EARLIER this month, Malaysians were rocked by the news of a Malaysian born girl by the name of Cassandra Hsiao getting accepted to further her studies in all 8 Ivy League universities.

In case you don’t know what is an Ivy League university, well according to the Princeton campus guide, it is a term generally used to refer to eight universities (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Yale) that have had common interests in scholarship as well as in athletics.

Over the years, the term Ivy League universities had become synonymous with academic excellence and prestige, boasting numerous big wigs as their alumni or their former students such as Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Jack Kerouac, and plenty more.

So how did a ‘first generation immigrant” as US media referred to Cassandra, get all of the prestigious Ivy League universities to accept her as a prospective student? The answer, was her college admissions essay.



It is widely reported and accepted that along with her great examination scores, her essay was the one that made her application outstanding, as it encapsulates the experience of learning English as an immigrant, and perfectly shows off who she is as a person.

This is what American universities stress on in their college admission process, the need to look at a student as more than their results, and instead, looking at a student in a more rounded way.

Which begs the question, is it time for the Malaysian college admission system to undergo reforms?

As most Malaysians who underwent the tedious process of applying to our public universities know, the process entails an online application form, then months and months of waiting, until you were notified in the same website, whether you were accepted or not. Except for some courses, there will be no interviews, no phone calls, or anything. No human interaction, until you were accepted.

To the universities, you are nothing, but a piece of paper. Your results literally define who you are, and your worth. Which is why Malaysian Digest decided to reach out to several academicians and professionals and see what they think of the current system.


Local Public Universities Only Look At The Results

In order to understand the current system, Malaysian Digest contacted En Kamarul Azlan Bin Mohd Nasir, a Senior Lecturer from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), and part of the Board of Admissions for the university.

When asked regarding UTM’s admission policy, he admits that the university rarely uses anything other than their results as a measure of prospective students, and the admission policy changes depending on which courses you apply to.

“Usually the university’s admission policy depends on your results from your previous institution, like your GPA from your matriculation programme, STPM, or from your diploma course.

“It also depends on which course are you applying to, for example for Civil Engineering you need to have a 3.3 GPA, but for Mechanical Engineering you need to have 3.85 GPA.” Kamarul said to Malaysian Digest.

Kamarul Azlan conceded that this method is not perfect, as they are looking at students only based on their results, and nothing else. But said that this is something that they cannot avoid due to the sheer size of applicants every year.

“Of course, we would like to interview all our applicants and ask them to submit an essay for us to review them holistically, but every year all public universities receive thousands of applications, and its just not possible for us to check them one by one.

“So now, we are doing the best we can with what we have. It is not a question of willing or not, but its a question of manpower. We simply don’t have the manpower.” Kamarul added.

He also addded that one more factor is that Universities in the USA have students from all around the world applying to them, so it makes more sense for them to be more selective and exclusive, as they have the ability to select them according to the institution’s requirements.

“It is always good to have well rounded students in a University. But if we make it too hard for students to apply to a university, the number of students will dwindle.” said Kamarul.

In his youth, Kamarul Azlan actually furthered his studies in the United States himself, so he had first hand experience with their college admission programme and their education programme.

When asked whether he had to submit a college admission essay himself, he said during his time he did not have to, but he did have to sit for a placement test for mathematics and science.

“During my time, engineering students did not have to submit an essay, but we need to sit for another placement test for Mathematics and Science.

“But I understand the need for an essay, because a well rounded individual will almost always make for a good worker and a functioning cog in our social machinery. In fact I believe that if we can educate our students to be more well rounded as a person, our national unemployment rates will start going down,” remarks Kamarul.

Although some people believe that an essay might be important for some courses, it is redundant and unnecessary for technical courses like engineering. But Kamarul Azlan believes that the contrary is true.

“A college admission essay might be beneficial for all parties, even for technical courses. Years of experience has taught me that although technical abilities are important in engineering, ethics, and soft skills are paramount,” Kamarul concluded.


“Writing Skills Will Be A Bonus For You To Shine In Your Career,” Says Engineer


This is a sentiment that is echoed by Shafiq Fhadly Bin Mahmud 32, an Associate Consultant and Petroleum Engineering Advisor for an international oil and gas company.

Shafiq, who graduated with a Bachelor Degree in Mechanical specialized in Petroleum Engineering from Universiti Teknologi Petronas, have also worked at many prominent oil and gas companies in Malaysia and the Middle East.

And as one of the leading young professionals in his field, he remarked that it is ‘absurd’ to believe that a holistic view towards prospective students are not needed for technical courses.

“That is absurd. A good technical professional is not just about mastering mathematics and sciences and do your daily routine, but also the ability to write a good reports for stakeholders submission

“The ability to produce good technical papers to be presented in any international conferences; which will be archived for academic and industrial references requires good writing skills,” said Shafiq, when contacted by Malaysian Digest.

“The writing skills will be a bonus for you to shine in your career and will place you in greater heights. Believe me.” the 32 year old stressed.

As one of the leading professionals in Malaysia, Shafiq shared his opinions on the current Malaysian admission programme with Malaysian Digest, and how he applied to his University during his time.

“I actually had to submit an essay for my scholarship, but not for my university application. In fact, most sponsoring parties like MARA, JPA and Khazanah require students to write an essay as part of the application process.

“But for my University application, I was only required to fill in an application form, and come for an interview,” said Shafiq.

Shafiq believes that rather than a college admission essay, it is more beneficial for students to sit for an interview for a university to get a more well-rounded look at their students.

“In the US, due to the scale of the applications and the geographical constraints as the US is a huge country, it is difficult to conduct face to face interviews, so essay submission will be the best way to assess their prospects.

“But in Malaysia, most of the private universities meet their potential candidates in a face-to-face structured interview process. I believe this system has more merit than the essay, thus should be maintained as it is.

“But for public universities, I don’t know why but they do not carry out interviews or anything. Every application is submitted online, and I think that this process is flawed.

“Perhaps if they are not able to conduct face to face interviews with their prospective students, they should implement the admission essay so that they can get a better look at their prospective students as a person.” said Shafiq.

Shafiq also stressed that although some people think that our admssion system is good as it is and needs no change, he believes that in order for Malaysians University to rise in ranking, a change in our admission system needs to change.

“ In order for our universities to rise in the eyes of the world, I believe that a change in our admission system is needed. Because with the current system, some potential students are being overlooked,” said Shafiq.


“It Doesn’t Matter How Good Your English Is–You Can Tell A Story In Simple Words And Still Touch People’s Hearts!”


Now that we have an idea of how our Malaysian universities admission system work, we need to look at how the US system works, and what we can take from it and implement to our own universities.

And who better to explain it to us than the girl who got into all 8 Ivy League Universities herself, Cassandra Hsiao.


Cassandra Hsiao


When asked about her essay, she said that actually the essay wasn’t supposed to be her college essay at all, but instead she wrote it as a memoir to show how it is like at her home.

“I didn’t intend for it to be my college essay, but rather just a creative memoir showcasing a slice of life at home. It is simply about the language inside the house–the way we communicate inside the house is different than the way we communicate outside the house.

“It goes beyond the literal language of immigrants and into the universal language of love.” Cassandra said.

Cassandra also offered her thoughts on the differences between Malaysian college admission system and USA’s, and she says that she feels that the USA system is better, as it recognizes that a student might be talented in other things, and not just examinations.

“The holistic approach is something I very much appreciate. Every part of your application–not just your grades and scores–is an important factor, as well as your environment.

“The holistic approach recognizes that there are different talents in different areas. You do not have to be the picture perfect A+ student to succeed.” Cassandra said.

Cassandra also added that while in Malaysia top scoring students are looked upon highly, in America they look for a more rounded person. Students are encouraged to pursue their passions, and do activities outside of the classroom.

“ In America we are encouraged to pursue passions outside of academics as well.

“ Extracurriculars show admissions officers their passions, what they value, and the qualities students possess whether that is creativity, dedication, compassion, critical thinking, leadership and more.” Cassandra added.

But Cassandra conceded that although the American system is very good, it is not without its flaws.

“Common Applications centralizes majority of the applications into one site. This makes it easier, but one criticism students have about the system is that it is very expensive.” Cassandra remarked.

All in all, Cassandra believes that even when a college says that an admission essay is optional, students should always send an essay along with their application.

“Even when a college says an essay is “optional,” I would strongly suggest students to write it anyway.

“ This gives admissions officer a fuller idea of who you are as a person–it tells them something that grades and scores cannot say. The essay can demonstrate how you express yourself to the world and also show your intellectual curiosity and readiness to engage in the college community.” Cassandra stressed.

The important thing according to Cassandra, is that students should not look at it as a burden, but instead enjoy it and write from their hearts.

“This is students’ chance to show their personality and say whatever they’d like to share with readers. It doesn’t matter how good your English is–you can tell a story in simple words and still touch people’s hearts!”

Perhaps with all these being said, it is time for a serious look at our college admission systems, and consider if its getting the best we can from our students.

After all, there are too many cases of our students being spurned away from our public universities in favor of students with picture perfect results.

Maybe it is time for a change.





Source : Malaysian Digest                   http://buff.ly/2oaknzo

Photo : ocregister.com

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