The scholarships season is about to come or has already come. It is at this very moment that school leavers after their SPM or STPM examinations would go on a frenzy searching for scholarships that they could apply. It is also at this moment that the ReCom educational threads are full of life, asking questions and requesting for more information about scholarship providers such as JPA, MARA, PETRONAS, Bank Negara Malaysia, Khazanah, etc.
While it is a moment full of hopes, it is also a moment full of despair for some. It is a well-known fact that not everybody, despite scoring in their examinations with flying colours, will be offered a scholarship or a sponsorship. As such, while some will be jumping in excitement over a scholarship offer, many would also cry in despair over their failure to secure it.
And many (and I mean many) would take it to the “streets” in ReCom to protest over the apparent lack of fairness in the awarding of scholarships. They would then demand that the scholarship providers are more transparent in the selection processes, and tell others who have secured a scholarship not to brag about it so much in ReCom. While I could sympathise on academically excellent students who have not been offered a scholarship, I wish that they could get their priorities right rather than protesting (or even at some point, cursing and swearing) against the apparently unjust system. Whether the selection system is just or not is for the individual to decide.
So what am I trying to convey here after all the blabbering in the past three paragraphs? My main message here for this month is to tell all of you out there who have not secured a scholarship that it is not the end of the world yet. Just because you do not get a scholarship does not mean that you cannot get a university education.
I agree that it is the dream of many students to study abroad, and yet money is always the problem. Not many families are able to fund their children to study in a university in Australia or the United Kingdom. Even before you purchase your flight tickets, you would have already spent quite a great deal of money on IELTS or TOEFL, and if you plan to go to the United States, there is the SAT to sit, too.
But the prestige of being given the opportunity to study in a university like Cornell University, the University of Cambridge or the University of Melbourne has simply cast a dark cloud over all the possibilities that you may not, after all, be offered funding (through a scholarship) to study in such apparently top-notch universities. As such, many are blinded to the fact that the quest for a scholarship may be one that will not reap you anything in the end. The lack of such realisation has made many of our excellent students fall into despair and hopelessness.
Now, get this right: all hope is not lost. Hope is only lost if you believe that it is lost. Sure, you may not be given the opportunity to study overseas because you do not have a scholarship, but rather than ranting about the lack of accountability and transparency from the scholarship providers, you should be asking, “What is my next best option?”
For SPM leavers, there is always the option to do Form 6. If your family can afford to fund your studies in a private college for, say, A-Levels, then that could also be an option. After that, you could seek for any other scholarship opportunities.
For STPM leavers, you have the advantage of being able to study in a public university here in Malaysia. While this may not be your dream place to study, our public universities are by no means any worse than universities abroad. While we may not have universities that are ranked among the top fifty best universities in the world, Universiti Malaya, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, etc. are often coveted by prospective students. If you have the vision of doing postgraduate studies in the future, then doing your undergraduate studies in a public university here is not a bad decision; you save a lot of money by studying in a public university, and the money saved can be used to fund your postgraduate studies (overseas, if you like) in the future.
If you have graduated from your A-Levels but still could not secure a scholarship to study abroad, then your next best thing would be to go to a local private university like Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS, Multimedia University, International Medical University, Nottingham University Malaysia Campus, etc. You could always apply for a PTPTN loan to fund your studies; it may not cover all your expenses, but it is definitely a great help in reducing the financial burden on your parents.
(Please bear in mind that I write based on the perspective that the student’s family may not be able to afford university education for their children abroad.)
So you see, my friends, that you have many other options to get a university education, if only you are objective in your views. You need to stay focus that at the end of the day, it is a university education that you want, regardless of where it may be. Consider being given the funding to study in a foreign university as an added bonus, and not a life-or-death situation.
Please allow me the honour of relating a story of my own. I am one of the more fortunate individuals who were offered the ASEAN Pre-University Scholarship and a PETRONAS sponsorship at the end of 2005. Technically, I could have gone overseas to study, but as it was a matter of uncertainties outweighing the prestige of being able to study abroad, I decided to take up the PETRONAS sponsorship to do engineering in Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS (UTP). Again, practically speaking, I did not leave home because I am from Ipoh and UTP is about 35 kilometres away from Ipoh.
I have the desire to do postgraduate studies because I have been inspired by some of my faculty members, and particularly because I am interested in a particular civil engineering field that not many people would dare to attempt.
Therefore, in my final-year undergraduate studies in UTP, I made an application in four US universities for postgraduate studies there; I have also asked for financial aid from the universities to help me fund my studies there. I had to do the IELTS and GRE tests, too. Then, I could have just waited for any one of the universities to offer me a placement and off I go, but I need to also understand that there is always a small risk of failure. I need a Plan B.
My Plan B was to address the possibility of not getting a postgraduate placement in any of the US universities. I had then spoken to my lecturer who recommended that I apply into UTP as a safety school for my MSc programme. I decided that this was the best Plan B, because I was very much certain that UTP would welcome new postgraduate students. UTP currently lacks such students and is giving out as much incentives as possible in terms of assistantships and tuition waiver schemes in a bid to get more postgraduate students.
So, I have got the offer to do postgraduate studies in UTP and have now started my MSc programme here while waiting for the US universities to provide me with a response.
In January this year, one of the universities contacted me to inform that they could not offer me a placement. It did not worry me one bit (for obvious reasons).
At this point, you may ask, “What would you do if none of the universities in the US offer you a placement? Would you really do your MSc programme in UTP?”
My answer is: Yes, I definitely would! But I would not give up my dream of studying abroad (mainly for a change of environment). While pursuing my MSc programme in UTP, I could try my luck again and apply for a PhD placement in foreign universities, could I not?
Nonetheless, I do not have to go to such extent anymore. I have just recently received an offer from one of the remaining three US universities for admission into the MSc programme there. While I am not offered assistantship in my first semester, the civil engineering department there has agreed to offer me a one-year scholarship of just $1000, which will enable me to receive resident tuition rates instead of being charged foreign or out-of-state tuition rates. Being charged resident tuition rates can bring about savings of up to $9000 per year. And with the $1000 scholarship, you can save $10000 already. You could think of it as a “partial scholarship”, though given in an indirect manner.
Therefore, you can see that luck favours those who take it upon themselves to look for other avenues and to plan for the worst-case scenario. As things never go the way you expect them to, having a good plan will help you prepare for failures and avert disappointment.
There is a need to complain less and work more. Complaining about your failures and how other students whose families are well-off but being offered scholarships will not get you anywhere. Rather than letting your tempers flare uncontrollably, why not channel all that energy to finding other available options?
Success and failures are part of life. Nobody enjoys perpetual success; one is bound to fall somehow. If you have failed at some point in life, deal with it. Do not complain; that is just running away from your problems. If you are not successful in your scholarship applications, suck it up and look for other available options.
And, oh, do not go around complaining that “you have no idea how it feels like not to be offered a scholarship to study abroad”. The harsh truth is: big deal, many of us don’t get the opportunity to study abroad and we are still doing well. Some of us have struggled much, much harder to get something that will enable them to study abroad.
The point is: you can make a difference for yourself. If you complain so much, you probably do not deserve the scholarship anyway. If you take the initiative to plan your future carefully, taking other factors into account, you are most likely to succeed somewhere, somehow.
Henry Yew is just a typical individual just like you. Although he aims high, he stays realistic. Sometimes he plans things too far ahead that he needs to be told to do things one at a time.