The Battle Through Application – Tan Kai Chen (UCLA ’20)

Tan Kai Chen (UCLA ’20) reflects on the battle through her application that pushed her to think about the endless opportunities that lie years ahead.


This time last year, I was still a nervous applicant, sitting in front of my laptop as I navigated through different university application websites. The whole process seemed overwhelming at first, but I’ve learnt to take one task at a time along the way.

Here are four tips I wish I had known last year and that would have made my application journey simpler and less stressful.

1. Find a counsellor who will still be easily accessible from December to January (during school holidays!)

I’ve learnt this lesson the hard way. Last December, as submission deadlines were quickly approaching, I realized that my counsellor on CommonApp had not yet submitted her Counsellor’s Recommendation. Besides submitting two Teacher’s Recommendation letters, I didn’t know that a Counsellor’s Recommendation Letter was mandatory as well. As my counsellor was overseas, I panicked and had a hard time reaching her… but luckily it all worked out in the end.

On CommonApp, changing counsellors can be a hassle. The original counsellor will have to submit a request online and it will take a few days to process. Therefore, make sure you find a suitable counsellor from the beginning and stick with them for the rest of the school year.

2. Expect a quick reply from the universities’ admission team.

Do not hesitate to email the admission teams any questions or concerns that you have on mind. Speaking from experience, the inquiries can be general or very specific to your application file.

3. On CommonApp, add all the schools that you are interested in onto your list!

For me, this was the easiest way to find out the requirement of each school’s writing supplements without getting lost in their official websites. The submission deadlines were also stated below the school name, which helped me to stay on track. Applicants can easily remove schools from their list later if they do not wish to apply any more.

However, there are some schools that are not listed on CommonApp, such as the UC schools, University of Texas and other schools that prefer their own application portals.

4. If you are applying to two or more schools within the same school system, you might not need to send your scores to each of them.

Sending standardized testing scores can get very expensive but you can find ways to save on them. For instance, when I was applying to UCLA, I had also decided to submit an application for UC Berkeley. I did not send my SAT and TOEFL scores to UC Berkeley because I soon found out that I only need to send my scores to one of the universities in the UC system. The school will eventually share my results with other schools within the system.

Overall, the most important lesson that I’ve learnt from the whole application process is to be optimistic and confident. There were moments when I started to have doubts but at times like this, I would remind myself why I had chosen to study in the United States. The application process gave me an opportunity to review my past and pushed me to think about the endless opportunities that lie ahead.

7 Things For College and Beyond – Charis Loke (Brown ’13)

Charis graduated from Brown University in 2013 with a BS in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, taught English and Visual Art for 2.5 years, and now freelances as an illustrator.



1. Work on your apps early

Yes, people pull off writing papers in a single night in college, but apps have so many different parts that you’ll regret trying to put it off till the last minute, then realizing that you forgot to get enough recommendation letters/ enter your parents’ college education details/ submit a portfolio/ etc. Know when procrastination is helpful, and when it isn’t.

2. Don’t be an ass

Don’t send mass emails to people asking for help without so much as a ‘thank you’ or personalized message. Don’t insist that you only want to go to Harvard/Yale/Princeton and that other schools aren’t worth it. Don’t be a misogynist. Don’t set up fake profiles online to celebrate your awesomeness. Don’t fake accomplishments or accolades. Frame what you’ve got in a positive way.


3. Don’t worry about school prestige

Why do people want to go to prestigious institutions? Because the other people who go there are connected to powerful networks and structures in the US and all over the world. Because doors open for you when you have certain names on your resumé. Because uncles and aunties make more audible sounds of awe when you announce where you went to school, and in Malaysia most people don’t know about those tiny liberal arts colleges anyway.

Eh, whatever floats your boat.

4. Do what will help you learn and be happy

Go to a school where you think you will be able to spend the vast majority of your time learning and engaging with subjects you are interested in. Don’t go to a school because there are a lot of Malaysians there and you’re scared of talking to people who don’t understand your Malaysian accent. Take subjects you enjoy learning about, do projects you enjoy working on, with people who challenge you and support you. Work part-time jobs where you get to improve your skills and meet interesting folk. Don’t worry too much about future employability. If you’re used to taking the initiative and pouring your time into things you genuinely care about, you will have picked up enough skills to be able to apply to most jobs. And if you have an overseas degree, good English language skills, and other transferable skills like analytical thinking and communication, you’re in the privileged top 10% of the Malaysian workforce anyway.

5. You’re going to die someday

This holds true for everyone, which leads us to the next point:

6. Help other people

You don’t have to come back to Malaysia to do so. You can help people anywhere in the world. But if you have the privilege to go to university and obtain an education, which is about broadening your mind and learning to see, then, well, you should use that to work against injustice in the ways you know how to. There will be nuances and compromises. Don’t compromise too much and for too long.

7. Capitalism/wealth inequality sucks

Use your time in university to learn why – both theoretically and in hands-on, real life scenarios. Learn how the ultra-rich in your university live. Learn how the rich in Malaysia live. Learn how the poor in both countries live. See how comfortable you are with it. Figure out how you can live in ways that resist capitalist thinking and pull. Make the most out of your time in the US, where many universities have strong activist communities and liberal leanings, to struggle with this, in the hopes that you won’t forget once you graduate and become exposed to all kinds of expectations: to keep earning and consuming more and more, to work your way into the elite, to measure up to standards which may not be your own.

Dear Past Self – Dayana (University of Pennsylvania ’17)

Dayana Mustak reflects on the beginning of her undergraduate journey, overcoming challenges and finding her way.


Dear past self,

At this point, you are petrified but so eager to learn. If what I remember about you is correct, you’re excited to soak up knowledge and run with it, but you’re also just scared that you don’t have what it takes. Well, I have to say that I’m you, three years later, and I’m still incompetent in Excel, still unsure about how to give a good presentation, still unsure of how the stock market works and still clueless about Plato. I’m sorry. But here’s what you will get from Penn…

It will hit you straight away that everyone around you is smart and driven. During orientation, all freshmen will be asked to write about an assigned reading and some people around you will raise their hands and ask for more paper. You will end up awkwardly making stuff up in your best efforts to make up a modest paragraph. That will be the first of many times you feel you fall short. I don’t want to scare you but there will be more. Professors and TAs will ask questions in class and your classmates’ hands will dart up confidently, even though you feel like you didn’t even understand the question. Some people will take six classes and you will be hustling with your four. Trust me though, you will steadily learn that sure, everyone around you is insanely brilliant, hardworking and even accomplished, but each and every one of you took a different road to get there. I know that you’re scared you won’t measure up, but you don’t always have to. You will learn that your starting line is your own and your experiences are incomparable.

The truth is, your finish line might be days, months or years behind someone else’s starting line and so college will be a hustle on most days. You will be assigned six-paged essays and people will tell you, “that’s totally fine” and that you “can definitely do it” and you will stare back, mouth agape in disbelief and confusion. You will be expected to turn in MATLAB codes for classes despite having never used the program before. You will spend days writing your first cover letter and resume. You will sit in bed at night and worry that what is expected of you is always leaps and bounds ahead of what you can do. You will worry that you are an impostor. But somehow, either through copious amounts of caffeine or sheer divine intervention (though, most likely both) you will hand in the paper, the code, the cover letter. You will make it through semester after semester, exhausted but unscathed. There will be so many oh-shit-what-the-hell-have-I-gotten-myself-into situations, and you will learn that you somehow always make your way out of them. You will learn that you always learn to find a way.

Because you have the capacity to learn, you will slowly start taking risks. You don’t have to do everything—6 classes, 5 clubs, go to the gym and fall asleep by midnight—perfectly right away, but eventually you will raise your hand in class and eventually you will manage a board of 7 people, eventually you will raise thousands of dollars for events and charities. If it seems far away from where you are now, well, good. Because you will learn to take pleasure in having a long way to go.

You won’t do it all alone, though. You will inevitably worry your way through the chaos and hurry of New Student Orientation. People will exchange phone numbers with each other and with you absent-mindedly, and people will haphazardly add each other on Facebook for a while… but that will all slow down and if you keep going out there, keep saying “hi, I’m Dayana” then by the end of all that chaos you will find yourself with friendships more rewarding than you’ve ever known. This is a college cliché—as cliché as lying down on green grass doing work on a Macbook—but lucky for you it will be true. It will be difficult to make friends initially, and you will compare it to making friends in school where you were all chucked into the same classroom and so friendships were always more effortless and convenient…but you will learn that your best relationships are ahead of you and they involve ordering pizza at 2 a.m., making snow angels on a snow day, eating burgers on the rooftop of Fresh Grocer, having a shoulder to cry on when you get your first C and feeling endlessly supported and inspired and grateful.

Yeah I guess it kinda sucks that I still have no idea what “VLOOKUP” is on Excel but you can Google that when you have to use it. The things you will learn are skills beyond what a textbook can teach you. The things you will learn are a lifetime’s endeavour. You’re learning how to learn. I know you’re eager to learn things you can use at work, things you can put on your resume, and I also know you’re scared. I’m here to say that your thirst for knowledge, your capacity for information will never be fulfilled and you will find at every corner that there will always be more you could have learned. But you will be better at feeling scared, you will feel more comfortable with not knowing everything and you will be more equipped to figure things out as you go.

I’m so excited for you.

Future Dayana

Why the US? – Caroline Lee (New York University ’19)

Caroline Lee is a rising sophomore at New York University, studying Computer Science. We asked her a couple of questions regarding her decision to study in the US and her first-year experience.

1. How did you find out about studying in the US? 

I applied to both the UK and the US because I wanted to keep my options open. After researching extensively about their differences, I found that the U.S education system evaluated its applicants with more fluidity and flexibility. All UK universities have a minimum requirement for grades, and it is explicitly stated in UCAS; whereas the U.S., while still taking grades into account as an important factor, also considers a variety of other aspects of an applicant. This fluidity carries in the education system itself, allowing you to more or less construct your own course to suit your needs. This means being able to choose your own classes, which professors to take it with, and when you want to take it. Most times you can even take classes outside of your major. As a person who likes to explore and try a little bit of everything before making a decision, an American education is perfect for me simply because of it is flexibility.

2. What made you decide to study in the US? 

The extent of flexibility: You can choose when you want to graduate as long as you fulfill the number of credits required. You can take time to explore different classes because you do not have to declare your major right away (you typically have to declare sometime towards the end of your second year). Some universities even allow their students to design their own interdisciplinary program (customize their own degree), and even have schools for it – like the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at NYU.

3. How did your first year in the US go? 

I went to NYU wanting to major in Economics and minor in real estate, but I took one introductory Computer Science class and decided to pursue that instead. The pace of NYC is like no other. During my initial period in university, I was completely taken aback by their work culture as it differed from anything I had ever experienced in Malaysia. For example, deadlines for assignments are typically 2 days from their start date. I was also surprised by how much my professors expected of me even as a freshman. It is a much busier lifestyle but definitely also a more productive one.4)

What’s the biggest takeaway you got studying there?

I am of the opinion that no matter where you go, it depends on how you make use of what you have around you. My biggest takeaway after studying in the U.S is to try absolutely everything you can. In classes, engage in discussions as much as you can, you will never know what you could learn from it. Outside of classes, engage with the city/town/campus that you live in – if you study engineering, go for engineering conferences, meet other people from other universities, and network as much as you can. After all, you are not going to travel thousands miles away from home for nothing!

Why the US? – Paggie Tan (New York University ’20)

Paggie Tan is a rising freshman at New York University ’20. Here, she shares why she chose to study in the United States, and how that means she has complete freedom to define her own academic route. 



I remember the exact moment I chose to study in the U.S. over reading law in the UK: I had just turned 16, nestled on my couch, fresh off a shower with a turban wrapped around my head, and had about 10 tabs open on different American universities (UCLA, NYU, Boston University, etc. you get the idea). I was rambang mata; I found myself so lost in the ‘fascination’ of even being able to study in America. At an embryonic stage of decision making, I thought that the notion seemed like a far-fetched pipe dream as I live in a relatively small town and that going for it would mean that I will be the first in my entire family to head overseas to study, what more to the U.S. Choosing to do so was a very rare instance where I come from but I was determined. Now, this is not going to be a rambling of what I did in the years to come but rather an answer to a question, one that I still owe myself.

Why did I choose to pursue my tertiary education in the States and not anywhere else?

First, it is the flexibility of the curriculum that provides room for academic control – I can choose what I learn in ways I feel prepare myself for the future best. The mantra of ‘I don’t know where I am going, but I am on my way’ is linear to the education system that is earnest in helping me discover what it is that I am passionate about. No longer will I be pedantically retaining facts in my brain (sometimes, not even knowing what they mean) only to routinely regurgitate them out in the examination hall. For the first time in my scholastic life, I have the power to learn instead of study.  

It is also the different opportunities that the U.S. offers, both socially and intellectually. In the U.S., pursuing an education is more than the books you read or the lectures you attend. It’s also about the things you do and the people you meet. As a two-time USAPPS participant, I have had the great pleasure of meeting a lot of people who you can tell have so many colorful experiences. Their stories have motivated me to reinstate my faith in choosing the U.S. For instance, the exciting activities that happen around Yan Jie’s campuses (Case Western Reserve University) such as a zombie-nerf-run fusion, the hands-on applications of what they have learnt in classes (Pang Fei got to inject a worm with Alzheimer’s at Oberlin!) and the places they go (Kah Yee is going to 7 different countries with Minerva. SEVEN). I have learnt how, through the stories, that these moments will change you in ways that cannot be explained and I want that for myself. I chose the U.S. because it is simply an education that cannot be taught – it has to be experienced by yourself.

It was also the honest application process. Throughout the development of my application, I was constantly questioning my identity and reflecting on all the people, places, and things that have shaped me – from choosing which teachers who will be writing my letters of recommendation to the infamous essay-editing. It provided me a tiny window to all the maturing that I will undergo in the States and I liked what I saw (though I did cry once or twice.. and by once or twice, I mean maybe a couple of hundred times). Unprecedentedly, I am more than numerical figures and a bunch of alphabets. Who I am as a person actually matters in my academics. In fact, it is a part of my academics.

Though there are probably a thousand better answers out there as to why one would choose to study in the U.S. but these are mine. I’m starting this September and of course, I am excited and anxious at the same time. Though nobody can guarantee me anything, my decision to study in the U.S. can guarantee me an enriching, eye-opening, and fulfilling 4 years of my life.

Dear Past Self – Yan Jie (Case Western Reserve ’18)

Yan Jie (Case Western Reserve University ’18) looks back on the twists and turns in his unique journey to where he is now, finding that things weren’t really so bad after all.



Dear former self,

A month after SPM ended, you enrolled in the Cambridge A-Levels program at Taylor’s College Subang Jaya. Life was great for three months until the release of SPM results. It was really disappointing because you were that close to obtaining the bursary award from the MOE. You tried for other scholarships, stayed positive and crossed your fingers. Some companies rejected you in the process, but you were lucky to secure an offer from Petronas. However, the line “Country of study: USA” on the offer letter kept you thinking for quite some time. To accept or not to accept, that was the challenge.

You had ongoing talks with your parents as you busily weighed the pros and cons of the offer. Truth be told, something deep in your heart was cringing at the thought of accepting the offer, for you were convinced that it was possible to apply for UK scholarships after the completion of your A-Levels. The verdict was decided in three days: Uncle Sam beckoned. It was surely one of the hardest decisions in your brief existence of 18 years, as there were so many factors to consider besides the scholarship itself. You told yourself that it would be a game changer. You had little, possibly zero, insight on what the future had in store for you.

Petronas then sent you to INTEC Education College for the American Degree Foundation Program (ADFP) prior to attending university. From this point onwards, you will garner a decent idea of how the American education system operates – assignments, papers, presentations, quizzes and tests. While you may be busy coping with the weekly assignments, you will have to prepare for admission exams and initiate the college application processes. The personal statements will leave you pondering about life, how you arrived at that stage in life and, ultimately, your future. “Show, don’t just tell,” will become one of the phrases that constantly ring inside your mind while you craft and edit your essays. You will be extremely grateful for all the kind souls and lovely individuals who will proofread your essays and provide constructive feedbacks. Without them, your admission essays would have been a total wreck.

Moving forward, the unique experiences in the USA will broaden your horizons and toughen your character. Talk about walking in the frigid weather of -40 degrees Celsius in spite of frostbite warnings, cheering with the Cavalier’s home crowd during NBA games at the Q, carrying Nerf guns around campus during Humans versus Zombies week and spending your Thanksgiving with your American buddy plus family. You will learn to appreciate how the vibrant campus and the unique college ecosystem weaves fascinating memories into your rigorous and demanding academic schedule. College will be so much more than just papers, research and exams. You will grit and grind, but still enjoy every single moment of it. Definitely.

Looking back upon the journey that I have taken to arrive at where I currently stand today, I’m sure the pathway that you have now chosen will be a pleasant trip, albeit one laden with surprises. The American education system has heightened my consciousness regarding the importance of holistic personal development and continuous team efforts to achieve success – I’m sure the American education will enrich your character too. Try to follow where your heart leads (if possible) because at the end of the day everything is still about you and your goals. Learn to love life, and life will love you too.

Yours truly,

Yan Jie

How To: The Road Signs to America – Yi-Jet (University of Massachusetts Amherst ’16)

Yi-Jet (University of Massachusetts Amherst ’16) lends a little levity to the college application process, reminding us all that they’re just applications.



The Road Signs to America

*Fires up the monitor and goes to <insert university of choice> page. Clicks on “Admissions”. Be overwhelmed by the entire process.*

You know nothing college kids. *read this with Jon Snow’s GoT accent*


Don’t worry if that happens to you because it certainly DID happen to ME! Information and deadlines come flooding through your brain, you’re like “what the *%#%!^$ is going on here?!”. So here is a quick How-To-Apply-To-My-University-Ah process.

File Your Documents Appropriately. This gets overlooked most of the time, or rather ALMOST EVERY SINGLE TIME. Gather your necessary certificates and/or transcripts from secondary school onwards, make several photocopies, and arrange them in a folder. Why, you would ask? This concludes almost half of the application battle. It also saves time and eases your mind on the other aspects of application. Don’t be using the famous phrases like “Di, Mi! Where are all my certs and everything leh? I can’t find it leh”. Most of the time secondary school documents would suffice from Year 11 A.K.A. Form 5, but top schools would sometimes require documents from Year 9 A.K.A. Form 3 onwards.  

Conduct and Finalize University Choices. You’ve heard this from your friends, your parents, your classroom instructors, your advisors, your family, etc. This might sound like an old looping tape, but it is important. After you have found the schools you want to attend or are interested in, list them all down. Spend a couple of hours going through their admission processes and other items such as housing, meal plans, etc. Shoot them an email if you have any inquiries, although you might have to wait several days for a reply (few hours if you’re lucky). Just remember, there is no harm in applying to many schools even if any may seem WAY out of your league.

The “Talk” – *drum rolls* Here it comes, the moment of truth. The moment when you talk to your parents about obtaining an education in America. The usual responses are “aiya why so far la”, “hah?! U.S.?! Why not Australia or U.K.?”, and last but not least “U.S. not good wan”. It kind of feels like you’re stuck in a crashing plane. Sometimes your parents may not be on the same page as you on your perception towards American education, but they will support you nonetheless if you show strong determination and that you know what you are getting yourself into.

Common Application (CommonApp). It’s just a website, calm down. Over 500 Universities from 47 different states in America accept applications via the Common Application website, so go and create an account, ASAP! It’s easy to configure and may be cheaper than applying via the university’s own website application at times. All you have to do is write ONE essay. We’ve been writing countless essays throughout our life, it can’t be THAT bad.

Acceptance. I’m not talking about being accepted to your dream school(s) but accepting rejection. If you apply to your dream school(s) and received an acceptance letter, congratulations! But what if you don’t? Some of us are able take the rejection and move on without second thoughts. However, not everyone is the same. Some people might feel left out, like a let down, worthless, or that all their effort was a waste. We need to learn to accept that there are several things that we can’t control, and this is one of the few. I applied to over 100 internships in America but only received ONE call back, and it was a no. It was indeed tough to let go, but you need to learn how to do so or you’ll self-destruct (not like a grenade). Accept rejection and pick yourself up then move forward. You’re strong and your future still awaits!

That’s all from me. File your documents properly, do your research, have “The Talk”, create a CommonApp account, and lastly accept whatever comes your way. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors, and I hope to see whoever that’s reading this in the USAPPS workshop this coming August or if you ever plan to visit Amherst!

Take care,

Jet :)

How to: Apply for Financial Aid – Chantelle Lim (University of Rochester ’19)

Chantelle, a recipient of a merit scholarship, a research grant and financial aid from five colleges, will be a freshman at the University of Rochester. Here, the Penangite who will be majoring in Biomedical Engineering shares her tips on Financial Aid applications.


Hi! My name is Chantelle and I’m very excited to set foot on the beautiful River Campus and experience 6 months of snow-covered upstate New York (we are ranked the 3rd snowiest college in the US!). I grew up in Penang and I spend most of my time playing the violin in symphony orchestras, running cross-country, and playing netball.

Navigating the financial aid system can be one of the most important and sometimes difficult part of your college application. Based on my experience, here are the 9 things you need to know about applying for financial aid as an international freshman.


1. Types of scholarships

There are two types of scholarships/financial aid: Merit-based scholarship and Need-based aid.

  • Merit-based scholarship: awarded based on your academic/ extra-curricular ability. It can range from a few thousand dollars up to full tuition.
  • Need-based aid: awarded based on your financial need. It can comprise of grants, work-study and loans

Most of the public colleges only provide merit-based scholarships for international students; Private colleges either provide one or both. Do check their financial aid website for more details.

To get an overall idea on the number of freshman receiving aid and the average aid amount each year, you can refer to each colleges’ Common Data Set. The common data set is a annual survey completed by colleges, which contains a section on financial aid that might help applicants based on freshman statistics.

The section contains info on: Need-Based and Non-Need Based Financial Aid Offered in $’s, Number of Enrolled Students and Average Aid Awarded (Need and Non-Need Based), Financial Aid Filing Deadlines, Types of Aid Available, Scholarships and Grant Available, Criteria used in Awarding Institutional Aid

You can also visit– It shows a list of which colleges offer aid to the largest numbers of international students.

2. Admission

When applying for financial aid for some colleges, be aware that it will affect your chances of admission. At most times, international students who apply for financial aid will be placed and  reviewed as a separate group. This group is highly competitive because funding is limited.

There are two types of college admissions in this case:


  • Need-blind admission: applicants’ financial resources are NOT taken into consideration when deciding whether to offer them a place
  • Need-aware admission: applicants’ financial resources are taken into consideration when deciding whether to offer them a place.

There are currently only 6 colleges in the US that are need-blind and meets the full financial need of international students: Harvard University, Amherst College, Dartmouth College, Princeton University, Yale University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Here is a link to the top 10 colleges that award international students the most financial aid. Application to these colleges are rather competitive but it is still worth the try!

However, College rankings, reputations and ‘need-blind’ admissions should not be dominant in the process.

Ultimately, the emphasis should be on finding the right “fit” college to put yourself in the best position to find success both in the college admissions process and the undergraduate years that follow.

3. CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE®

Most colleges participate in the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE®. Although the CSS profile for Fall 2016 applicants are only live on October 1st junior year, you can get a heads start by accessing the 2015 financial aid forms now to get an idea of what type of forms and details are needed. Normally, there are only minor changes in the forms each year.

Sending the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE® does require a fee. It costs $25 for the initial application and $16 for each additional application.

If the fee proves to be a financial hardship, you can try emailing your financial aid officer at each college for any alternative forms.

From my previous experience, some colleges do provide an alternative application form for you to fill in and send it to them at no cost.

For those colleges that do not participate in CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE®, normally, there is an in-house application form. There are also some colleges that require both the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE and an in-house application form.


The Institutional Documentation Service (IDOC) collects additional documents such as income statements and tax returns to finalize your financial aid package from the college. Not all colleges participate in IDOC and some of them only require applicants to submit tax-return information to IDOC after they have been accepted. However, there are a handful of colleges that do require applicants to submit tax-return information to IDOC when applying. Do remember to read the financial aid webpage of each college to determine when applicants are required to submit tax-return information to IDOC when applying.

Unlike the CSS/Financial Aid profile, there is no fee required for IDOC.

5. Deadlines

Take note of deadlines as different colleges have different deadlines for submitting financial aid forms. Submitting forms after the deadline may cause delay in notifying you of your aid package and sometimes, late applicants may obtain a smaller aid package as funding is limited.

Always remember to check each college’s website for the specific deadline on all the forms.

For merit scholarships for international students, some colleges have deadlines as early as December 1st Eg. Boston University and University of Southern California.

Some colleges only offer merit scholarships/ financial aid to early decision international applicants only. The deadline may be as early as end of November.

However, there are also some colleges that do not offer merit scholarships/ financial to early decision international applicants Eg. Rice University

  • Deadline for CSS form: Each college has their own priority filling deadline, which can range from November to December for early decision/ early action or January to March for regular decision.
  • Deadline for IDOC form: Each college has their own deadline. Usually around March.

6. Bank statements and tax returns

Coming from Malaysia where Bahasa Malaysia is our official language, bank statements, income statements and tax-return information have to be translated into English.

For Fall 2016 applicants, most of the colleges require documents of year 2015 when submitting the financial aid application.

7. Appealing


In early April, you will receive acceptance letters from colleges. If the aid package is not substantial, do not fret! It is not the end of the world! Colleges DO allow applicants to appeal for more financial aid and financial aid officers are very understanding of your situation. Do remember to express your intent of attending the college (if it is one of your top choices) in the letter.

To have an estimate of your financial aid package beforehand, you can utilize the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) Calculator.

The Cost of Attendance (COA) – Expected Family Contribution (EFC) = Financial Need

8. Additional financial aid forms

Some colleges have college-specific financial aid forms to fill in, so do remember to check their website for additional forms such as: The International Student Certification of Finances.

Again, as different colleges have their own deadlines, I would suggest having a calendar of deadlines to avoid missing any submission dates.

9. External funding

There are a handful of Malaysian scholarships available. Here are some of the links:

My final tip: ALWAYS START EARLY! The application for financial aid can last for months: from October to March. It’s hard. It’s complicated BUT it’s worth it!

Good luck to all future applicants!

Best wishes

Chantelle :)

Why the US? – Syairah (University of Texas at Austin ’15)

Syairah Ridzuan (University of Texas at Austin ‘15) finds a shift in focus in her academic journey: discovery and learning over letter grades.



For the first eighteen years of my life, I never dreamed of visiting the United States, much less living in that country. In fact, I knew nothing about the other side of the world, and I had no desire to learn more about the countries on that continent. My focus was fixed on Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM); it was (and still is, sadly) the gatekeeper that largely determines the career paths of many Malaysian youths. Not getting straight A’s will significantly lower your chances of admission to the top academic programs in local universities. Hence, my focus had to be singular at that time. And I came through – with results that met societal expectations of academic excellence. I managed to secure a scholarship that covered my entire undergraduate studies in the United States.

Whoa, what? The United States?

Nobody said anything about studying there.

I thought I had applied for a scholarship to study in the UK.

Yep, that was how I reacted after reading my scholarship offer letter. From that moment onwards, the learning curve began to steepen. Not only did I have to learn about a different higher education system, I also had to learn about other, equally important matters like the culture in the US. I was going to do more than study in the United States, I was going to live in the country for the next four years of my life. On my own. It was both an exciting and a scary prospect for me.

And I’m glad I went with it.

The University of Texas at Austin has taught me more than just economics models and theories; it has guided me to discover more about my interests in computer science, architecture, psychology, and theatre. More importantly, UT has taught me that academic excellence is important but not paramount in my life. Rather, the institution has demonstrated to me the importance of giving back to the community, whether it is through conducting research or doing weekly volunteer work. Good grades don’t matter that much. They become mere alphabets on a piece of paper called a transcript that attest to your ability in certain fields and help you land a job that hopefully pays you more than enough for you to survive. Apart from that, those letters don’t say much about you as an individual beyond the realm of professionalism. Therefore, strive for both academic and personal growth.

The United States will be a fine place for you to grow up and strengthen your own roots. Challenge your beliefs in all its forms, Compare them with the foreign culture you’re exposed to in your university and examine them in a new light. You’ll come out a whole lot stronger – as a person and as a believer in whatever faith, ideology, or cultural practices that you live by.

Dear Past Self — Chern Wei (Cornell ’16)

Chern Wei cheers on those daunted by the college application process, reminding them of their ultimate goal and the wonderful people supporting them.


Dear former self,

You will soon be swarmed with numerous tasks on your plate – studying for your SATs and finals, chasing after recommendation letters, translating one document after another from Malay into English, completing various forms, and devoting countless hours to attempted self-reflection. To accommodate for this pandemonium, there will be waking up at odd hours. There will be stress and sleepless nights. There will also be many startling split seconds, like when you are hit hard with the realization of potentially having missed an important deadline.

Let me get this straight: the path down college applications will not be an easy one to traverse. Expect your composure to be shaken regularly. Expect minor setbacks. You will feel like a recluse and will often believe that no one understands what you are going through. You will succumb to so much negativity, and you will want to give up on many, many occasions.


You will remember college applications being a painstakingly tiring process – but that will not be all you remember of the turbulent weeks to come. When you reflect upon this seemingly bitter point in life, you will also remember the overwhelming amount of unwavering support and love from your family members, who may not fully understand what you are stacked against, yet will continue to remain behind your back at any cost. You will remember the comfort you find in friends, in both those you’ve grown up with and those you’ve recently met, when you exchange stories of struggles with them on Facebook. You will remember the teachers who willingly devoted their time to your cause, even when they had no obligation whatsoever to meet you outside school hours in Starbucks, or to respond to an email at two in the morning. You will absolutely remember how surprised you were when your response to some of the simplest essay prompts did not surface easily. What makes you happy? What matters most to you in life? What one word defines you? You will find yourself investing days and nights into answering these questions insightfully.

To call each attempt in doing so a success would be a blatant lie. You will countlessly end up with hundreds of words barely resonating with your conscience. Still, in spite of any discouragement, remember: never settle for less than your best. Continue embarking on that relentless journey of self-discovery, and you will eventually find the right narratives to share in your application.

For the times when your patience runs dangerously thin, recall that nothing desirable comes easy – definitely not the acceptance letter into your dream school. The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all. Persevere! If all else seems to dwindle and fail, recollect your past successes, both big ones and small ones, and the price you paid in seizing them. The sweat. The tears. The time. Harness the motivation from your past when the one for the future seems too far away. If you feel distress or disappointment creeping over you, regain yourself quickly. Never let those feelings overstay their welcome during this crucial period of time; they will be highly counterproductive to your efforts. Remember to stay as calm as possible. Remember to smile. Above all, remind yourself ceaselessly on how blessed you are to have this opportunity to begin with, and to be able to share it with the ones you love – be very, very thankful.

Know that I will always be rooting for you. Best of luck!

With warmest regards,
Chern Wei

Privacy Preference Center