seriously take advantage of when you are travelling in European cities. Again, this does not mean that the cities are not as worthwhile to visit. I have been to Boston and Washington D.C. (which are near to where I am studying at) and they are jaw-droppingly beautiful. Having said that, I have planned several trips to New York, Orlando and Miami in the coming holidays. Another point worth to mention is that, in fact, US universities have less vacation compared to UK universities. This has been troubling me as I have been in torpor for a long time after all the torment of late night revisions and weekly exams.

These are the points that I would like to cover this time and I hope you guys enjoyed reading it. I focused extensively on the academic part, as that was the main reason why I chose to come to the US, which is to experience the reputable education system in this country. If you are still struggling to choose between these two, do consider the universities that offer a study abroad option in addition to the course that you are fond of. Moreover, I would recommend you all plan earlier for the application, which normally falls in late first term of the second year This means that you will have to use your first year results to apply. Therefore, doing fairly well academically in the first year is crucial to secure a place in the programme, as it can be quite competitive (especially for US universities). The application process can be frustrating sometimes, as you will need to write a motivation letter and also to find a referee who can tell good things about you, but I promise the experience is going to be awesome.


Victor Pong is a third year MSci Biological Sciences student at University College London (UCL) under the MyBrainSc Scholarship. He fancies playing Pokemon games, dining in posh restaurants and taking strolls in the tranquil city parks. If you intend to contact the author, feel free to contact the CollegeLAH Team at

Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) Personal Statement

This Personal Statement was part of Azman Wazir’s successful application to the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), University of Edinburgh and University of Manchester for Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE).

Observing my grandfather practice Tai Chi every morning led me to pick up Wing Chun. Looking into my Chinese heritage, I was fascinated at how the martial art evoked its origin – its style reminiscent of ‘the softness of water’ as described in the Dao De Jing. Reading commentaries on Taoism, I realised its synonymy with laissez-faire and libertarianism. The interrelation between an ancient Chinese religion to modern political and economic theories enlightened me of the overlap between the fields of philosophy, politics and economics and has driven me to pursue these disciplines at university.

A passion for history, which led me to self-study the subject at IGCSE, was only fed further by A-Level history, where I gained insight into the rise and fall of political institutions. I was especially intrigued by the transformation of the Weimar democracy into a centralised one-party state, where I saw parallels to how autonomous local districts in my country were brought under the purview of the federal government. Having lived in Singapore, my initial perception that authoritarian regimes facilitated stability and economic growth was put into context by my participation in the Malaysia Public Policy Competition, which showed me the inefficiencies of top-down governance; and the difficulties democracies had managing multiple stakeholders. Being the only team of erstwhile strangers in the competition taught us to manage our diversities by capitalising our advantages while compromising our differences. This reflected in our policy of divvying funding and decision-making between state and federal levels, landing us in the semi-finals.

This experience aided me as Head of the Economics Council of the KYUEM Summit, which honed my communication skills and ability to delegate tasks. I found the Summit’s debates surrounding Malaysia’s fiscal reforms as well as participation in free trade agreements stimulating, as these measures were similar to the IMF’s shock therapy recommendations in the aftermath of the Asian Financial Crisis, which Malaysia ignored. While this gained Stiglitz’s approval in his ‘Globalisation and its Discontents’, Sharma’s ‘Breakout Nations’ blames Malaysia’s currency controls for causing the fall in its growth rate post-Crisis. This paranoia against ‘foreign speculators’ evoked the sermons condemning ‘Western influences’, resulting in my piece on ‘Islam and Capitalism’, which noted the existence of free capital flows and trade in the Caliphate era.  Analysing contrasting sources from multiple languages required me to formulate my own stances instead of relying on preconceptions.

Interning at CenPRIS, a policy research centre at a top Malaysian university, enabled me to study the ethics of immigration and gave me a glimpse into the philosophical dimensions of politics. Being of immigrant descent myself, Rawls’ Equality Principle appealed to me as a guide on migration policy. Utilitarianism further supported this stance, arguing that denying migrants the right to a better life results in diminished utility for the greatest number. Drafting resolutions in MUN conferences allowed me to witness egoism on a global scale, with individuals and countries pushing their own interests. I was thus able to combine practical concerns with theoretical concepts and economic analyses while writing a policy recommendation on migration.

My multi-ethnic background has endowed me with trilingual fluency, making me aware of subtle inferences lost in translation. My interaction with various segments of society while working part-time in a news outlet led to the realisation that despite an increasingly cosmopolitan world, language barriers isolate the poorest non-Anglophones globally; which preparing a research proposal on social housing reaffirmed. I believe that migration is not just an economic or political question, but a philosophical one, and hope that my degree will allow me to delve into it from these distinct but inseparable fields.

DISCLAIMER: The personal statements on this site are strictly meant as a starting point to give an idea of how successful personal statements look like. There is no surefire formula to writing good personal statements. COLLEGELAH IS STRICTLY AGAINST PLAGIARISM OF ANY KIND. UCAS employs a plagiarism check system that checks applicants’ work against other published writing so please DO NOT PLAGIARISE.