5 Affordable Ways to Realise Your Dream of Studying Abroad

Don't have the financial funds to spend half a million ringgit to study abroad? Here are some alternate ways to achieve your dream of exploring the great big world abroad.

Updated 13 Jun 2017

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Be it for a better education, learning a new language or experiencing a foreign culture, there are a million reasons why you should consider studying abroad. And why not? It’s an alluring prospect that exposes you to great opportunities while promising a truly eye-opening experience.

But if you’re feeling the pinch from the economic slowdown, not to mention the dwindling number of scholarships available, jetting abroad for the whole duration of your degree may seem like a distant dream. After all, the total cost of studying abroad for just 3 years can balloon up to half a million ringgit – that is no small sum!

Even so, there is no reason for you to give up, especially if this has always a treasured aspiration. In fact, there are several ways for you to experience life abroad, and not all will require obscene amounts of money.

Here are 5 affordable ways for you to realise your dream of studying abroad.

#1. Transfer programme

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Instead of completing the full duration of your studies abroad, a transfer programme can be a more cost-saving alternative since it allows you to spread the study duration of your degree between Malaysia and abroad.

For instance, you may study the 1st year of your degree locally before transferring to a university abroad for the final 2 years of your degree. Transfer programmes often have numbers like 1+2 or 2+1 attached to them, with the first digit indicating the number of years in Malaysia and the second digit indicating the duration abroad.

There are many variations of transfer programmes, with some universities offering courses that focus on certain geographic regions. Examples include the UK Transfer Programme, American Degree Program (ADP) and Australian Degree Transfer Programme.

Transfer programmes are different from twinning programmes since they are not tied to a specific academic institution, which gives you more options. Twinning programmes, on the other hand, are usually restricted to one particular university.


If your course is not a transfer programme, you can still apply to transfer to a university abroad on your own. This process is called ‘credit transfer’ and will require some effort on your part since the receiving university will evaluate whether the material you have studied is comparable to their syllabus. Depending on how many subject exemptions you get, the total duration of your degree may be the same or extended by a semester or two.

#2. Twinning programme

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Twinning programmes are very similar to transfer programmes, where you get to spend some time in Malaysia as well as abroad. However, the difference is that your transfer to a university overseas is limited to one institution only.

With twinning courses, you will be going through the same syllabus at the foreign partner university here in Malaysia. Once you have completed 1-2 years of study, you can seamlessly transfer over to the university abroad as long as you meet the requirements. At the end of your degree, you will be awarded an overseas degree.

The advantage of a twinning programme over a credit transfer is that you will know exactly what grades you need for your transfer overseas. Most universities state the requirements very clearly, so you won’t run the risk of failing to transfer or obtain credit exemptions.


Most twinning courses are either 1+2 or 2+1. If the programme is in a 3+0 structure, you will be learning the full 3-year syllabus of the foreign university here in Malaysia. You will still graduate with an overseas degree, but you won’t have the rich experience of studying abroad.

#3. Student exchange / semester abroad programme

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If your wallet does not allow you to stay abroad for such an extended period of time, applying for a student exchange or semester abroad programme can be a good alternative. Such programmes give you a taste of university life overseas without needing to rob the bank.

A student exchange programme usually comprises of 1 - 2 semesters at a partner university abroad. You will take classes at the foreign university just like how you would in Malaysia, and these subjects will accumulate as credits to your degree.

The best part is, the tuition fees for your semester abroad is paid to your Malaysian university at Malaysian fee rates. What this means is that you won’t be forking out international fee rates to the university abroad, which can amount to quite a hefty sum. Of course, you will need to allocate some funds for accommodation and living expenses.

In addition, some exchange programmes even have the option for you to live with a host family, allowing you to experience living like a local in a foreign country.

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#4. Summer programme

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A summer programme happens during the summer break of a foreign university and typically lasts anywhere from 2 - 8 weeks.

Summer programmes have a higher degree of cultural exchange, giving you a chance to explore a foreign land on a whirlwind tour. While you may be attending classes that can be counted towards your credits, the highlight of the programme is the string of activities, hands-on workshops and field trips that you will be experiencing.

Whether you’re visiting the DMZ (Demilitarised Zone) in Korea, walking in the footsteps of Van Gogh in the Netherlands or exploring the magnificent British countryside on horseback, summer programmes will provide you with a deeper understanding of other cultures and supply you with memorable experiences that will last a lifetime.

To apply, check with your student affairs office to see what types of summer programmes are available. Take note that you may be required to shell out some money for participation fees.

#5. Internship abroad

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If you are looking to polish up your resume before you graduate and relieve the itch of experiencing life abroad, consider signing up for an internship abroad.

Lasting about 3 - 6 months, an internship abroad is an opportunity for you to pick up valuable work experience while taking in the sights and sounds of a foreign land. Not only that, you will also likely be paid for your work, which translates to extra pocket money to explore the country.

The biggest advantage of internships abroad is that you will learn how different cultures have different work ethics and ways of communicating, which ultimately influence how businesses are run. Some countries like Germany are direct in their negotiations, whereas in China, this would be considered shockingly rude. Having some international exposure will no doubt give you an edge in a world that’s becoming increasingly global.

To apply, check with your university’s student affairs and see if there are any opportunities available. The process may require a series of interviews on top of a comprehensive application, but you can be certain that it is well worth it.

Just because you can’t afford to spend the whole duration of your studies overseas doesn’t mean that you should let go of that dream. Any moment spent on foreign soil, no matter how short the period, will be an enriching experience. So get out there and explore – the world is your oyster!

Looking for extra money to fund your expenses abroad? Here are 5 ways for you to earn cold hard cash without having an actual job!

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    Loh Sue May

    Loh Sue May

    Editor and writer. When I'm not busy putting words onto pages, I'm messing with spreadsheets and playing air guitar.