International Students

Deciding Where And What To Study

by on March 10, 2015 | Higher Education in Malaysia

You Take Charge

“Your best years in education are those spent in college or university (tertiary education)”, a saying so often heard. Indeed, those years of higher education, whether in IPTA (Institut Pengajian Tinggi Awam) or IPTS (Institut Pengajian Tinggi Swasta), are years when students are no longer children and most importantly, not treated as children. They would be expected to make their own decisions with minimum guidance. These are times of well-earned education amidst mushrooming of friendships and network of acquaintances developed which would greatly influence your future.

Gone are the days of rigid time tables with classes from 7.30 am to 1.00 pm; standard dress-code and classmates from only within the local vicinity. The college/university years see a more flexible time table, less rigid dress code (or no dress code at all) and a chance to mingle with students from near and far, especially those from other countries. In addition, the students are also being credited with more accountability for their conduct and are entrusted with taking responsibility for their actions. College/university education educates students to be more independent and to think on the spot as there will be very much less ‘spoon-feeding’ by the lecturers (no longer called teachers) as compared to their earlier years of education. Students are given the responsibility to control their own lives and to ensure that they keep their priorities right. Thus, in a nutshell, college/university life not only imparts knowledge and academic/professional skills to students, but more importantly, also prepares them for life as adults, grooming them in their personal development, including for leadership.

Students who are or will soon be sitting for their Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM), GCSE ‘O’ Levels, ‘A” Levels or other pre-university qualifying examinations that mark the cross-over from secondary to tertiary education will be understandably excited or anxious about their options after their examinations. The question on your minds now would be whether to further your education at public or private institutions (IPTA or IPTS) or for some, whether to look for work.

If you have chosen to further your studies, then you should ask whether you would desire to go the academic pathway or the skill-based/hands-on pathway. One other major consideration when deciding on your choices is your financial situation (or that of your family’s) because education does not come cheap.

Thus, the decision-making to select the correct institution for your higher education would be a tough one. Whatever your decision may be, you should and have to stand by it, if you feel you have made an informed choice. The following information should be of great use to you in your decision-making process.


Your Many Options After SPM

Upon successful completion of 11 years of free education (6 years of primary and 5 years of secondary education), further study opportunities available in Malaysia to SPM-level school-leavers like you are abundant. They include:

  • Pre-university/Post-secondary Programmes
    • Form 6/STPM; Matriculation Programme of Ministry of Education Malaysia
      (Form 6 is available at Government post-secondary schools and some private college while the Matriculation programme is available at the Ministry’s Matriculation Colleges and some MARA colleges )
    • The U.K. ‘A’ levels Programme; Australian and Canadian Pre-University Programmes; (available at private colleges)
    • Pre-University or University Foundation Programmes (available at IPTS)
  • Tertiary Education or Skill Qualification
    • Diploma/Integrated Programmes at Public universities;
    • Certificate/Diploma Programmes at Community Colleges or Polytechnics;
    • Skill Qualification at Skill Training Institutions (offered by Government agencies and Ministries as well as private sector other than Education Ministries/MARA);
    • Diploma in Teaching at Teacher Training Colleges;
    • Industry Apprenticeship schemes;
    • Certificate/Diploma/HND/External Examination Bodies qualification programmes at private colleges and private universities.

However, if you are a STPM or other post-secondary qualification holders, your education pathway will be as follows:

  • to pursue Diploma level programme
  • to pursue semi-professional qualification programme such as CIM, CAT, etc
  • to pursue Year 1 Bachelor Degree programme
  • to pursue Professional Qualification such as ACCA, CIMA, etc

Table: Study Options for SPM & STPM Leavers in Malaysia


As shown in the above where the issue of furthering studies at tertiary level is concerned, an SPM/STPM school leaver, be it in the Arts or Science stream, would inevitably be faced with a dilemma or challenges in :

  • the many study pathway choices available
  • choosing the areas of study/course discipline that suit his/her interest and career aspiration

Table in below indicates some common areas of study/course discipline available in IPTS and IPTA for SPM or STPM candidates.
These areas of study or courses discipline are usually grouped under Arts, Science or Technical streams.
Art Stream
- Arts and Design
- Social Sciences
- Geography and History
- Environmental Studies
- Language and Culture Studies
- Media Studies
- Education
- Religious Studies
- Performing Arts
- Fine Arts
- Accounting
- Business
- Law

Technical Stream
- Engineering & Technical Skill
- Air & Maritime
- Manufacturing & Construction

Science Stream
- Applied Sciences
- Medicine
- Dentistry
- Pharmacy
- Architecture and Building
- Quantity Surveying
- Engineering
- Health Science
- Computer Science

Arts & Science Stream
- Accounting
- Information Technology
- Sports Science
- Education
- Communication Studies
- Music
- Fine Arts
- Business Administration
- Law
- Management

(Note : * Technical stream is applicable to IPTS only while the Arts or Science Streams grouping are for both IPTA and IPTS)


Making Your Decision

If you are an SPM leaver, regardless of whether you are from the Arts or Science stream, you would be facing the following 4 major considerations when making a decision:

  • To decide on the level of education (e.g. Form Six, Pre-University Programme, Certificate, Diploma, Undergraduate Programme, Semi-Professional, Professional, etc)
  • To decide on the choice of institution (e.g. IPTA, IPTS, foreign institutions, etc)
  • To decide on your area of study (e.g. Art Stream, Science Stream, Academic-based or Career-based courses)
  • To decide whether to go into the job market

If you have just completed STPM or its equivalent, you have only options 2, 3 and 4 to decide on.

Of course, there will be many sincerely concerned people, such as your parents, teachers, relatives, friends and peers who are genuinely interested in your education prospects and who will exert some sort of influence on the next big step that you take. Heed their advice well as they are imparting the benefit of their knowledge and experiences that would guide you along your decision making process. However, always remember that the final decision rests with you because it is your future that is at stake. For a happy future, it is always wise to make your own decision but the question lies in whether you have the fullest information needed and are matured enough to make such a critical decision for yourself.

Choosing where to go for your undergraduate or semi-professional or professional education, or career-based skills-training and the type of qualification award to pursue is one of the most important decisions in life that you will make. Remember that whatever you decide now will shape the new course of your life, therefore you should always get a full set of updated and reliable information as well as to think carefully & maturely when weighing your options.

Another factor that would affect your selection for the right course of study would be your academic know-how in differentiating the course curriculum and teaching methodologies between the similar qualifications being offered among the institutions. When you make a decision to select the type of courses among a few institutions, bear in mind that not all courses have the same curriculum and teaching methodology even though the names of the award qualification may sound similar. There are bound to be variations in the curriculum and the teaching methods in the courses offered by different institutions.

Below are some pointers to guide you in your decision making process. Please be advised that the pointers especially those mentioned in the Table 9.3 is not exhaustive and may not be up-to-date and you are advised to consult the appropriate authorities before making your final decision.


Assess yourself and know what you want to achieve

Before you decide on which college/institution that you would like to apply to study at, you would need to first assess yourself. Be honest about what your strengths and weaknesses are as well as what you are interested in doing after graduation.

Ask yourself two basic questions:

  • Question 1. Do you want to pursue a more academic based (more book-based, less hands-on) or more career-vocational based (more hands-on and less book-based) programme? Your answer may be neither one. But you have no other alternative - you need to make a choice unless you intend to join the job market immediately to help support your family.
  • Question 2. Which type of occupation or career suits you, as categorised by psychologist Dr. John Holland :
    1. Artistic career
    2. Conventional career
    3. Enterprising career
    4. Investigative career
    5. Realistic career
    6. Social career

    Most secondary schools have career guidance counsellors, so make use of their expertise to discuss your career plans. Your counsellors should be able to evaluate your academic strength and your personality and they could also gauge your aptitude for the courses that you are interested in pursuing. The professionally-designed personality test available in school may provide some indication of the type of personality that you are and therefore what suits you best. Certain careers would better suit your personality than others. Get the counsellors’ opinion about which higher education institutions you might consider applying to, and similarly seek feedback from other teachers who know you well.

Research and Sources of Information Career Talk and Edu-Fair/Roadshow

Attend career talks or seminars given by professionals or visit education fairs such as The Star Education Fair, Facon Education Fair, NAPEI Education Fair, Ark’s Career Fair, Nanyang Siang Pau Education Fair, StudyMalaysia Road-shows, etc. Collect information and make enquiries about the prospects of the course/career that you are interested in. Speak to course counsellors or career professionals you may meet at such talks, fairs or institutions’ road-shows.

  • Prospectus and Websites
    Alternatively, start by writing to the institutions for further information or visit their websites. (Note: The correspondence and website addresses for most of the IPTS & IPTA are also available in the Education Guide Malaysia.). Enquire about the course you are interested in and ask for their prospectus.
  • Education Guide Books
    Also, check out the education or career books that are available. Some helpful annual publications are the Education Guide Malaysia and Training Guide Malaysia; periodical magazines such as Education Quarterly, Course NOW ! Further Studies Intelligence (Chinese version) and websites such as and There are also regular education features in newspapers such as The Star and New Straits Times on Sundays and Sin Chew Daily (Chinese version) on Wednesdays. Other major newspapers such as Utusan Malaysia, Berita Harian, Malay Mail, China Press and Nanyang Siang Pau, just to name a few, also provide a broad scope educational coverage. All of the media sources provide comprehensive information on various tertiary level study options and skill-based courses.
  • Attend Open Day
    Consider also to visit University/Institution premises and physical facilities during their open days and check out on their course details.
  • EducationGuide Checklist - What You Ought-To-Do
    To be thorough in your research and fact finding in the selection of IPTS, you may want to consider those ought-to-do things suggested in Table below - EducationGuide Checklist:

Table 6.4: An Overview of Study Options for SPM (upper secondary) & STPM (post-secondary) Qualification Holders

Legality & Reputation

  • Look up for any display of Certificates of Registration in the premises of IPTS to see whether they have been granted approval by the authority i.e. Jabatan Pendidikan Swasta (JPS) of the Ministry of Education to conduct programmes and whether it has already been registered with the Bahagian Guru dan Pendaftaran of the State Education Department, to operate.
  • If you are foreign students who wish to study in IPTS, check with them if they have been licensed by the Immigration Department to recruit foreign students
  • Talk to as many people as you can, especially friends who have studied there before or are currently studying. They may be able to give you some ‘inside’ information about the institution

Academic Quality of Course Offered, Recognition, Entry Requirement & Inter-Institutional Collaborative Arrangement

  • Find out about the qualifications of lecturers, part-time or full-time status and their permit to teach as well as their teaching and related industrial experiences
  • Pay a visit to the institution and check out the learning-teaching resources in relation to the course you intend to pursue, the physical and recreational facilities as well as the types of hardware and software available
  • Find out the vision, mission and culture of the institution to see whether this institution is student-centred or not
  • Talk to the relevant academic people of the institution regarding the subjects to be taught in the course that you are interested in taking, including the depth and breadth of the subject curriculum, internship/practical training. Find out if the subjects are relevant to the career you hope to pursue; the meaning of credit hours, quality control processes, weekly study workload and the English proficiency requirement to attend the desired course,
  • Pay a visit to the library and talk to the librarian on the type of reference books, journals, electronic library facilities available and the type of student support for research work
  • Find out about whether the course has achieved LAN’s minimum standard and also whether the course is already being accredited by LAN. Check also the teaching of LAN’s compulsory subject
  • If you wish to work in the government sector, check whether the course is recognised by JPA (Jabatan Perkhidmatan Awam, Public Services Department)
  • Find out the academic entry requirement of the course you are interested in and whether you are academically qualified and whether it will be too difficult for you to follow the course
  • If the course that you intend to pursue involves further study overseas or in local universities, make an effort to know the mode of operation or concept for 2+1 twinning, 3+0 programmes, franchised degree, credit transfer, advance standing, etc. Also look out for any display of collaboration certificate between IPTS and the overseas/local public partner-university
  • If it is a professional degree course such as engineering or accountancy, ask whether the course is approved by the local professional body so that you can register as a member of the body after graduation
  • Enquire about the drop-out rate for the course you are interested in, as this gives an indication of whether students’ interests are being sustained

Education Cost & Employment Prospects

  • Find out from the marketing executive of IPTS about the options to study abroad and the costs involved. For example, if you were to take a Diploma course whether you can do the second or final year degree at an overseas university or opt for a 3+0 programme as well as the total costs that are expected to be incurred
  • Check out the course fee and its breakdown, the refund policy and living expenses per month and not forgetting whether the course fees can be paid by monthly installment
  • Ask about the employment prospects of former students
  • If there is a strong former students association, it is a good indication of the networking available to you as a student after you have graduated.
  • Don’t be taken in by glossy brochures. Make your decision based on facts

Student Service Support such as:

  • academic counselling service
  • placement and career service
  • accommodation arrangement or hostel service
  • scholarships or study loans available
  • recreational activities
  • personal development programmes etc

(Note: Most of the factors mentioned above are applicable when you need to make a selection to study in IPTS)


Assess Your Financial Situation & Availability Of Financial Aid To Study In Malaysia

Getting a good education is expensive, so evaluate your financial resources carefully. List all existing and possible source of resources, such as financial aid from loans, grants, scholarships, tuition fee partial waiver, work study, etc. Talk to your parents about what they can afford and how much they can help out.

Many private institutions offer their own financial aid to their students in the form of scholarships, tuition fee waiver and study loan. Government agencies like Perbadanan Tabung Pendidikan Tinggi Nasional (PTPTN) provide study loans to eligible students for academic study at higher educational institutions (both IPTA & IPTS), whereas the Skills Development Fund (SDF) under the Ministry of Human Resources provides loans to students who intend to pursue skilled training programmes at MLVK accredited centres. State Foundations, SOCSO and Commercial Banks also offer study loans and scholarships. You may also access loans or saving schemes from unit trusts, insurance schemes or the EPF.

Scholarships to pursue tertiary at IPTS are offered by Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities (MAPCU) and the STAR Education Fund. There are some study grants being offered by privately-run charitable foundations such as Kuok Foundation Bhd, clan associations and non-governmental organisations. Also, don’t forget to look up for Scholarship application advertisements by private companies in major newspapers such as The STAR, New Straits Times, etc.

(Note : To obtain more information about higher education financing, please refer to Chapter 8 : Financing for Higher Education)

Location of Institution

Another consideration when choosing where to go for your studies is where you will be staying or where the location of the institution is. Remember that there are advantages and disadvantages of studying close to home as well as away from home. The ideal choice is to of course to have a good study institution that is close to home, as this will cut down on your food and accommodation expenses. However, even if you are fortunate enough to have a good educational institution close to your home, it may not offer the types of courses you are looking for. Thus, when choosing your institution, find out also whether it has hostel accommodation as this is cheaper, safer and more convenient, or whether the institution assists you to find proper accommodation. Some of the advantages of staying away from home are that you become more independent in taking care of yourself and your personal needs and you would also tend to form new friendships more easily.

Make a list of the possible institutions & shortlist those you are interested in

  • Short-listing IPTA and IPTS
    Firstly, you need to group all the possible institutions under the category of IPTA as well as IPTS. This listing of institutions involves much research and reading-up, but it is an interesting task because you are now assessing yourself and the educational institutions. With the pointers or suggestions provided in the earlier paragraphs, your selection process could prove to be much easier.

    After making your lists, short-list three to five institutions in each IPTA and IPTS grouping which you feel would best meet your needs. Those being short-listed should have fulfilled your selection criteria such as type of institution, courses offered, qualification awarded, foreign university collaborative partner (if any), tuition fees, location, education fund available, student service support, etc.
  • Visit the Institution
    In making a final decision on which institution best suits your needs, you may want to visit the place beforehand or to revisit it even if you have done so before. Most institutions have ‘open days’ prior to their next intake, so this is a good time to visit them to seek the answers for your unanswered questions.
  • Choice of Course Syllabus
    Be mindful to choose the level of your study according to your academic ability and the career that you wish to follow. In addition, if you are unsure of which area of the course you would like to specialise in, then choose a course with a broad-based syllabus in year 1, which will allow you to decide on your specialisation later on in year 2 or year 3 of the course of study.

Sending In Your Application

Once you have a strong sense of what you want to learn and what choices of institutions are available, depending on the courses and your financial state, you will need to submit in your application for acceptance as a student.

If you are applying to public institutions (IPTA), you will need to send your application through the proper central processing authorities. For example, if you are applying for a Matriculation programme, you would need to apply through the Matriculation Division of the Ministry of Education, while for an undergraduate programme, you would have to apply through the BPKP IPT or Unit Pusat Universiti (UPU) of Jabatan Pendidikan Tinggi, Ministry of Higher Education. On the other hand, for polytechnic studies, you would need to obtain the application form from the Polytechnic Management Division of the Technical Education Department, Ministry of Higher Education and then send your application directly to the Polytechnic.

However, there is no central processing authority for private institutions, so you can apply directly to whichever IPTS that you are interested in studying at while those who are still contemplating on the right decision to make are always welcomed to seek the HELPDESK service available here.

Remember that you can list your top 8 choices in terms of degree programmes and universities when you submit your application to study in public universities through the UPU of Jabatan Pendidikan Tinggi.



As for IPTS, it is okay to apply for more than one institution. A good method of deciding how many institutions to apply to is to make sure that your applications are able to cover all your bases. For example, one application must be to your preferred school, which is the one that you would very much like to attend but however a highly competitive one and to which your chances of getting into may seem rather slim. Another application should be sent to a “safer school” where your admission is more assured, and your third application to a “back-up school”, which may not be as stringent in its intake requirements but which almost certainly will admit you, and will still adequately serve your needs and interests

Most institutions announce the dates of their new intakes via the major newspapers or through their websites, but generally, most institutions conduct their intakes shortly after the announcement of the results of the main examinations, i.e. the SPM and STPM. Private higher educational institutions (IPTS) usually have intakes in April, July and December while IPTA has only one intake per year, which is usually in the month of June for STPM candidates and month of May for SPM candidates.

As can be seen from the above, choosing the right institution and right course is indeed a big decision and challenge. You will most definitely not be able to find one single institution that can meet all your academic and personal wants and needs. However, the important fact is that you will surely find several that would match your criteria of courses, subjects and final qualification desired. The main point to remember is that you are in control of this decision-making and selection process. Remember too that in choosing your institution, you are actually exploring your own interests and discovering what it is that you really want out of your higher education.

Another area to consider is whether you want to study in a local institution or further your studies abroad. If your financial situation allows it, you might want to look at the overseas institutions. In considering overseas options, there should not be much difference in your approach, as the same rules more or less apply in short-listing your college/university and sending in your applications (refer to EducationGuide IPTS Selection Checklist). You might not have the luxury of traveling abroad just to visit the institutions and/or speak to the students, but in the hi-tech world we live in today, there are ways to get to know the institutions and communicate with current students without having to be there, for example, via the internet. There are also plenteous websites that provide comprehensive information on the ranking of universities.

Last but not least, the amount of work you put into a decision-making and selection process reveals how serious you are about getting the best education for yourself. For more information of assistance you may also seek advice from or tap into the resources available at the HELP DESK of

Study in Malaysia Handbook 6th Ed.Source: Study in Malaysia Handbook 6th Ed.

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