FAQ on American colleges

Hello there, since it’s that time of the year again where the Form 5ers should be finished with their SPM, STPMers just finished their STPM?, and the time when the application date for American colleges roll closer and closer, I shall write on the American education ok?

Let me remind you that whatever information I have here is based on what I know and my personal experience. They may not be true so I advise you to seek further resources to answer your doubts and not rely on me alone okay?

What is liberal arts? Do you only study arts like drawing type of art?

Nope, in liberal arts colleges, you get to take courses from various disciplines (in fact, you have to!). For example, you’d have to take classes from science, math, humanities and social sciences. That’s the fun of being in a liberal arts college cause you don’t have to limit yourself to only one specialty! For people like me who don’t have a clue on what they wanna major in, it’ll be a waste of money to splurge on say, going to UK to study engineering cause what if I hate it? Then there’s no turning back!

That was the main reason why I considered studying in the states, cause I’m super indecisive and I want to try every single thing before I decide on my real major. Not only that, studying in a liberal arts college gives education a more holistic approach and makes you a more well-rounded student cause duh, taking classes from 4 different disciplines obviously beat someone who only takes classes based on their major right! Besides, it’s so much fun to try different things every semester (while still concentrating on your major, of course). For me, I’m thinking of majoring in Economics but I also like art/theater a lot, so now I can take classes just to satisfy my curiosity and if I’m not good in it, then I don’t major in it!

Another major difference between a liberal arts college and a normal university is a lib arts college caters to only undergraduates where else a university offers undergrad degree, masters, phd etc. Liberal arts colleges are very much smaller compared to big universities, which is a great advantage since we have much smaller classes and better interaction between students and professors. A typical class will have say, 15-20 students and the faculty to student ratio is usually around 8-1! Also, if you don’t already know, big universities like Yale or Harvard also offer lib arts as their undergrad degree. Students from good lib arts colleges usually continue their masters etc at very prominent universities too, so don’t ya worry about that!

Ok ok I didn’t read all that, all I want to know is how much is it to study in the states? IS IT EXPENSIVE? CAN I GET A SCHOLARSHIP? (capsed cause it’s a super popular question)

Now, now hold your horses! Studying in the states is rather expensive yes, but it’s extremely affordable too! Ok now don’t go “what? expensive but affordable??” yet, lemme explain.

First of all, the cost of studying in a private lib art college is say, about $35-45,000 a year which includes everything from tuition fees to room and boarding. Yes, that translates to (takes calculator), about RM115-150,000!!!!! OMG DAMN KAO EXPENSIVE AND YOU SAY IT’S AFFORDABLE AH YOU WANT ME TO BEAT YOU WITH MY CHOPSTICK AH! wtf. No no listen first! Most colleges in America (private colleges i mean, not too sure about states colleges) are extremely generous and yes, there are scholarships!

The term we will talk about here is not scholarship but financial aid. Colleges in US give lotsa financial aid to students who need them, yes even to international students. What is financial aid? Fin aid can be need-based, which means the college will calculate how much you can afford and then pay the rest for you! YES! They will calculate and come up with a package that includes grant (which you don’t have to repay = FREE), loan (which you have to repay in the next 10 years maybe) and maybe work study (like me work in the kitchen haha). So, if you really can’t afford to pay much, not to worry cause you only have to pay what you can afford!

However, need-based also means that if you apply for financial aid, your chance of getting admitted might be severely jeopardized. Yes, nothing comes free you see. If you’re as smart as the next person but he offers to pay more than you, then the college will obviously choose to admit him over you. So the best thing to do is either be VERY extremely super smart until no one can be as smart as you (smart doesn’t mean get all As only, which I will explain later), or be very rich wtf. Anyway there’re also some schools which are need-blind, which means all the applicants are measured on the same grounds, whether you apply for fin aid or not. (only the ivies are need-blind to international students, I think)

WAH so good!! Where do I start? What should I do now I just finished my SPM! 

Erm okay, sadly to say, students who just finished their SPM are not qualified to go US wtf. No lah. Actually, to study in the states, you need at least 12 years of prior education. For us Malaysians, we only have 11 years so therefore, you have to go ahead and take some sort of pre-u course for now. A-level is widely-recognized so take it but beware, for A level sucks to the max wtf. The worse year of my life haha. Oh, actually you can go ahead and apply even if you just finished SPM but from what I know, only EXTREMELY good applicants will be admitted if you don’t have your 12th year.

So okay, you took A level/SAM/STPM, what should you do now? Google USnews best colleges. Ok I know everyone sure damn lazy so I did that for you here. (opens in new window) From there, you’ll see the ranking of all the colleges in the US. Click on it and you’ll get basic info of the colleges and the college website. The best way to know about one college is to visit its website. You have no idea how many college websites I’ve been to last year. Clue: more than 50 less than 52. haha.

So many colleges, how to see!!!

First of all, ask yourself this. Do you want a huge university or do you prefer a smaller college? If you prefer a big one, click on Top National Universities. If you prefer a small one, click the lib arts one instead.

Wow, still got 100+ leh, how to see so many!

Just click on the college name and you’ll see some basic info on the college. From there you can eliminate colleges that don’t fit into your criteria. Let’s say you’re a city person, then you can eliminate those colleges in rural areas etc. To know if the college is right for you, do visit their websites cause they’ll tell you more. Only you yourself can choose the college that is right for you and seriously, every single college is different! Some colleges may be stronger in Science and etc. So make sure you research properly before choosing which ones to apply to!

That is so complicated! Okay I think I know which colleges I want. Now, what do I do?

Ok the application process is the HARDEST part. Seriously I’m not trying to scare anyone here but it is seriously damn kao hard, hard until I almost killed myself when applying ok! No kidding! Applying to a college in US is not just about filling simple forms etc, you have to seriously write an essay, get testimonials, get your form 3-current grades blablabla damn a lot to do. If you want me to write, write until tomorrow also haven’t finish wtf. But here’s an overview:

-you’ll need to fill in the common application first. Common app is the most important thing cause usually, people will apply to about 5 or more colleges to secure their chances of getting into a college and it’ll be tedious if you have to fill the same things over and over again. Common app does that for you. Fill in once, send to all the colleges you want.

-in common app, you’ll need to write your personal essay which is super important.

-do your SAT. Oh shit I do realize that you’re too late for that now. Sorry looks like you have to apply next year for 2009’s admission. I know damn potong steam. Anyway SAT is a standardized test that you MUST do to apply to any college in US. However, some colleges like MY college realizes that SAT is bullshit so you don’t have to do SAT to apply to MY college. Hurrah cause SAT sucks to the max seriously.

So how do I stand out from the rest? I got 15 A1s and straight As for A-level, do you think I can get admitted into Harvard/Yale/MIT?

*looks down quietly cause I’m not in Harvard/Yale/MIT wtf

Ok grades are really important but other parts of your application are as important as well. I’m not kidding when I say colleges here look for extremely well-rounded students. (When JPA/MARA/Petronas say that, they’re lying. Yes, that’s what they are, a bunch of liars *sour)

You need to have consistent grades and not just ok grades for Form3-5 and suddenly very good grades for SPM. You also need to write a very good personal essay so they can tell what sort of person you are. Please don’t write something like how you gain insight of other people’s sufferings etc when you visit a poor country, or boast about how good a leader you are cause everyone will write that kinda thing as well. Your testimonials from teachers must also be good and NOT generic. You must be well-rounded in all aspects and must be unique.

So demanding! How long did you take to finish your application?

I only applied to two colleges but it took me forever! Like about one month to prepare all my materials and another month to make sure everything was ok.

Hmm..but what if I really don’t have money at all but really want to study in the states? Should I do ADP?

I don’t recommend you doing ADP if you’re set on studying here in states. Reasons are as such:

1. ADP students who transfer here usually go to a state university (key word is usually, not ALL the time, so please read carefully) and state unis don’t normally give financial aid to international students. I have calculated the cost of doing ADP (2 years in malaysia, 2 years in the US) and the figure is a lot bigger than if I were to come here straight for 4 years. That’s cause if I come here as a freshman, I can apply to a college that gives me financial aid. But this rationale hinges upon sooo many other things. Some people prefer ADP cause they want to go to a bigger uni and they don’t give financial aid to freshmen anyway so it’s cheaper if you go through ADP etc.

2. Most colleges/unis accept fewer transfer students than freshmen so it’s easier to get into a college/uni (especially ivies and other top colleges) if you come straight instead of transferring.

I’m not totally against ADP. I just didn’t think (from my experience and some of my friends’) that ADP is the best choice if you really want to come to the states. Then again, it’s totally up to you and what kind of courses you are pursuing, what kind of college you want to go and a million other reasons.

I get countless emails demanding to know why ADP is not a good choice and I have to stress that it’s not a good choice in MY circumstances and this really differs on an individual level. Do not take my opinion and generalize it cause I’m only giving you my pov, and not your pov.

I feel compelled to put a disclaimer cause I’ve actually gotten emails from people who are already doing ADP and when I told them why I don’t like ADP, they started getting angry at me and said I belittle them. Like WTF?

Before you email me asking about ADP or American colleges in general, please do your own research and take what I tell you only as supplementary information. I am NOT an expert in this, I am not paid to do this and I’m only doing this to help so pleaseeee do not expect to be spoon-fed completely. Most of what I know is already written here so please read it first.

When I get emails asking me to explain what I’ve already explained before, or emails that clearly sound like they haven’t done any research before and just expect me to feed them everything from A-Z, I feel really bad because I don’t like replying to those emails.

I hope I don’t come off as stuck up or anything but Malaysians have been spoon-fed way too much. I still welcome emails about ANY question you have at all but only if you’ve shown that you have at least put in some effort.

Ze end, good luck!