JPA National Scholarship

Applying for the JPA scholarship was not troublesome, that I can say. Compared to other agencies or organisations I applied to, which sometimes asked for essays and my CV, JPA’s was based solely on a two-stage selection process. The first was an online application in which all applicants were required to fill in their basic details, SPM results, preferred course and country plus a little bit of family members’ information.

If your application was taken into consideration, you would then receive an invitation letter for interview session via email from JPA. They usually hold their interview sessions over several days in each region scattered all over Malaysia, so fret not if you’re from Sabah or Sarawak, you don’t have to come all the way to KL just for it. Your interview location depends on which region you filled in earlier. Either way, in all places, the process would be the same. Included in the invitation letter was the dress code, which personally I thought was very simple during my time: just dark sports attire.

Next came the exciting part of the selection process; the second stage which was the interview itself. We were first divided into several groups of six or seven. From here on, the interview would revolve around 2 checkpoints. The first checkpoint was a group presentation, where they randomly provided a topic for each group to discuss within a time frame and present it visually on a piece of mahjong paper. Everything in this round was carried out in English. For my group, we were asked to discuss the pros and cons of working in the private and public sector. During the prep time, the JPA officers in charge would stay in the room and observe everyone, so it’s really important to be an active team player or team leader throughout the discussion. If you’re unsure about the assigned topic, make sure you grasp the whole concept before the prep time ended, as the JPA officers and other applicants from another group can ask anything related.

Let’s say you are suddenly aware of how passive everyone in your group is. The discussion still has to be done on time, so I’d advise you to take the role to lead the group by asking for their opinions and such. Contrastingly, if everyone seems to ooze with knowledge, then spice up the discussion by contributing more points and carefully manage the differences in input. Only then the team will come to a consensus. In case you have completed everything early, you probably will find it helpful if you occupy the remaining prep time with further discussion on possible questions that will be asked. As far as I can remember, the JPA officers didn’t go easy on us; they asked a lot of questions and even condemned our opinions when we were presenting just to see how far we could bend before breaking. Some of my teammates could not answer several questions posed, but luckily we had each others’ backs. Regardless, stand your ground and express your ideas clearly with supporting evidence. To the debaters out there, I’m pretty sure you would enjoy this round as much as I did because here’s when our defensive mode is automatically switched on.

Where at the first checkpoint we were assessed in groups, at the second the evaluation was more individual-based. Basically, all members in the group were assessed together in a room where everyone would have a go at the questions asked. However, the interviewers did not specifically mention which person they would like to hear from first, so it was all up to our prompt response to determine the turns. The first few questions they asked were our names, preferred courses together with our strengths and weaknesses. While it’s an easy task to brag about your positive traits, don’t forget to highlight on how these qualities can help you to propel yourself forward in your life, especially in the area you’re applying for. Instead of simply stating your weaknesses, remember to press on effort you’re currently putting in to fix them (just to tone down the said negative traits), and try to add the extent that your improvements have been successful. That’s one way to prove that you’re always open to beneficial changes and are willing to improve yourself in every aspect of life. At this stage, we were allowed to choose either to answer in English or Malay, whichever we were more comfortable with.

The interview questions revolved around government past and current policies plus our opinions on them, current global issues like refugees, brain drain, technology transfer, transnational corporations: basically anything debatable. From here, they would get a glimpse on the way we think, our personality and most importantly, if our traits and skills will be useful for them in the long run. So my advice for this section is to be extra careful on your choice of words: make sure they are not misleading but instead form sustained, coherent judgements. Keep in mind you’re applying for a government scholarship, so avoid any provocative remarks on their policies or decisions. However, do not spend too much time thinking to the extent that you look clueless about everything; even if you really have no idea on whatever they ask, try to extract some points from other applicants who have answered before you and elaborate them. Here hydration is not the key anymore, confidence is!

Overall, it was a fun experience. For my batch (SPM 2017), JPA also accepts applications for JKPJ Scholarship Programme (Program Khas Kejuruteraan Jepun, Korea, Perancis, Jerman) from those who have achieved all A+. I actually applied for both JKPJ and this PPN (Program Penajaan Nasional). Of course they were generous enough to send invitation for both programmes, but at the end they only offered me the PPN one even though I did not submit the PPN form on the day. It was odd actually, considering I always answered JKPJ as the programme I was applying for and never mentioned about applying for PPN throughout the interview, not even once. I suspect it had something to do with preferred language I chose in the individual assessment, as they already hinted their preference during briefing. It makes sense in a way, since all PPN scholars would eventually have to sit for IELTS before studying abroad meanwhile JKPJ scholars will take other languages proficiency assessments. Thus, if you’re aiming for either one of the programmes offered, it’s better if you just apply for the targeted programme.

On a different note, after receiving the offer you might want to consider several things before signing the agreement. One of them is the fact that JPA’s allowance is not that much compared to the amount provided by other agencies, which might be a huge problem unless your family/relatives can provide additional financial support. However, rest assured that they wouldn’t put too much pressure on you throughout your preparatory period in A-Levels as they’re pretty lenient about semester exam results and are always open for any proposed discussion. Those are crumbs of factors to be weighed up again.

I hope you will have an enjoyable time during the interview. Even if you are rejected, please think of all the new friends made, what the many new acquaintances including the evaluators impressed onto you, what new skills you’ve gained and what new observations you got out. I could go on and on, but I’m sure you will all try to find something positive from your participation. Whatever it is, all the best and good luck!


Tasha Aziera is currently a National Scholar under JPA. She is completing her A Levels at Kolej Yayasan UEM and is hoping to further her studies in the UK, majoring in psychology. You can often catch her nibbling on a chocolate cookie browsing through Instagram or looking at pictures of corgis. If you intend to contact the author, feel free to contact the CollegeLAH Team at contactus@collegelah.com.

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Life as a STPM (Arts) Student

STPM

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What subjects did you take and what were the possible subject combinations out there? Both in your school and any other schools that you might know of.

We are only allowed take up a maximum of 5 subjects and usually a minimum of 4 subjects. I’m not too sure about the possible subject combinations but I know it depends on the school you are enrolled in. My school, Victoria Institution only offered 5 subjects in the art stream; Pengajian Am, Pengajian Perniagaan, Ekonomi, Sejarah and Bahasa Melayu. Pengajian Am is compulsory for everyone including science stream student and in my school Pengajian Perniagaan in compulsory for art stream students.

What compelled you to take up STPM? How does one apply to study STPM at a school? Can you say anything about the common myths about STPM, in terms of difficulty, culture as well as any other that you can think of?

What compelled me to take up STPM? Hmm. Before this I have actually considered many other options such as foundations in arts and diploma in illustration and STPM was somewhat a last choice but my choice bounced back and forth. Back in high school, I am not a studious kid. I did not like what I was studying, I did not understand why do we need to take 9 subjects at once with one really unnecessary subject *I’m sure you can guess it*, and many more reasons. I scored just alright for SPM and it wasn’t worth for any scholarship but I was happy with what I got (: I was not exactly encouraged to take up STPM because there is a myth that you need to be super smart or a genius to take STPM but still I felt STPM was something that I was called for. So I went for it and ta-da I did amazingly well. I am not sure about science stream because I am from art stream, STPM is something anyone can score if you’re diligent and curious enough to study and be active in class. I loved what I studied except for one subject but it helped me tremendously in university. People have this mindset that STPM students only know how to study and that certainly isn’t true. We do know how to have fun and it is all about balancing out your life.

You do not have to apply for STPM if you are from a government school because you will automatically get a place at a school that offers Form 6 and is affiliated with your school.

Tell us more about the subjects that you took up, in terms of academic rigour, choice of content as well as examination style. What sort of revision and learning techniques have you adopted, and how that might have differed from form 4-5? What advice should new form 6 students heed from you?

I took 4 subjects; Pengajian Am, Pengajian Perniagaan, Ekonomi and Sejarah. I would say that all subjects are equally challenging and Ekonomi was the most challenging out of all. If you’re wondering, yes, all my subjects are conducted in Bahasa Melayu. These 4 subjects require insanely a lot of writing. We are also required to complete one assessment for each subject. It is known as PBS.

My batch was the second batch to go through the new system which is semester based system. Previously it was fully exam based. There are 3 semesters in total which means there are 2 semesters in a year. For all of my subjects, we are required to complete one assessment (paperwork) for each subject. It is known as PBS but some of my teachers call them ‘mini thesis’. I enjoyed doing them but the process was quite tiring because we are required to do different types of research methods for each PBS. I’m glad they introduced PBS because I can see how it helped me in university. We are taught how to cite using different citation styles and analyze data.

In Pengajian Am, we study about our country on how Malaysia functions (Semester 1), the policies and the constitution in Malaysia (Semester 2) and globally about what is going on around the world (Semester 3). We were also required to learn how to plot graphs from a set of question given. I find studying what we have learnt was not too bad but the essay part was quite frightening. I felt as though we were suddenly taught to think really hard whereas before that we were spoonfed like babies in high school. Reading is incredibly important to produce a good essay because examples were needed and level of maturity displayed in the essay is also crucial.

Pengajian Perniagaan (PP for short) is a subject I swore I will never retake. (Yes, we are allowed to retake any of our registered subjects after semester 3 no matter what grade you have) Why? Because PP is a full memorizing subject. No joke. We need to memorize the whole textbook. I struggled because I have a memory of a goldfish. The struggle does not stop there, we cannot blindly memorize it. We need to fully understand what we are memorizing because there will be a section in the exam paper where we are need to apply what we have studied. The questions are tough.

Ekonomi can sometimes be very interesting and sometimes, I will doze off studying it. We learn about Mikroekonomi, Makroekonomi and Ekonomi Malaysia. There are many graphs to analyse, formulas to use and applications of what we have learnt for essays. For me, I needed many exercises to improve because I am terrible with numbers, especially for the calculation part. I bought exercise books and did all of the past year questions. As for the essay, we really have to grasp the concept in order to do it.

Sejarah! My favourite among all. We study about Sejarah Dunia, Sejarah Islam and Sejarah Asia Tenggara dan Malaysia. Well, I would say, if you love history, you’ll love this but I wrote like mad woman during exam. I do not exactly remember which semester, we need to write 4 essays out of 6 choices and each essay needs to be at least 3 pages. This means 12 pages in 2 hours. There are 2 types of questions. The first is straightforward questions where we can basically write down what we read without much thinking and the other type is the opposite. We need to think thoroughly about the question.

Most of the time I do my own notes because I revise better through mind maps. For some subjects I have more than one reference book because different books have different examples and contents such as Ekonomi and Sejarah. Well, of course, do not  rely on only the reference book; read other books and magazines, watch videos, listen to podcasts and have an open mind. If you still do not know what technique you should use to study, google it. Not kidding! I tried many ways and mind mapping worked the best.

I also suggest to have at least one or two friends to study with and if you cannot study at home, go and explore different places to study such as the library and coffee shops. I study better outside as compared to at home. Not forgetting, listen to your teachers when they teach, it saves a lot of extra reading and understanding when you study. If you think your teacher isn’t good enough, find teachers outside (: I have also learnt that, no one can be fully ready for an exam. So, just do your best, do not stress yourself up and ace it.

Can you tell us more about the culture in an STPM school? How might it have been different or similar to Form 5? How integrated are Form 6 students into the Form 1-5 student body? Where do STPM graduates normally end up in? What of it that you enjoyed and what was lacking or lacklustre to you?

During my time, we still wear uniforms and I love my school uniform but now Form 6 students are not required to wear uniforms. The culture is quite similar to high school but we are given more freedom to chose a certain things such as forming our own clubs and the teachers are a tad different compared to high school teachers. In my school, Form 6 students have their own block so we do not mix with Form 1 to Form 5 students unless we join a body or society that includes Form 1 to Form 5 students. The culture in my school got me into culture shock the first day and I hated it but I end up loving my school and I can say I am proud to study Form 6 in Victoria Institution. In VI, there are insanely too many activities that we need to join but when I look back now, those memories are very precious.

I think there’s a lack of good teaching staff in Form 6 and the marking system/ answering techniques of some subjects are too rigid.

Usually STPM students will go to public universities (IPTA) and some will continue their journey in private universities or go overseas. It really depends on the individual. I personally went to a public uni because my course, Social Science majoring in Anthropology and Sociology is not offered in any private university. STPM is a also great platform for people who are unsure about what they want to study and it costs almost nothing compared to other options out there.

Most importantly, reflecting on your time studying STPM in school, how do you feel?

I truly miss Victoria Institution and my Form 6 life. I had a lot of fun with my friends and still keep in touch with them until today. Agreeing to go for STPM really changed how I look at myself and how God creates wonders in life.

 


Penny Wong

Penny Wong a proud KL citizen decided to leave home to explore a new city in Malaysia and hope to integrate arts and anthropology some day in her own way. Sipping green tea/latte, painting, reading and being creative are her favourite solitude moments. She is currently studying in Universiti Sains Malaysia and is a JPA scholarship holder.

Choosing the right uni as a sponsored student (UK v. USA)

USA-UK

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I received the JPA Biasiswa Nasional scholarship right after SPM results were released. Since JPA wanted the scholarship recipients to inform them of our choice of course and country, I wrote that I wanted to pursue Actuarial Science in the US. That was before I started A-Level at Taylor’s College. However, I was actually undecided about my future career and hence degree course. But at that time I’d heard that the actuarial field was lucrative and US universities were “better” in that field, so that was why I chose them. Plus, I wasn’t too serious while making that decision because JPA told us that we could change the course and country choices afterwards.

Up until it was time to apply to universities, I still did not have a country or even course in mind. One thing was for sure, I had always known that I would at least apply to the UK, but whether or not I would attend a British university was another matter. So to apply to the UK, I needed to know exactly which degree I wanted to pursue. At first I “decided” to apply for Electrical Engineering. After some really long nights trying to come up with a personal statement to show my “passion” towards Electrical Engineering, the end product wound up sounding like a Physics or Materials Science application. That was really frustrating, so I backed up and thought long and hard about what I wanted to do with my life after school and what interests me the most. Long story short, I arrived at Mathematics and finally settled on it.

Now that I’d decided to study Mathematics, choosing which five UK universities to apply to was an easy task because there were only five UK universities on the Times Higher Education Top 50 Universities Ranking for Physical Sciences that year.

After submitting my UK application, I started to work on my application to University of California and Commonapp. The primary reason that got me interested in US universities was that they took about 70% of the entire Top 50 list. But later, as I learned more about US education and college life, I began to seriously consider them. Choosing a subject was not so much of a problem when applying to the US, because it is perfectly acceptable to apply as an Undeclared major. This was the main reason I eventually chose to go to a US university over a UK university.

The real headache when it comes to applying to US universities was choosing which schools to apply to. Since application fees are quite hefty, I limited the number of universities to five. The most important factor that narrowed my choices was how well-rounded the school was. I was looking for a school that has a solid reputation in not only math and sciences but also humanities and social sciences because I wanted to explore my interests in these areas and get a balanced education. I also looked at academic opportunities e.g. undergraduate research, the physical environment of the campus and the town surrounding it.

When it comes to game plan, I took nothing more than a realistic view. Generally, applicants are advised to apply to a few dream schools that are hard to get into, a few good schools that are less hard to get into, and a few safety schools that the applicant is very confident of getting into. But then hard and easy take on varying definitions to different people, and not everybody adheres to this general rule. As for me, I had already gotten a few offers from UK universities when I was choosing US schools to apply to, so I did not have to think of back-up schools and just chose five that I would definitely be happy to attend. I chose UC Berkeley, UC Los Angeles, Chicago, Cornell and Michigan. As for major, I applied as an Undeclared Physical Science major to the UCs, Statistics major to Chicago and Cornell, and Financial and Actuarial Mathematics major to Michigan.

On the first day of Chinese New Year, I was so happy to find out through email that I was admitted to Michigan. Then in late March through early April, I was admitted to UCLA and Cornell, but waitlisted by UCB and Chicago. I was eventually rejected by both these schools.

I chose UCLA by early May. As I said, I would love to attend any of the schools I applied to so finally coming to a decision was really hard. It came down to a battle between UCLA and Cornell, and the reasons that prompted my final decision were pretty trivial. One, I wanted to be in a big city yet have access to nature e.g. national parks so Los Angeles, California is perfect. While Ithaca has a lot of nature, it is not at all a big city. Two, it can get very cold in upstate New York where Cornell is during winter while the weather at LA is always warm and inviting. My scholarship also encouraged me to enter a Top 10 school because I would get to maintain my current benefits that included higher allowance rates. UCLA was in the Top 10 while Cornell was just outside. But the difference in allowance rates could easily be cancelled by the difference in living expenses between a big city and a smaller college town, so that didn’t play a huge part in my making the decision.

I’ve been in LA for a week now and I’ll say that I’ve definitely made a good call! The campus is gorgeous, the energy among students is inspiring and I can just see myself learn and grow here over these next few years. Although classes have not even started yet, I am excited for the adventures ahead.

Some final thoughts:

Although it is possible to apply with major undecided to US universities, it is good to know what you want to study and/or explore or at least have an idea of it. If you feel like you are passionate about everything but nothing in particular, take concrete actions to find out where your passions lie a little more specifically. It helps not only your application but also self-development to have more specificity and depth to your interests, instead of merely having breadth.

At first, you might feel that it is impossible for you to get into a good university, due to perhaps unreal expectations of university admissions, low confidence or just pessimism. You might give up applying to some universities just because you think you don’t stand a chance or because you need to write a lot of application essays. Don’t let these be reasons for you not chasing your dream.


Yeong Wern Yeen

Yeong Wern Yeen is a JPA scholar who will be going to University of California, Los Angeles this fall. She likes to indulge unapologetically in good food, all sorts of films (especially sci-fi and fantasy) and music, the company of friends and adventures! She is also co-founder and one of the site managers of CollegeLAH.