AS Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) school-leavers close one chapter in their life and start another, they now face the daunting task of taking the next step — choose the right course of study.
After a structured school system where students generally pursue either the science or arts stream, how best can they decide on the field of study and programme?
A profession should be chosen with great care and it should not be taken lightly. The decision is the first step towards determining the path the future will take.
A LEVELS OR FOUNDATION COURSES
Nurhanani Hazamah Anuar, 20, prefers sitting exams similar to those in secondary school and the Cambridge A Level (CAL) programme fits her requirements.
CAL is a 15- to 24-month programme and it is 100 per cent exam-based, so it is similar to SPM.
However, unlike SPM where students usually sign up for nine subjects, CAL allows a choice of a minimum of three subjects such as mathematics, further mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology, economics, English literature, law and accounting.
Nurhanani, a second-year student at Taylor’s College, said it has been a relatively easy transition from secondary school and she has also enhanced her soft skills and embraced the chance of being the secretary of the CAL Student Council.
“Being involved in the council allows me to improve my skills in communicating, critical thinking, problem-solving and collaborating,” said Nurhanani, a Bank Negara scholar.
She plans to pursue a degree in accounting and finance at a university in the United Kingdom.
Another CAL student Low See Nee, 20, said he was initially keen on the Foundation of Science course at the International Medical University but finally decided on the CAL programme at INTI.
“A relative, who is an emergency department doctor, advised me to pursue the A levels programme as it is internationally recognised and therefore allows me to keep my options open.
“Besides, my focus is not only on academic performance but also gaining a wider social network among students,” said Low, who plans to pursue the Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) programme at Monash University.
Antoine Xaverian Bonaventure, 20, has had his eye on a career in the field of science since secondary school, which influenced his decision to choose the Foundation in Science programme at Taylor’s University.
“It provides the most straightforward route to achieving my ambition to become a doctor. The curriculum integrates e-learning tools and interesting science projects so that students get exposure to basic human anatomy and physiology.
“The foundation programme helps me to become a well-rounded student who does not only excel academically but also in other areas.
“Since I plan to pursue the MBBS programme at Taylor’s University School of Medicine, the foundation course is the first step to reading medicine,” said Antoine.
A foundation in science programme focuses on science-related topics, concentrating on subjects such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and information technology.
The course not only prepares one to pursue medicine but also pharmacy and dental studies.
Foundation programmes at a university provide an advantage in terms of placement of students in degree courses at the institution .
International certified professional career coach Nik Faiz Iskandar Nik Zahari said: “Priority is given to students of the university’s foundation programmes over others.”
Meanwhile, A levels consist of two parts: Advanced Subsidiary (better known as AS level), and A2 level.
AS level is the first half of the programme and forms the foundation of A levels while A2 level is the second part of the syllabus, covering more complex topics in the subjects chosen.
Students typically sit exams at the end of each level, with each contributing 50 per cent towards the final grade. That is to say, 50 per cent from AS exams and 50 per cent from A2 exams.
AS and A levels are the traditional qualifications offered by schools and colleges for 16 to 19-year-olds. The qualifications are highly valued by universities and employers, and focus on academic subjects, although some are work-related.
AS levels can be taken as a stand-alone qualification, or as the first part of an A level course.
Ang Jia Jiunn, 19, chose the American Degree Transfer Programme (ADTP) due to its appeal as a rigorous yet flexible programme.
“I have always been interested in an American-style education, where the student’s academic performance is not based on a single, final exam but rather on a series of tests throughout a semester.
“This method reflects the student’s overall ability accurately,” said Ang, who is in his second year.
Ang will undergo a 2+2 ADTP, which means two years at Taylor’s University and then a transfer to a university in the United States for the remaining two years.
“The liberal arts focus of the programme is another pull factor. It allows me to delve into subjects outside conventional academia.
“For example, next semester, I plan to take classes on the Foundation of Acting — something I will never have the chance to explore if not for this programme. The alternative approach to education is what attracts me to ADTP.
“Upon completion of ADTP in Malaysia, I will be moving to Ithaca, New York to further my studies at Cornell University.
“I plan to continue my undergraduate studies in statistics and actuarial science,” he added.
Lim Kah Weng, 19, chose the South Australian Certificate of Education programme which consists of 70 per cent coursework and 30 per cent external examinations.
“I don’t have to focus totally on examinations but will be able to gain more knowledge and experience upon completing my coursework,” said the INTI College Nilai student, who is pursuing his degree via Australian Degree Transfer Programme (Commerce).
Yusuf Danial Shaifullizam, 19, opted for Form Six as an opportunity to further his studies at a public university in the country.
As the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) is recognised in other countries as well, he can also apply to tertiary institutions abroad.
“A lot of people say STPM is difficult but I am challenged to give it a try,” said Yusuf Danial, who is in Upper Six at SMK Batu Lapan, Jalan Puchong, Selangor.
The science stream student signed up for biology, chemistry, general paper and pure mathematics, and plans to major in medical psychology and become a psychiatrist or psychotherapist.
Siti Jo Anna Zulkeple, 18, chose the Foundation in Physical Sciences course at Pusat Asasi University of Malaya (UM) for the challenge. Unlike her schooldays, her schedule is packed with lessons and extracurricular activities.
“I’m from science stream in school and a university course related to the subject is the normal pathway but I intend to read English and Linguistics.
“UM and my peers pushed me out of my comfort zone and challenge myself. I hope that I can instil the significance of learning a language.”
MATRICULATION OR DIPLOMA
Career coach Nik Faiz said: “Matriculation students join science, accounting or technical courses.
“Students, who want to pursue medicine and health sciences, take the science course while those who are interested in engineering, take the technical course.
“The accounting course covers business, economics and management.”
SEGI University registered counsellor Alice Lim said diploma programmes are suitable for SPM school-leavers who have already decided on the careers they would like to pursue and help them prepare for the workplace.
INTI International University and Colleges senior student counsellor Amy Wong agreed that a diploma programme allows school-leavers to learn the expectations of the industry and network with employers before they graduate.
Nik Faiz added that there are various reasons why SPM school-leavers choose the diploma course. “Firstly, their SPM results do not meet the minimum requirement to further their matriculation and other studies.
“Secondly, the school-leavers may have financial difficulties. They may need time to find the funds to pursue higher education.”
Foundation programmes offer good insights for students who have yet to determine the field they will like to pursue.
Wong added: “The programmes are a combination of coursework and examinations, and provide a fundamental understanding of concepts and principles that students can use as a stepping stone in deciding the degree course they should pursue in the future.”
Another option is the International Baccalaureate (IB). Unlike A level study options, IB requires students to learn six subjects, one each from six broad groups — Mathematics, The Arts; Sciences; Individuals and Societies; Language Acquisition; and Studies in Language and Literature.
“The IB exam structure varies from A levels as it has internal and international assessments. Similar to A levels, IB certificates are recognised by universities worldwide,” added Nik Faiz.
Lim said IB is an international education aimed at developing the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills needed to live, learn and work in a fast paced global world.
Originated from Geneva, Switzerland, schools which wish to run the programme must be authorised by the International Baccalaureate Organisation.
“It offers four types of education programmes, for students ranging from three to 18 years old. Graduates from IB programmes are free to pursue any degree courses depending on their preference.”
CHOICES IN THE ART STREAM
SPM school-leavers who studied art can enrol in a diploma course in graphic design, fashion design, architecture, digital graphics, advertising, web design and film for example before pursuing a degree programme.
“Art students think creatively, making them stand out from those from other streams.
“Employment-wise, they have equal job opportunities as of those from the science stream,” said Nik Faiz.
Lim added that traditionally science and engineering subjects are often regarded as better career choices as opposed to the arts and humanities.
However, before pursuing a particular field — regardless of science or the arts — one must take into consideration the job market as well as factors such as ability, personality, motivation, and family and educational background that may impact future career success.
“Arts-based programmes cover an incredibly broad spectrum of interests, ranging from foreign language, creative design, mass communication, to history and art.
“These give SPM school-leavers a wealth of pathways in tertiary education.
“Those specialising in arts and humanities have ample options as they can pursue a career as a historian, psychologist, sociologist or economist,” she said.
MAKING A CHOICE
Nik Faiz said before making a choice, school-leavers should first be exposed to industry trends and gain an insight from experts into the industry to stimulate ideas and build interest.
A course should be appropriate to the student; he should have an interest and the chance to explore the field.
“Practical-oriented students need to explore more hands-on courses rather than just learn theories. School-leavers should also look at employability.
“I suggest they get work experience, for example if their interest is teaching and they want to join the field of education, they should try being a part-time tutor at a tuition centre.” he added.
School-leavers should sit career assessment tests such as the Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Entrepreneur and Conventional career test as a pre-screening tool to assist them in deciding on a certain field of study.
“The assessment helps to narrow down job choices by choosing a path that is compatible with interest, aptitude, skills, values and characteristics,” added Lim.