Imagine investing tens of thousands of ringgit into college, only to find yourself dragging your feet and hating every moment of it.
The truth is that choosing a college or university is a crucial decision — one that you may live to regret if you take a wrong turn. Although there is no “best” college and the decision often isn’t so clear-cut, you can minimise the risk by doing proper research and asking the right questions.
Here’s a checklist of the most important factors to consider when choosing a college.
#1. Courses and qualifications offered
First and foremost, consider whether the college/university offers your chosen programme. After all, your main objective is to learn and graduate. Next, find out the attributes of the programme and determine whether it is right for you.
Make sure to consider these questions:
- Does the college/university offer your desired programme? If not, does it offer something similar that’s equally acceptable?
- Is your desired qualification recognised by MQA?
- What are the entry requirements? If your grades do not meet the minimum requirements, you may need to consider a different institution.
- If you are choosing a professional programme (e.g. medicine, dentistry, law, architecture), is the university’s degree recognised by the respective professional body?
- For programmes that require you to take professional papers to lead to a professional qualification (e.g. accounting, actuarial science), what exemptions will you get with the university’s degree?
- What qualification will you receive (e.g. honours or non-honours, dual award, Malaysian qualification, overseas qualification)? Consider whether this is important to you or not.
- What are the options for minors, majors and electives?
“It’s not about the money, money, money.” Uh, yes, Jessie J. It is.
In an ideal world, education would be free. But alas, this is not always the case. Before applying for a university, take note of how much it costs to study there and see if it tallies with your financial capabilities. This also includes all the hidden costs that may not be explicitly stated such as examination fees, resource fees, books and required software programs.
Consider the following questions:
- What is the overall tuition and miscellaneous fees (e.g. registration fee, resource fee)?
- Are there any scholarships that you qualify for that can reduce the cost? Do you have to maintain a certain grade each semester to keep your scholarship?
- Are there any bursaries, early bird discounts or Open Day waivers for you to take advantage of?
- Are there any instalment plans?
If you are planning to study within the same state, consider how you will be getting to college. Will you be driving or taking public transport? What’s the latest time you can get up without being late? Never underestimate the power of distance and its role in getting you to class.
Here are some factors for you to consider:
- How far is the college from home? If it’s too far, consider staying on or near campus.
- Is it a city campus or located somewhere further? Some prefer the hustle and bustle of a small city campus while others prefer a more conducive environment in an expansive campus.
- If you will be driving, are parking spaces available? How much is the parking per day?
- Can you get to college by public transport?
- Does the college offer a bus service? What is the frequency and schedule?
#4. Ranking and reputation
A prestigious university can increase the likelihood of securing a job after graduation. However, rankings aren’t everything and not attending a top university doesn’t necessarily mean your future is over. The key is to use the information on reputation and rankings wisely and use it as a tool to eliminate and shortlist universities rather than making a decision based solely on the university’s ranking.
Consider the following:
- What is the institution’s rating on MQA SETARA (for universities) and MyQUEST (for colleges)?
- What is the university’s ranking on the various world university league tables (e.g. QS World University Rankings, Times Higher Education World University Rankings)? Be sure to check out different university rankings to get an insight into different indicators.
- How is the university’s performance based on specific indicators that are important to you (e.g. graduate employability, subject ranking)? For instance, even if a university’s ranking is high, it may not rank well for your chosen programme.
#5. Campus facilities and services
Whatever institution you choose to attend, you will be there for at least a year. So make sure it has enough facilities for you to sustain a good and productive lifestyle.
Look out for some of the following:
- How well-equipped are the academic facilities (e.g. science labs for science programmes, broadcasting studio for mass communication students, anatomy lab for medical students)?
- What are some of the e-learning facilities?
- What sports and fitness facilities are available (e.g. gym, swimming pool, fitness centre, basketball court, badminton court)?
- Is wifi available throughout campus?
- Does the university have a mental health or counselling centre to provide support to students in distress?
- What food options are there on campus? Is there a food court or cafeteria? How about a convenience store?
#6. Clubs, societies and on-campus activities
Aside from picking up new knowledge, college is also a great opportunity for you to broaden your social circle. Clubs, societies and on-campus activities not only help you make new friends through mutual interests, it also gives you the chance to pick up valuable transferable skills like leadership, teamwork and communication.
When making your college plans, consider the following:
- What clubs and societies are offered in that particular university?
- How active is the community of students?
- What are some of the prominent events organised?
- What curricular activities is the university known for?
#7. Study abroad opportunities
Who doesn’t want to study abroad? On top of meeting new people and immersing yourself in new culture, studying abroad also helps you develop and improve important skills that will make you a more rounded person.
Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to directly pursue a full degree abroad.
However, many universities offer opportunities to study abroad through a variety of exchange programmes. While these programmes may be significantly shorter than actually studying at a university abroad, it still gives you the opportunity to discover what studying abroad is like.
When researching, ask yourself these questions:
- What options are there for studying abroad (e.g. transfer programme, student exchange, semester abroad)?
- What countries are included in the programmes?
- How much will it cost?
- Is there a quota?
#8. Career advisory services
Realistically speaking, you will want a job immediately after graduation. Most universities have support systems in place to help their graduates secure job placements. Do your homework and research what kind of support the university provides in terms of job and internship placements, career advisory and others.
Consider the following questions:
- Does the university offer career counselling services?
- How does the university assist with job and internship placements?
- What industry and employer links does the institution have?
- Does the university organise career talks, workshops and career fairs?
- What is the employability rate of the university’s graduates?
#9. Culture, lifestyle and environment
Do remember that whichever university you choose to apply for, you will be staying there for at least a year. So make sure that the culture and environment of that university suits your lifestyle.
You may think that you can handle going to an institution with a completely different culture than what you’re accustomed to but after a stressful day in class, clashing culture may be the last thing you need.
Take note of the following thing:
- What is the demographic of the students? Find out the ratio of international students as well as racial mix and see if it aligns with what you’re looking for.
- What are some of the rules and standards of behaviour at the university? Some institutions have stricter regulations such as a stringent dress code. For some, this may be acceptable while for others, it could be a deal breaker.
For some, one of the appeals of going to college is the independence that comes with staying far away from their family. Sleepovers and late-night gossiping with your best friends — who doesn’t want that?
Here are some housing questions that you should consider:
- What are the available on-campus accommodation options and how much does it cost?
- What are the types of rooms available (e.g. single, twin-sharing)?
- What are the amenities provided (e.g. weekly cleaning)?
- Are there any restrictions (e.g. no cooking, no noise after 10pm, single gender block)?
- What about off-campus options? How far are they and how much do they cost? Off-campus options are often cheaper but are often run by third parties, which come with some risk.