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Choice of Pre-University Studies, Diploma and ADP at Private Higher Educational Institutions

by on March 15, 2015 | Higher Education in Malaysia


Choice  of StudiesIf you have just sat for your SPM/O-Level examination and plan to pursue a bachelor’s degree either in Malaysia or abroad, the pre-university certificate is the next most likely qualification for you. You can obtain a pre-university qualification in Malaysia before proceeding with a bachelor’s degree programme at most universities in Malaysia or around the world.

However, you should find out more about what types of pre-university programmes are available and which type would be most suited to help you make your transition towards a bachelor’s degree programme.

This chapter lists the various pre-university options offered at private higher educational institutions (PHEIs). PHEIs in Malaysia are well established and offer a wide range of internationally recognised pre-university programmes

This chapter also covers the study route to certificate and diploma qualifications as well as the American Degree Transfer Program (ADP). This is another viable option for SPM school leavers.

Pre-U Programmes for SPM/O-Level School Leavers

There are three categories of pre-university programmes offered in Malaysia:

  1. Malaysian post-secondary qualifications
  2. International pre-university qualifications
  3. Foundation programmes offered by various universities
Examples of Pre-university Programmes offered by PHEIs
Pre-University Qualification Qualification Awarded by Examination Body from Country of Origin
Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) Malaysia
Matriculation Certificate, Ministry of Education Malaysia
University of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) for AS and A2 Levels UK
Edexcel International Advanced Level
South Australian Matriculation (SAM) Australia
New South Wales High School Certificate Australia
Western Australian Matriculation (AUSMAT)
Canadian International Matriculation Programme (CIMP) Canada
International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme
Degree Foundation Courses (offered by various universities) Internal Qualification Awarded by Educational Institutions in Malaysia
Source: StudyMalaysia Research Team

Getting Yourself Enrolled

Now that you have an idea about how you should go about choosing a pre-university programme, the next thing to find out is where you can enrol in such a programme. There are many well-established providers of pre-university programmes in Malaysia, many of which are recognised internationally for their various achievements. Here are some PHEIs that you may want to consider:

KBU International College’s Matriculation Studies Centre offers the Australian Matriculation programme (AUSMAT) and Cambridge GCE A-levels. It also conducts the Foundation in Science programme in collaboration with International Medical University (IMU) which caters to students who are interested in pursuing the field of health sciences.

KDU University College offers a range of pre-university programmes that depend on the students’ choice of country in which they prefer to continue their undergraduate studies. Aside from catering to those who wish to study in the UK or Australia, they offer a home-grown foundation course for those who plan to pursue their first degree in Malaysia. The pre-university programmes offered include Cambridge GCE A-Levels, UNSW Foundation Year, AUSMAT, and Foundation Studies (Business/Art & Technology/Engineering).

HELP Academy is the largest centre for the London GCE A Level examination outside the UK. The pre-university courses offered by HELP include Cambridge A-Levels, Edexcel International Advanced Levels, and Foundation Studies (Arts/Science/TESL).

Sunway College offers preparatory programmes that equip students with critical thinking and independent learning skills, preparing them for admission to premier universities all over the world. Some of the programmes currently offered are Australian Matriculation Programme, Cambridge GCE A-Level Programme, Canadian International Matriculation Programme, Monash University Foundation Year and Sunway Foundation In Arts Programme.

Taylor’s College is a leading pre-university in Malaysia offering the right start to succeed in life with four exceptional pre-university programmes: Cambridge A Levels (CAL), South Australian Matriculation (SAM)/SACE International, Canadian Pre-University (CPU) and International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP). Their track record in academic excellence is a testimony to their successful approach in offering the best education experience to students to achieve their university and future career goals.

For 45 years, Taylor’s College has been committed in preparing students beyond academics, to have the right skills, approach and qualities, aiming to mould the youth of today to become well-rounded individuals with a defined dream and success. Every year, Taylor’s College places over 1,000 students into the top 200 universities of the world.

Other established providers that prepare students for foreign pre-university qualifications include UCSI International School (at University campus), Olympia College, Stamford College, INTI International University, Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar, SEGi College, Kolej Yayasan UEM, Tunku Abdul Rahman University College and many more.

Types of Pre-University Programmes

The following provides a detailed explanation of various pre-university programmes:

1. International Pre-University Qualifications by an External Examination Boards

t_choice6.jpgThe common types of externally accredited pre-university courses available to students with an SPM qualification or its equivalent are listed below. It prepares them for higher level of studies such as bachelor degree programmes or professional courses (ACCA, CIMA, etc.)

GCE A-Level - University of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE)

The GCE A-Level offered by the University of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) is part of the University of Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate (UCLES) and is perhaps the most widely-accepted qualification worldwide for university entry.

The A-level subject syllabi are divided into two levels: Advanced Subsidiary (AS) and Advanced Two (A2) levels, each contributing 50% towards the final A Level grade. AS Level is the first half of the course and forms the foundation of A Level. A2 Level is the second part of the syllabus and covers more difficult topics.

CIE has made available a wide choice of subjects, and you are limited only by the combination of subjects offered by a particular college and the examination timetable. Students can choose a broad course of study, or specialise in a particular area. The duration of a standard programme is 18 months (3 semesters).

If you have decided on your choice of bachelor’s degree, you may want to ensure that you take relevant subjects at A-level. For example, a student who wishes to pursue chemical engineering would need to take subjects in the science stream like chemistry, physics and mathematics.

In terms of assessment, students can choose any one of the following options:

  • Take all papers in one sitting, usually at the end of the second year of study, or
  • Take the ‘staged’ assessment route, that is, to take the AS Level in one examination session and the final part of the assessment A2 Level at a subsequent session, or
  • Take the AS Level only, either at the end of the one-year or two-year course.

The assessment is a 100% external examination which takes place twice a year, in June and November, with some subjects only available in June or November. Results are issued in August and January respectively. The examination papers are set and marked by examiners from CIE.

The Cambridge A-Levels consists of two semesters and a student will have to sit for two papers for each subject taken. Each subject that a student takes at International A/AS Level receives a separate grade and a separate certificate.

South Australia Matriculation (SAM)

SAM is an internationally-recognised Australian pre-university matriculation programme which is set and administered by the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia (SSABSA). SAM has been offered to students outside of Australia since 1984 and is accepted by many renowned universities in Australia, the UK, the US, Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, India, and private universities in Malaysia as an admission criterion into their undergraduate programmes.

SAM is a 10-month matriculation programme with a unique assessment pattern - 50% of the final mark is derived from the final public examination (usually in the month of October/November) while the remaining 50% is awarded internally through continuous assessment of coursework and tests. It offers students the flexibility to complete the programme over an extended period although the normal duration of study is one year.

Students taking the SAM programme must complete five subjects, including one subject from List 1 and at least one subject from List 2. In addition, students must achieve a satisfactory score (10/20 or better) in either English as Second Language Studies, or English Studies. Students can also repeat subjects without a penalty.

The usual intake for the 10-month SAM programme is in January and the minimum qualification for admission is the SPM/O-level certificate or equivalent, with at least five credits totalling not more than 30 points, including credits in English and Mathematics / Science.

The SAM programme gives students an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR, which is a percentile ranking that is utilised as a selection criterion of students for bachelor’s degree courses by universities in Australia and different parts of the world. Students will be awarded the South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE).

Western Australian Matriculation (AUSMAT)

t_choice7.jpgAUSMAT is equivalent to the final year (Year 12) of secondary schools in Western Australia. It enables students to gain admission into year one of bachelor degree programmes in Australia as well as in the UK, New Zealand, the US, Canada, Russia, Germany, Singapore, and private universities in Malaysia.

An internationally-recognised pre-university programme, AUSMAT is administered by the Curriculum Council of Western Australia. Students are graded based on their performance throughout the year, i.e. 50% internal continuous assessment (moderated by the Curriculum Council) and the remaining 50% in an external final examination, i.e. the Tertiary Entrance Examination (TEE). The student’s score (based on best four subjects) is ranked for the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) for university application at undergraduate level. This arrangement not only helps to remove pressure from the single year-end assessment, but also provides opportunities for the usage of a variety of assessment techniques in determining the students’ standard of achievement.

Students are required to take five subjects including English as an Additional Language (EAL/D) or English. The remaining four subjects can be a combination of these subjects: Applicable Mathematics, Calculus, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Economics, Accounting, Information Systems, German, and others.

The entry requirement is SPM, O-level certificate or its equivalent, with a minimum of five credits including Science and Mathematics. Student intakes are in January and March.

At the end of the 10-month programme, students will be required to sit for the Tertiary Entrance Examination (TEE) which occurs once a year, in the first week of November.

New South Wales Higher School Certificate (HSC)

The New South Wales HSC is the final year matriculation programme in New South Wales, Australia and is also widely recognised internationally

The course commences in January and is conducted over 10½ months. Students are required to take five subjects including English to make up a minimum of 10 units. Some of the subjects offered are English, Mathematics, Mathematics Extension, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Information Processes and Technology, Business Studies, and Economics.

Students are assessed based on 50% course work (internal assessment) and the remaining 50% in a final external examination, which takes place in October/November.

With the HSC qualification, students will obtain a Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR), a measure of the student’s overall performance in comparison to all students taking the HSC.

Canadian International Matriculation Programme (CIMP)

CIMP is the final year of the secondary school programme in Ontario, Canada. Established in 1990, it is also known as the Canadian Pre-University Programme (CPU) and has since grown to become the largest Canadian matriculation programme in the world. It is designed based on the course guidelines and standards of the Ministry of Education and Training of the Ontario Province.

CIMP is a 12-month course where students take a total of six subjects which include one English subject, that is, either ENG4E or ENG4U. The other subjects are Business, Computer Studies, Mathematics, Science and Social Science. Assessment comprises 70% coursework and 30% final examinations.

Student intake occurs three times a year in January, March and July. The examination sessions occur twice a year, in May and November. The minimum entry requirement is five credits in SPM, O-level or its equivalent. Upon meeting all requirements of the programme, students will graduate with the Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD).

International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme

Created in 1968, the IB diploma programme has international recognition and is becoming increasingly popular as a pre-university qualification. The programme offers a broad and balanced curriculum related to real world issues and problems.

Aimed at students aged 16 to 19, it requires students to study both humanities and science subjects. Over the course of the two-year programme, students study six subjects chosen from the six subject groups, complete an extended essay, follow a theory of knowledge course (TOK),and participate in creativity, action, service (CAS).

In general, students must choose one subject from each group 1 to 6 at higher level (HL) or standard level (SL). The six groups comprise a literature course in the student’s best language; an additional language; social sciences; experimental sciences; mathematics; and theatre and arts.

There are two components of assessment: an internal assessment which varies from 20% - 30%; and an external assessment which varies from 70% - 80% depending on the subject. Examinations are in January and July.

An IB diploma will be awarded to a candidate who scores 24 points and over, and has fulfilled other requirements. The programme is open to Malaysians and international students and the entry requirement is SPM or GCE O-level.

2. Malaysian Post-secondary Qualification - Malaysian High School Certificate

School leavers in Malaysia can opt to pursue a pre-university qualification awarded by the Ministry of Education (MOE) Malaysia. There are two types of Malaysian pre-university programmes:

The Sixth Form (Malaysian High School Certificate)

t_choice8.jpgThe Sixth Form prepares students for a common public examination leading to the award of a high school certificate, namely, Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM). This qualification is equivalent to the GCE A-Level certificate.

STPM programmes offer two streams – Science and Arts and is conducted over one and a half years. The examination body, Majlis Peperiksaan Malaysia, allows students to enrol for the examination with a minimum of one subject and a maximum of five subjects (including General Studies). There is only one intake per year in May.

It was a 100% external assessment examination which occurs in November. Results are typically announced in March the following year. Beginning 2012, MOE has introduced a modular system of assessment. The new system is based on three semesters where students are evaluated at the end of each one. The assessment includes coursework and school-based projects while the STPM syllabus remains the same

Besides local universities, the STPM certificate is accepted by universities around the world as an admission qualification for degree programmes.

Matriculation Certificate by the Ministry of Education

The matriculation programme offers three streams – science, accountancy and technical streams and is conducted at matriculation colleges under MOE.

Students must study at least six subjects over two semesters (one year). There is one intake a year, usually in March or April. All grades are internally assessed.

Both STPM and matriculation qualifications are accepted as the entry requirement for public as well as private HEIs in Malaysia.

3. Internal Pre-University Qualifications

Many private HEIs, especially those that offer twinning degree programmes have their own university foundation programmes. These courses are usually accredited by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) and recognised by the respective foreign partner universities as well as many other overseas universities as an equivalent to the pre-university qualification in their respective home countries.

Unlike external qualifications which focus on general science and art-based subjects, internal qualifications provide specialisations in areas such as business, computer and IT, and engineering, and usually take a year to complete.

There are typically three intakes a year and the entry requirement accepted are SPM, GCE O-Level or its equivalent, where students need to have a minimum of five credits in relevant subjects.

Examples of internal pre-university programmes offered by private colleges and universities are:

  • Foundation in Arts/Commerce/Science/IT by SEGi College
  • Foundation in Science (Biology/Health Science)/ Business/Law / Information Technology and Engineering by Management and Science University
  • Foundation for university studies in business/science/engineering by KDU College
  • Foundation in Engineering, Science and Technology/Science/Art and Design by KBU International College
  • The Monash University Foundation Year by Sunway University College
  • Foundation in science by HELP Academy

Foreign Countries’ Academic Qualifications for Pre-university Studies

The table below provides a list of upper-secondary academic qualifications from different countries which are equivalent to Malaysia’s SPM or UK’s O-Level. These are some examples of minimum academic requirements (by countries) for entry into pre-university programmes for international students (English competency is required).

Examples of Foreign Academic Qualification for Entry to Pre-university programmes
Country Academic Qualification Minimum
Australia Year 10 qualification Minimum grade of C in 5 subjects
Brunei Brunei – Cambridge GCE ‘O’ Level 5 credits in O-Level including English and Maths
Bangladesh Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSC) Minimum grade of 70% (A) in 5 relevant subjects including English and Maths in SSC
China Senior High School Year 12 (Senior Middle 3) Minimum grade of 70% (B) in 5 relevant subjects including English and Maths in Senior Middle 2 (Year 11)
Hong Kong Hong Kong Certificate Examination (WASSCE) [ Year 12] Minimum grade of B3 in 5 relevant subjects including English and Maths in Year 11
Cambodia Upper Secondary (Year 12) Minimum grade of 70% in 5 relevant subjects including English and Maths in Year 11
India Secondary School Leaving Certificate (SSLC) [Class 10] Minimum grade of B in 5 relevant subject including English and Maths in Secondary School Leaving Certificate (SSLC)
Indonesia Ujian Nasional – Sekolah Menengah Kejuruan [SMK 3-Year 12] (National Examination – Vocational High School) Minimum grade of 7.0 in 5 relevant subjects including English and Maths in SMK 2 (Year 11) or minimum grade of 6.0 in 5 relevant subjects including English and Maths in SMK Ujian Nasional (National Examination of SMK)
Iran Diploma – Motevaseteh (National High School Diploma) [ Year 11] Minimum of 13 points in 5 relevant subjects including English and Maths in Diplom – Motevaseteh (National High School Diploma)
Japan Kotogakko Sotsugyo Shomeisho (Upper Secondary School Leaving Certificate) [Year 12] Minimum of 4 points in 5 relevant subjects including English and Maths in Year 11
Maldives O Level 5 credits in O-Level including English and Maths
Mauritius Cambridge School Certificate (CSC)/ General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level [Year 11] 5 credits in CSC or GCE O-Level including English and Maths
Myanmar Basic Education High School Examination/ Matriculation (BEHS) (Year 11) Minimum grade of 65% in 5 relevant subjects including English and Maths in Basic Education High School Examination/ Matriculation
Nepal School Leaving Certificate (Year 10) Minimum grade of 70% in 5 relevant subjects in School Leaving Certificate including English and Maths
Oman Thanawiya Amma (Secondary School Leaving Certificate) [Year 12] Minimum grade of 70% in 5 relevant subjects including English and Maths in Year 11
Pakistan Secondary School Certificate (SSC) [ Year 10] Minimum grade of 70% (A) in 5 relevant subjects including English and Maths in SSC
Philippines High School Diploma (Year 10) [ Year 11 in most private schools] Minimum grade of 75% in 5 relevant subjects including English and Maths in High School Diploma
Saudi Arabia Tawjihiyah (General Secondary Education Certificate (GSEC) [Year 12] Minimum grade of 70% in 5 relevant subjects including English and Maths Year 11
Singapore Singapore Cambridge General Certificate of Education ‘Ordinary Level’ 5 credits in O-Level including English and Maths in Year 11
Republic of Korea Ilbankye Kodung Hakkyo(General High School Diploma) [Year 12] Minimum grade of 70% (Min 5 relevant subjects including English and Maths in Year 11
Macau Cambridge Overseas School Certificate (COSC) 5 credits in O-Level including English and Maths
Sri Lanka Sri Lanka Ordinary Level 5 credits in Sri Lanka O-Level including English and Maths
Taiwan Senior High School Diploma (Year 12) Minimum grade of 70% (B) in 5 relevant subjects including English and Maths in Year 11
Thailand Mathayom Suksa 6 (M6) (Higher Secondary School Certificate) Year 12 Minimum grade of 3.0 in 5 relevant subjects including English and Maths in Year 11
United Arab Emirates Tawjihiya (Secondary School Certificate) [Year 12] Minimum grade of 70% in 5 relevant subjects including English and Maths in Year 11
Vietnam Bang Tot Nghiep Pho Tong Trung Hoc (Secondary School Graduation Certificate) [Year 12] Minimum grade of 7.0 in 5 relevant subjects including English and Maths in Year 11
Yemen Al-Thanawiya (General Secondary Education Certificate) [ Year 12] Minimum grade of 70% in 5 relevant subjects including English and Maths in Year 11
Source: Entry Requirements for Pre-Tertiary Education for Taylor’s College

Please note that the minimum academic requirements stated here is merely a guide. Students are advised to contact the individual institutions for enrolment requirements as well as other terms and conditions.

Besides the pre-university route, students have other alternatives after completing SPM. These include getting a certificate or diploma qualification or pursuing an American degree transfer programme (ADP).

Getting a Certificate or Diploma Qualification

Private colleges are the main provideand diplomrs of certificate a level programmes although some universities also offer these programmes. The general entry requirement for these programmes is SPM or its equivalent.

Diploma Level

t_choice3.jpgMany of the internally-developed diploma level programmes offered by PHEIs are recognised and granted ‘advanced standing’ status by local private universities and selected universities in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, Germany, China, Taiwan and the US. The general entry requirement is 3 credits for SPM/O-level holders.

An ‘Advanced Standing Programme’ means that a PHEI’s internal diploma (or a particular degree transfer programme) is recognised with ‘advanced standing’ entry status by one or more partner foreign universities, in terms of credit exemption given when advancing to a bachelor degree programme. Typically, students who have completed a course with ‘advanced standing’ status can gain admission into the second or final year of a degree programme depending on the collaborative university’s requirements.

Besides PHEIs, many diploma programmes are offered by polytechnics under the Ministry of Education and the general entry requirement is 5 credits for SPM.

The Ministry of Human Resources through their institutions under the Manpower Department also offer diploma programmes for students with SPM qualifications (minimum of 3 credits).

The curriculum and examination of these programmes are set by local PHEIS and its quality assured by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency. The general entry requirement for diploma-level programmes offered by PHEIs in Malaysia is three credits at SPM level or its equivalent.

Certificate Level

Many students who do not have enough SPM credits to pursue diploma or pre-university studies can opt for a certificate programme. The general entry requirement for certificate programmes is one credit at SPM/O-Level level or its equivalent.

Many choices of certificate programmes are offered by PHEIs and community colleges under the Ministry of Higher Education in Malaysia.

Skills Qualifications

Many PHEIs and public training institutions such as IKBN (Institut Kebangsaan Belia Negara) under the Ministry of Youth and Sports and ILP (Institut Latihan Perindustrian) under the Ministry of Human Resources offer skills programmes to school leavers which lead to SKM1, SKM2 and SKM3 qualifications. Sijil Kemahiran Malaysia (SKM) qualifications are awarded by Jabatan Pembangunan Kemahiran (JPK), Ministry of Human Resources Malaysia.

Pursuing an American Degree Transfer Program (ADP)

Under the American degree program (ADP) arrangement, SPM students pursue a 4-year American bachelor’s degree in Malaysia for an average of two years (or 50 to 60 credit hours) before moving on to their intended university in the US to complete the remaining part of the degree programme. An American degree usually requires a student to read a minimum of 120 credit hours in order to graduate with a degree. Students can select from more than 200 American universities to which they can transfer the credits they earned in Malaysia.

A student in Malaysia intending to study in the US must collect sufficient credit at the Malaysian institution before applying to an American university. The Malaysian institution is not bound to a particular American university. Similarly, no American university is obliged to take in a student under the credit transfer scheme unless the American university is satisfied with the student’s qualifications. This is because each American university sets its own requirements and formulates its own courses. Consequently, experienced private colleges formulate their course curriculum taking into consideration the requirements of the American university curriculum. As a result, many students have earned places in reputable American universities.

Traditionally, this arrangement was geared towards education in the US under the American Degree Program (ADP). Today, the concept of credit transfers has been extended to include universities in the UK, Australia and Canada.

The general entry requirement for a 4-year American degree transfer program (ADP) is SPM with 5 credits.


The pre-university providers in Malaysia have created many firsts in preparing students for pre-university qualifications. Many students who have studied here have been placed at top universities worldwide. With a proven track record since the 1970s, Malaysia offers SPM or O-Level (Year 11) school leavers among the best options in the world for pre-university programmes.

Since the early 1990s, many of the home-grown diplomas offered by PHEIs are recognised by many foreign universities and granted ‘advanced standing’ status for their bachelor’s degree programmes. Many local and international students have benefited from such collaborative arrangements.


  • Study in Malaysia Handbook (8th International Education)
  • Schools of Malaysia Directory (4th Edition)
  • Various institutions’ websites and brochures
  • Taylor’s College entry requirements for pre-university programmes
Study in Malaysia Handbook 9th Ed.Source: Study in Malaysia Handbook 9th Ed. - Chapter 4

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