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Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to good questions often asked by Malaysians who are considering studying in the United States.

Please be aware that because US Higher Education is so diverse and decentralized, some questions are impossible to answer in a way that applies to ALL colleges and universities in the United States. That’s why our answers will often be “It varies from school to school”, and we’ll then be happy to provide you the resources you need to find answers which apply specifically to the schools you are considering. HINTS: 1. Thoroughly review the information provided on the schools’ websites. 2) Use the “Contact Us” form and/or send emails with your specific questions to the international admissions staff at each school which you are considering. They can often be reached by phone as well.

For EducationUSA’s detailed guide for international students, please see Your 5 Steps to U.S. Study

There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States. Which ones are a good fit for me?

“Good fit” is exactly what you should be looking for, so you’ve asked the right question. We encourage students and parents to consider which factors are most important to them when selecting suitable schools and then to thoroughly research which schools satisfy the majority of their preferences. Criteria to be considered include major/program offerings, tuition fees, living costs, school size, class sizes, location, campus setting, scholarship availability, religious affiliation, selectivity, prestige, etc. The College Board’s online search engine allows one to filter through 3,990 schools using many different criteria. The more specific the criteria entered, the fewer schools will display in the search results. The EducationUSA Advising Centers in Kuala Lumpur and Penang have many useful resources as well as knowledgeable and experienced Advisers to help students identify which schools offer what they’re looking for.

What is the difference between a college and a university?

In the United States there is no clear-cut distinction between a college and a university – both are postsecondary institutions. It can broadly be stated that colleges have fewer students and focus on educating undergraduate students, whereas universities have more students and offer postgraduate degrees in addition to undergraduate. However, many colleges offer postgraduate degrees and some universities have relatively few students, so nothing can be accurately predicted about a school merely from the word “college” or “university” in its name.  Sample College, for example, could choose to change its name to Sample University, and nothing about the school would need to be changed.

Americans refer to their studies after completing high school (secondary school) as “going to college”, whether they’re studying at a Community College, an Institute, a Conservatory, a College, or a University. The short-form “uni” is not commonly used in the United States. Any institution of higher learning can also be referred to as a “school”. For example: “I did my Masters at Sample College.” “Wow, that’s a great school!”

To recap, whereas “colleges” in Malaysia do not offer degrees but rather high school, pre-university, certificate, or diploma programs, this is not the case in the United States. American colleges can offer Associate Degrees (two-year undergraduate degrees), Bachelor’s Degrees (four-year undergraduate degrees), and even Masters and Doctoral Degrees.

The term “college”, in a separate sense, can refer to a division or department within a university; for example, “Earn your MBA at the Smith College of Business at Sample University.”

How do I know if a U.S. university is accredited?

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) has an online searchable database which shows all accredited institutions of higher learning. If you need assistance verifying the accreditation status of an American college or university, please don’t hesitate to contact EducationUSA Malaysia at MACEE.

What if I don’t know for sure what subject I want to major in?

That’s ok. That’s normal. You’re not alone. Most colleges and universities allow students to begin their first year of studies with their major listed as “undecided”. Even after student declares a major, she can easily change her major during her first two years of a Bachelor’s degree program. Typically none of her previously earned credits will be ‘wasted’ because they will still count toward her graduation requirements. Only by the third year of a four-year Bachelor’s degree are students generally required to declare a major, although most choose to do so earlier. This is one of the best things about American undergraduate education – the flexibility to take courses in a wide range of subjects before narrowing in on one’s major.

What is the difference between the SAT and ACT tests? Which one is better? Which is easier?

The SAT has three sections: Writing, Critical Reading, and Math. The ACT has four sections: English, Reading, Math, and Science, with an optional fifth section for Writing. The test fees for each are almost identical, and each one is accepted (but not necessarily required) by every American college and university. The SAT is offered six times each year in Malaysia whereas the ACT is offered four times. The SAT and ACT are considered to have the same standard of difficulty. Neither one is generally considered to be better or easier than the other. Some students choose to take both tests and find they perform better on one or the other, but most students are satisfied with giving their best effort on one or the other.

Where can I find test preparation courses for the SAT / ACT / TOEFL / GRE / GMAT?

We do not currently offer test preparation courses. We understand that some private companies and individuals in Malaysia do offer such courses – which are generally not cheap – but we can’t recommend any of them specifically. For each of these tests the standard method of preparation is self-study using test prep books, which are available for purchase at major bookstores throughout Malaysia. (They are not available for purchase from EducationUSA at MACEE.) Several companies produce test prep books, and any of them are fine, subject to each persons’ preferences. The companies which produce the tests usually produce test prep books for their tests, and these they can legitimately claim to be the “official” ones.  Some students also make use of free online tips, videos, and practice tests.

What is the best pre-university course to do if I’m aiming for admission to highly selective universities?

Malaysians who are aiming for admission to America’s most selective universities (sometimes referred to as Ivy Leagues) have higher odds of admission if they apply to enter after completion of a pre-university course rather than after SPM. There is no one best pre-university option which applies to everyone and all universities. A-levels/STPM and IB have worldwide recognition and are well thought of by American universities. Other pre-university options can work as well. Each university in the US decides for itself what qualifications it requests or requires from Malaysian applicants. For students still in secondary school who have an idea of which universities they would like to apply to, it is wise to check the websites of those universities and contact them directly to inquire what pre-university studies they like to see or need to see from Malaysian applicants.

Which American Degree Transfer Programs do you recommend? Is ADTP a good idea?

We can’t specifically recommend any of the various American Degree Transfer Programs offered by private colleges and universities in Malaysia. We suggest that interested students and parents shop around among the many choices and inquire thoroughly about their records of successfully transferring students, including to which US universities their past ADTP students have transferred.

Whether ADTPs are a good choice depends on each student’s priorities. Oft-cited advantages of ADTP are the cost savings during the first two years of a Bachelor’s degree program and that it allows a student who is not yet ready to live away from home directly after secondary school the chance to stay with his/her parents for one to two more years before heading abroad.

Disadvantages of ADTP include the variation in the quality of instruction and the inconvenience of transferring credits. There is also uncertainty about which credits will successfully transfer and to which US universities, given that each US university decides whether or not ADTP credits are transferrable and, if so, which ones. This means that the number of US universities once can transfer to from ADTPs is limited. Additionally, those who transfer after two years of ADTP typically spend only two years finishing their Bachelor’s degrees in the US. Some students find that they wish they had had the full four years to experience the American culture and lifestyle, to build lasting friendships with American students, and to create a network of peers, lecturers, and colleagues which can be utilized in the future.

Can I work in the U.S. during my studies? How much money can I make?

International students in the U.S. on F-1 visas can work up to 20 hours per week, typically doing jobs on their campuses. These jobs include working in the admissions and finance offices, serving in the cafeteria, joining the campus maintenance crew, refereeing soccer games, and many other types of work. Students who want to earn a bit of money by working while studying should inquire beforehand with the universities to which they’re applying about the availability and types of jobs open to international students.

Minimum wages vary by state, but assuming that one earns $7.25 per hour and works 20 hours per week throughout the academic year – which lasts about nine months (September to May) – one could earn up to $5,220 in an academic year. Realistically, few students manage to work this many hours. International students may work up to 40 hours per week when classes are not in session, such as during spring and winter breaks and during the three-month summer break.

Which parts of the U.S. have a lower cost of living?

The cost of meals and housing is generally higher in large cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Honolulu, and New York City than in other parts of the country. States which are not on the East Coast or West Coast tend to have lower living costs. Ultimately the amounts spent on meals and housing will depend on the individual university one attends and the choices one makes among all the options for food and housing.

What is the meaning of DSO / RA / Social Security Number / SEVIS / etc.?

Please see the EducationUSA Glossary for explanations of many US higher education-related terms.

More questions will be added. Please feel free to email questions to adviser@macee.org.my or call EducationUSA staff in Kuala Lumpur at 03-2166-8878 or in Penang at 019-611-2463.