From Public School to Harvard: Read This Malaysian Student’s Journey on How He Beats More Than 50,000 Applicants and Successfully Secures a Spot at Harvard

Published by on Apr 23, 2021, 11:37 am

My name is Jarell Cheong and I am 20. I am from Kuala Lumpur. I studied at Standard Government Schools (Sekolah Kebangsaan) until I graduated with my 9A+ SPM in 2018. I then pursued A-Levels at Sunway College and graduated with 4A* after taking the A Level Examinations in November 2020.

I alongside a fellow Malaysian student, received an offer from Harvard University in the United States. It still feels slightly surreal to this day. I couldn't believe it when I opened my Harvard decision two weeks ago, and I still can't believe it now.

If you ask me who do I attribute my success to, I would say it is my hard work and persistence in everything I do, my effort in always seeking out new ways to improve or optimize processes, and the many many people who supported me all the way. I particularly appreciate my Math teacher at Sunway College who inspired me to learn math in a deeper way. I am also indebted to my Physics teacher and mentor at Sunway College for his incredible insight on the many different activities I was doing. At home, my parents were extremely supportive as I juggled with university applications, school exams, and extracurricular competitions.

To share my study pathway, I pursued my A Levels right after SPM. I knew even before SPM that A Levels was the way to go for me. I spoke to education advisors at MACEE who encouraged me to take the most challenging pre-university program offered in Malaysia to be competitive for admission into the best universities in the world. I then decided to apply for Harvard. My mentor at Sunway College was especially helpful with my application to Harvard since he also once applied to US universities and knows the in's and out's of the application process. I submitted all components of my application by November 2020, and I received my wonderful decision on Ivy Day, April 6 2021.

The major reason why I chose Harvard is because I felt that it would offer the most transformative educational experience out of all the schools that offered me admission. Besides the established Harvard network and the career-driven student body, Harvard allows me to explore my secondary interests in Computer Science and Statistics on top of my primary interest in Mathematics, all to an extremely rigorous level. To many, Mathematics might just be the most complex subject but to me, Mathematics is another avenue to express my creative side. Writing an elegant mathematical proof is akin to painting a picturesque masterpiece. Coming up with another alternative proof utilizing different techniques is even better.

My advice to students who are keen to pursue their studies in an Ivy League school, try to show your authentic self in your application instead of doing activities for the sake of university applications. (Admissions officers can tell easily if you try to do this.) For more insight on US Applications, Studying, and Mathematics do check out my new weekly blog at!

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