Monday, September 26, 2005

Oxford University: Should I Apply? (I)

Well, here's something that I've been longing to write about ever since I started the blog. However, due to the non-stop issues plaguing the Malaysian education scene for the past few months, I kept procrastinating on writing about my alma mater. But I thought I shouldn't put the above aside any more because, the closing date for 2006 undergraduate degree applications to Oxford and Cambridge Unviersities in the United Kingdom will be closing on the 15th October 2005 (that's about 3 weeks time).

I will be writing on the current topic over 3 parts, the first here will answer some common questions asked with regards to applying to the top universities, the second will cover my experience at the university (what's life like there) and the third, covering the application process (and hopefully, some useful tips). The objective behind the posts is really to encourage bright Malaysian students to apply to Oxford University, or for that matter, other top universities around the world.

Throughout my experience, I have found that often, Malaysian students do not attend the top universities of the world - which I regard as the top 5-10 in the United Kingdom and the top 10-20 in the United States, largely due to lack of information, guidance, confidence and most of all, mis-perception. I hope that by posting here, it'll play a little part in encouraging more young, bright and talented Malaysians to apply, for it is my believe that more Malaysians are fully qualified for these universities than there actually are making the applications.

Usually, before one even gets to the point of seeking out more information about the respective top universities (e.g., reading up on the relevant prospectuses etc.), there are several questions which poses as "barriers" to the application process. These questions often discourage prospective candidates from applying to these universities. I shall attempt to provide some of my thoughts to these common questions here.

1. Am I Good Enough?

I can safely say that the number one question posed by aspirants to the top universities will always be "Am I Good Enough?". Barring the exceptional confident few, there will always be the fear that we are not good enough for the top universities of the world. The source of the fear, or lack of confidence, may have something to do with the fact that we originate from a third world country with an "average" type education system - what makes us think that we can fit in and be accepted by the best in the world?

Let me state here unequivocally - if you are the cream of the Malaysian education system (and by cream, I don't mean just the number 1s and 2s), then you are likely to have a decent shot at obtain entry into these top institutions.

If you have read my profile, you'd have known that I was fairly fortunately to have been enrolled into the top schools in Singapore as well as the United Kingdom. However, both these chances didn't come strictly because I was a "straight As" student - I was not. I was an above average student who was sort of "hovering" near the top, but never once, on top in terms of academic results. In primary school, my results always ranked me consistently between 5th to 12th, while in secondary schools in Singapore, I never got the straight 9A1s for 'O' Levels, or 3-4As for my 'A' Levels which I've always aspired to achieve. But in both instances, I've always thought that there's never harm in "trying", first by applying for ASEAN Scholarship in Primary 6 to study in Singapore, and later, by applying to Oxford before my 'A' Levels. On both occasions, I was extremely fortunate to have been successful.

The simple moral to the story is that if you are accepted, then you are good enough. And you are never going to know if you are going to be accepted if you do not apply. My advice to prospective candidates have always been not to allow them to judge themselves (which often discourages applications) but instead to let these scholarships or university admission bodies do their job. I mean, what's the very worse that can happen - you receive a rejection letter, and that's no different from the state you will be in (apply to other universities), should you have chosen not to apply to the top universities.

2. Why Should I Apply to the Top Universities?

Yes, it sounds a tad like a silly question, but it has been asked often enough such that I thought I should address it here. I won't be exaggerating to say that graduating from the top universities will often (although not always) let you walk into the jobs that you are keen on. Rightly or wrongly, you will be looked at, and treated differently.

Of course the other reason to join the top universities to receive the best education the world can offer - but that's saying the obvious.

3. What if I Can't Afford these Universities?

My answer to the above is quite simple. Worry about funding after you have received your offer letters to enrol into these universities. If you get accepted for a place at Harvard University, I'm certain, there'll be no short of scholarship offers or loan programmes available for you.

My parents definitely could not afford my education at Oxford - at that time, some 14 years ago, it still cost some GBP10,000 per annum in tuition and college fees alone. I was fully prepared to enrol into National University of Singapore (where I've managed to secure a place) should I fail in my quest for a scholarship. Persistence paid off, and I was finally successful in obtaining a full scholarship from Malaysia Tobacco Company (now, British American Tobacco) Foundation - yes, thanks to the Benson & Hedges smokers out there - after receiving many many rejection letters, particularly from Singapore companies which offered scholarships.

Once again, what's the worst that could happen? If you didn't manage to secure your financial assistance to the top universities, at the very least, you have the knowledge that it wasn't the lacking of brain-matter that hindered your progress. In addition, very often these universities will permit a deferment in the entry year as well - which will provide additional time for you to source for the necessary funding.

So, all you top 'A' Level and STPM students out there - there's really nothing which should stop you from applying to the top institutions in the world. You don't have to be a genius to be accepted into these colleges, and the top Malaysian students definitely have the capability to qualify. This is where the cliche comes in, "Just Do It!".

Quick Note: For those interested in applying to Oxford University before I post my subsequent updates, please visit the university admission pages here.


Anonymous said...

I think there's a typo Tony -- 30,000 pounds? I know Oxford's expensive, but it's never been that expensive! :)

Anonymous said...


It's not true that if you get accepted, there will be scholarship offers for you. For example, I got accepted into Cornell, but didn't receive any financial aid. Although it was my dream school at the time, I didn't attend, and instead went to University of Mississippi, where I was offered a scholarship.

I have very little regrets on the way things turned out. I do not believe that I would have recouped my USD160k education investment if I'd taken loans to finance my education (especially since I didn't intend to stay in US).

I guess my stand is, if you *DO* get a scholarship, go for it. But I'm not sure the fees of these universities are worth it to take a loan for.

Golf Afflicted said...

Hey Anon,

Thanks for pointing out the error, I think I meant GBP30k of tuition and college fees for the 3 years.

:) Tony P

Anonymous said...

hi there, am a current msian oxonian. been here 7 years - don't ask me why. actually the fees thing is true. they're about GBP10k for arts tuition fees + GBP4k for college fees per year + GBP8k for maintenance. for science tuition fees are about GBP13k per year.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that they are raising fees from this (next?) year onwards - it'll cost you closer to 14K per annum for an Arts degree.

Jerng said...

I would like to challenge one claim above, which is this one "Of course the other reason to join the top universities to receive the best education the world can offer - but that's saying the obvious."

What education is, is highly debateable. Allow me to draw a distinction between 'education' and 'qualification'.

Qualification is what you get to function in society; Education is what you get which allows you to challenge society. Your qualification is the aspect of going to school which will get you through the door at your next job interview, which will allow you to say to other people "I'm good enough to be a part of this tradition which I am born into". Your education is the aspect of going to school which will prevent you from breaking down if you don't get a job, which will allow you to say to other people "I do not need this tradition which I am born into, I am rather happy being on my own, thank you very much."

One is a social pursuit. The other is anti-social. Both are valuable.

Often, they are confused.

Unknown said...
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Anonymous said...

i thought that the m'sian gov offered scholarships to those who secured places in ivy league uni's?.