The world of scholarships can be a muddled mess.
What’s the difference between merit scholarship, leadership scholarship and sports scholarship? Is everything paid for or do you still have to fork out some money? Are you always bonded to the institution that gave you a free ride to university?
With so many scholarships available and various financial aid providers screaming for your attention, it can be paralysing, not to mention the personal essays you have to put together and application deadlines nipping at your heels.
In this article, we explain the nuts and bolts of scholarships in Malaysia and give you a sense of how you can increase your chances of securing one.
#1. Types of scholarships
In general, 4 types of scholarships are offered in Malaysia.
(a) Outstanding scholarship
This type of scholarship can come in many names, such as Leadership Scholarship or Excellence Award, but you can recognise it when the application calls for academic achievement, leadership attributes and participation in extracurricular activities.
These prestigious scholarships are limited in number but are huge in quantum. They usually cover all your tuition fees plus accommodation, monthly allowance and sometimes even books and laptops.
This type of scholarship has a stringent application process, often requiring a comprehensive application complete with essays as well as one or more interviews.
(b) Academic scholarship
Sometimes referred to as merit scholarship, you will need to demonstrate remarkable academic results (typically at least 5As at SPM or equivalent) to secure this award.
The scholarship quantum differs depending on your results. Most are partial tuition fee waivers, but some also offer full tuition fee waivers. However, certain additional fees, like registration fees, exam fees, deposits and resource fees, are not covered.
The application process for this type of scholarship is straightforward since you only need to ensure you meet the grade requirements. It also often does not require an interview.
While this type of scholarship may require you to top up some money, it can help to ease some financial burden.
(c) Special talents scholarship
Not all scholarships require you to have exceptional academic results.
Institutions are actively on the hunt for students with special talents, particularly those who have demonstrated excellence as athletes, musicians or artists. So if you represent your state or country in a badminton, have a gift in playing the violin or boast an outstanding portfolio in graphic design, then there’s a chance for you to get a good discount on your tuition fees.
Some colleges and universities may also award scholarships to those who are active in community service, the helpers of our society.
As part of the application process, you will usually need to show proof of your talent and attend an interview.
(d) Needs-based scholarship
If you are in a difficult situation, such as having a disability, coming from a low-income family or hailing from rural areas in Malaysia, all hope is not lost.
There are providers who are understanding of your plight and may grant you some form of financial hardship scholarship. You will need to provide supporting documentation of your difficulties, such as your parents’ salary slips or EA forms.
The quantum for these scholarships will differ on a case-to-case basis and you may be required to attend an interview.
#2. Where can you search for scholarships?
Now that you know what types of scholarships are available, it’s crucial to know who the scholarship providers are and what types of scholarships they offer. Broadly, here are the 3 main types of scholarship providers in Malaysia.
Scholarships from the government, particular the JPA and JPA-MARA scholarships, are the most sought after by students.
Traditionally, these scholarships used to offer you a chance to spread your wings and study abroad. However, with the latest budget cuts, the bulk of the scholarships will be for local institutions only, with options at both public and private.
The exception to this is for those interested in studying engineering in Japan, Korea, France and Germany, where JPA usually has a separate programme allocated.
Scholarship bonds, where you are required to work for the institution once you graduate, are extremely common. If you do not end up serving the government, you may need to repay the scholarship amount.
Government scholarships are usually of the outstanding scholarship type. They are by far the most competitive, with tens of thousands of students vying for them each year.
Some government-linked companies (GLCs), private foundations and private companies also generously award outstanding scholarships.
In addition to a comprehensive application and interview process, you need to watch out for scholarship bonds. Some providers may also limit you to specific degrees only, such as those related to the nature of the company’s business.
Notable companies offering such scholarships include PETRONAS, Bank Negara Malaysia, Yayasan Khazanah, Maybank Foundation, UEM Group, Yayasan Sime Darby, Yayasan Telekom Malaysia, Hong Leong Foundation and The Star.
(c) Private colleges and universities
Many private colleges and universities also offer scholarships if you choose to attend their institution.
Most of the scholarships offered are academic scholarships, with full or partial tuition fee waiver based on your results. You can top up the remaining additional fees with your own money and also supplement with a PTPTN loan if you’re pursuing a diploma or a degree. Bonds are rare, but you may be required to take part in activities and projects organised by the college.
Private institutions may also offer other types of scholarships, such as outstanding scholarships. These will cover more than just tuition fees, but they are limited and competition is often stiff. Special talent scholarships are also sometimes available.
#3. Crucial scholarship tips
Here are some tips to maximise your chances in securing a scholarship.
(a) Formulate a strategy
Work out how much financial aid you need and come up with a plan of action.
If you are eyeing scholarships from providers like JPA and PETRONAS, you’ll need to cast a wide net and not rely on only one provider. But don’t apply for every available scholarship, as it may cause application fatigue. It’s also crucial to have a backup plan in case everything falls through.
If you’re comfortable with just academic scholarships from private colleges, one application is usually sufficient. Be mindful of quotas, as some colleges only have a limited number of scholarships.
(b) Start preparing early
It’s always good to prepare early, get organised and do your research, even if providers have not started accepting applications yet.
Start by gathering all your supporting documents, such as transcripts, certificates and awards.
Next, create a priority list of scholarships you are gunning for, listing down application deadlines (use the previous year’s deadlines as a guide if nothing has been announced yet), minimum requirements (don’t waste time if you do not meet the grades) and any restrictions they have on the field of study (skip providers who do not sponsor your desired course).
(c) Be genuine
If you are required to submit an essay, don’t plagiarise from the internet.
The people reading and evaluating scholarship essays are masters at their jobs and they can spot those who reuse essays a mile away. The sea of remarkably qualified applicants is massive and you’re not the only straight-A student holding leadership positions in clubs. So don’t give them a reason to cut you.
Instead, take this opportunity to write genuine essays that showcase who you are, as well as your goals and passions.
(d) Watch the deadlines
This sounds simple, but if you’re applying for many scholarships, it can be easy to slip up.
Target to complete your application at least one week before the deadline so that you have ample time to check and proofread your application. If the application is online, don’t wait for the final hour before hitting the submit button, as computer systems can get clogged with a large number of applicants scrambling to apply.
Take note of the submission method too. If you need to send in any supporting documents by post, consider how long it will take for the mail to arrive.
We hope this helps with your scholarship search. While it may seem daunting, being organised and managing your time well will reduce a lot of stress. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your parents, seniors, school teachers and counsellors for help.
Most importantly, remember that you can never get a scholarship if you don’t apply, so apply for every opportunity you can.