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The Ultimate Comparison Guide for 8 Pre-University Programmes in Malaysia

Published by Afterschool.my on Jun 20, 2023, 04:29 pm

If you've stumbled upon this article, you're likely feeling incredibly confused after receiving your SPM results. Don't worry, it's completely normal to be unsure about what's next in your academic journey; transitioning to pre-adulthood is tough! Should you skip studying and become an influencer or YouTuber? Should you take a part-time job or take a short break to soul-search before starting your pre-university studies? Oh my, there are so many pre-university options available...which one should you choose? 

If you're feeling down because it seems like your friends have it all figured out, don't worry. It's never too late to explore your options and find the right path for yourself. We understand that navigating through the choices can be incredibly confusing. But fret not, we're here to support you every step of the way! In this article, we'll provide you with a quick and easy way to compare different pre-university options, helping you gain clarity for your future. You don't have to face this alone; we've got your back. 

(take note that this article only covers for private university options, not for public universities (IPTA) which includes STPM and Matriculation). 

I. Foundation Programmes

3 Words to describe this programme: Quick, Basic, Diverse. This 1-year programme is designed to provide you with basic knowledge of different core subjects, allowing you to explore your interests and strengths before you enter an undergraduate level. 

Think of it like a chocolate trial kit, containing different types of flavours. And if you’re interested in one flavour, you’ll be certain to buy the full-size product on your next purchase— which is exactly the intention of this programme. Foundation programmes are tailored specifically according to their syllabus, designed for those who are interested to absorb into a Bachelor’s degree in the same university

You will notice a Foundation in Arts or Science as the most common among universities, with some offering Business, Engineering, Accounting, Information Systems, and Law. But wait! Just because you take a Foundation that sounds specifically geared towards a field of specialisation, doesn’t mean you’re bound by that path. 

For example, a Foundation in Arts in IUMW not only covers art-related subjects, but also includes introductory subjects like Legal Studies, Psychology, Accounting & Finance, and Information Technology. 

Also, since a Foundation programme is an introduction programme for students, this gives you a glimpse into different types of specialisation in a field under the same roof. 

Let’s say you are interested in diving into the business sector, but you’re unsure which specific programme you want to take for your Bachelor's degree. A Foundation in Management at MMU will provide you with basics in different areas of specialisations of business like Management, Marketing, Economics, HR, Accounting, and Finance. Who knows, you might end up discovering one specialisation that speaks to you. 

While all these features might be very appealing, this programme isn’t for everyone. Since it covers core subjects of a specific field, it may offer similar content to the initial courses of a degree programme. You might feel bored with the repetition and feel that the subjects are redundant during the beginning stages of your degree studies.

Also, since foundation programmes in Malaysia are generally recognized by local universities, there may be limitations or differences when it comes to transferring to foreign universities. So if you have aspirations of studying abroad, it's crucial to research and ensures that your foundation programme is widely accepted by international institutions.

To sum it up, 

DO get a Foundation programme if you:

  • Crave a faster track to a Bachelor's degree (Just 1 year of study, no more!)
  • Have no clue what you want to do with your life (maybe just like, 1% sure)
  • Are still flipping coins in your area of interest 
  • Want to explore various fields and feed your curiosity 
  • Are a fiercely loyal fan of a specific university and will carry it like a badge of honour

DON’T get a Foundation programme if you:

  • Already settled with a career path in mind 
  • Already understand the basics of a specific field of study 
  • Wants to study overseas

Here’s a list of Foundation courses from Private Universities/Colleges you can find in Malaysia 

II. A-Level Programmes

If you're an ambitious student who excels in exams and dreams of studying abroad, then an A-Level programme is like a perfect pair of shoes tailored to your goals. This programme is a globally recognized programme that originated from the UK, with a standardised exam system and curriculum that is designed to produce highly competitive individuals

What makes this programme stand out is that you can choose which subjects you want to study according to your preferences! You have the power to tailor your study plans according to your interests and strengths, allowing you to develop your skills and pursue your desired career path.

Typically, you’re only required to take a minimum of 2 or 3 subjects per year (This programme takes about 1.5 - 2 years in total). You might be wondering why it takes a long time to finish just a few subjects, but because these subjects are complex and go in-depth, students need ample time for deep learning, research, and skill development to excel in the extensive coursework and exams. 

Compared to a Foundation programme, A-Level is known to be more rigorous that demands problem-solving, independent research, and analytical skills development. 

Take A-Level from UOW for example, which has a proven track record of a 100% pass rate with its graduates continuing their studies in some of the top universities in the world, like the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, and many more!

Of course, each pre-university option has its drawbacks, so we won’t sugarcoat it here. Since A-Level is known to be rigorous by nature, the intensity and workload might be too stressful for you (aside from the pressure to achieve top grades and stand out among your peers, paired with its very exam-centric approach!)

Oh yeah, did we mention the exams? Yes, we did. Just really need to emphasise that! So if you're someone who prefers hands-on learning and is more inclined towards practical fields, this programme might go against the tides of your career aspirations. 

To sum it up, 

DO get an A-Level programme if you:

  • You prefer Theoretical > Practical (Exams are your thing)
  • Being in a challenging environment fuels your inner spirit!
  • You are only like 60% sure of which pathway to take in your career
  • You want to customise your study plans 
  • You wanna study overseas!

DON’T get an A-Level programme if you:

  • The idea of studying rigorously for tests is daunting for you 
  • You’re more interested in walking down an Artistic path (A-Levels is more scientific/business inclined)
  • You intend to study at a public university afterwards (Foundation/Diploma/STPM/Matriculation is more suitable for you!)
  • You’re not willing to spend much on the fee (A-Levels is more expensive compared to other pre-university options)

Here’s a list of A-Level courses from Private Universities/Colleges you can find in Malaysia. 

III. Diploma Programmes

For some of us, we prefer a compact study programme that allows us to find a job to start ‘getting that bread’ ASAP. If this resonates with you, then a diploma programme might meet your study and career criteria. 

Compared to general academic programmes like foundation or A-levels, a diploma programme offers a more focused and hands-on approach. Because this programme is more geared towards preparing students for practical work in industries, students will be exposed to a balance of theoretical and practical knowledge like classroom learning, laboratory work, fieldwork, internships, or industry placements. 

Think of jobs like culinary chef, nursing, or mechanical engineer. These jobs go beyond theoretical knowledge as they involve extensive hands-on work in a real-life working environment. For example, you can’t call yourself a chef if you’re just reading the recipe instructions and not cooking, right? 

So if you’re more interested in practical studies, it’s best to opt for a diploma programme. 

After completing your diploma, your certificate will be recognised for entry-level positions, which gives you a direct pass to enter the workforce

What about the potential downsides of taking this programme? Well, because this type of programme is more comprehensive in a specific field, a diploma programme takes up between 2 to 3 years, which takes a longer time to complete than Foundation or A-Level. 

Another thing to consider is the programme structure of diploma courses. Since diploma courses are designed to provide technical and vocational skills, you’re missing out on learning a broader range of subjects. This limited academic flexibility may impact your future if you suddenly have a change of heart, and want to dip your toes into other industries. 

You also need to consider the potential impact it has on your career since diploma graduates have a lower academic status compared to degree holders. Of course, the importance of this varies between industries and your academic status does not completely determine your ability to climb the corporate ladder or gain better opportunities. But it’s worth noting that this is something you will have to consider in case you suddenly decide to further your education and get a degree because most degree programmes favour students with A-Levels or Foundation compared to diploma programmes. So do your research well! 

To sum it up, 

DO get a Diploma programme if you:

  • Prefer Practical > Theoretical knowledge 
  • Want more exposure to building industry-relevant skills 
  • Have a clear career plan in mind 
  • Want to quicker pathway to join the workforce (2 years only then you can start working dah)
  • Want the most affordable higher education option (a diploma programme is a lot cheaper than getting a Foundation/A-Level programme that requires you to further a Degree to get a job)

DON’T get a Diploma programme if you:

  1. You want a holistic programme that offers a balance of practical and theoretical knowledge
  2. Uncertain about the field you want to pursue in 
  3. Not much of a risk taker in facing potential salary limitations compared to other graduates with a degree

IV. International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma

Are you still uncertain about what to pursue yet, but interested in gaining a well-rounded education to achieve a promising future? Then an IB Diploma might just be what you’re looking for to start your tertiary education journey. This globally recognised programme offers a comprehensive and balanced curriculum that focuses on holistic development, critical thinking, and intercultural understanding to produce all-rounder graduates.

Although this programme is often compared to A-Level due to its academically challenging programme structure, it is known to be more well-balanced because of the broader curriculum (you’re required to take up 6 subjects instead of just 2 or 3 in A-Level). That, and the core components like the Theory of Knowledge (ToK) course, which explores the nature of knowledge, and the Extended Essay, which encourages independent research and writing skills. These elements contribute to a more holistic and intellectually stimulating experience. 

To put it simply, this programme wants you to not only become an academically knowledgeable individual but also a well-rounded human being in terms of emotional quotient (EQ) and open-mindedness. IB Diploma is like Foundation’s sibling but incorporates wider assessment methods with a more international perspective. This will prepare students who are aiming to enter global universities after their pre-university studies.

Of course, we won't just focus on the positive aspects of the programme (because not all programmes are meant for everyone, and it doesn’t have to be!) Because this programme is challenging like A-Level, which requires high independence and extensive self-research, you might feel overwhelmed and burned out by the heavy workload. You might also struggle with time management, having to juggle multiple types of coursework while also juggling your social life; and each sacrifice comes with its price.

DO get an IB Diploma programme if you:

  • Haven’t figured out your study/career path
  • Want a holistic education that encompasses intellectual, emotional, and physical aspects (you believe that self-development goes beyond paper knowledge!)
  • Want to learn many different areas of subjects
  • Want to acquire an international perspective

DON’T get an IB Diploma programme if you:

  • Already figured out what you want to pursue in
  • Prefer exam-based assessments instead of holistic assessments 
  • Prefer a shorter pre-university programme
  • Want a more chill academic environment to start your tertiary education

To find out more about IB Diploma programmes, click here

V. Canadian Pre-University (CPU)

The purpose of the CPU programme is to provide students with a solid foundation of knowledge and skills necessary for successful admission into Canadian universities. Similarly to the IB Diploma, the Canadian Pre-University programme emphasises on a well-rounded education that nurtures students' intellectual, social, and emotional development.

Students are required to take up core subjects for English and Mathematics and branch subjects within Sciences, Social Sciences and Humanities. You also have the opportunity to personalise your education by choosing elective subjects based on your interests and academic pursuits. 

Since the programme not only focuses on academics, students can acquire a holistic education through extracurricular activities, community service, and leadership development to foster well-rounded individuals.

But perhaps what will really intrigue individuals to sign up for this pre-university programme is their ability to credit transfer some of the programmes they’ve studied during their CPU, to reduce time spent and cost once they step foot in their preferred Canadian university to continue their degree.

Although these points might be appealing to you, take note that some drawbacks for this pre-university option can be more expensive compared to other pre-university programmes due to its international syllabus and potential longer duration to study; not to mention the costs of living once you move on to pursuing your degree in Canada. 

Since this programme is also highly competitive like A-Level and IB Diploma, you need to prepare yourself for the rigorous environment due to the study structure and assessments.

DO get a CPU programme if you:

  • Dig the idea of 70% coursework and 30% exams
  • Prefer flexibility in choosing your subjects to study
  • Want a competitive programme that provides a holistic approach 
  • Planning to study in Canada for a degree!

DON’T get a CPU programme if you:

  • Want a more affordable pre-university option
  • Aiming to continue studies other than Canada
  • Want to dive deep into a specific area of specialisation (a diploma would be more suited for you!)

To find out more about Canadian Pre-University, click here

VI. American Degree Programme (ADP/ADTP)

Dream to live the American dream and immerse yourself in the American education system? Then an ADP might just be the golden ticket you've been searching for.

Unlike the rest of the pre-university programmes, this is the only programme that allows you to directly enter an undergraduate level. This means you’re bypassing the typical tertiary education stages that require you to take a pre-university first, then a degree. It's as if you're boarding a plane that takes you directly from your current location to your final destination without any additional stops along the way.

This route allows you to save more time and provides a direct immersion in the world of higher education. 

Like the IB Diploma and CPU, this programme is focused on providing a well-rounded education, with an emphasis on critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills. 

In the first two years, you will be exposed to general education courses and the remaining two years will be focused on courses related to your chosen major (The programme is about 4 years in total.)

Many students choose the ADP intending to pursue studies at prestigious American or Canadian universities. One attractive option is the mixed-option study mode, where you can split a portion of your studies between Malaysia and America. For example, the 3+1 study mode is where students complete three years of the programme in Malaysia and then spend the final year at one of the program's partner universities in the United States. This arrangement allows students to experience the best of both worlds by starting their education locally and then gaining international exposure through a year of study abroad.

You can also credit transfer the subjects you’ve studied here to continue your studies abroad if you worry about duplication of subjects and facing a longer study duration. 

The best part about taking an ADP? The more subjects you take, the more credits you can accumulate, which allows you to graduate faster

As intriguing as the ADP programme sounds, like every great thing, it comes with its own set of drawbacks. Studying in the United States or Canada can be expensive, and tuition fees at partner universities may exceed those of local institutions. This financial burden may pose challenges for some Malaysian students and may need to be carefully considered.

You also need to consider potential limited career prospects when returning to Malaysia. While an ADP offers valuable international education, some Malaysian employers may prioritise graduates from local institutions or have specific qualifications and certifications they require. It's important to note that employers may perceive ADP graduates as "overqualified" or may have concerns about the alignment of education costs with desired job positions. So, you should do thorough research on the job market and career opportunities in Malaysia upon your return.

To sum it up, 

DO get an ADP programme if you:

  • Dig the idea of 70% coursework and 30% exams
  • Want an immediate experience in higher education (no beginners intro pls)
  • Seek a well-rounded education
  • Planning to save time and graduate faster (and get to work)
  • Want to experience the best of both worlds (study in Malaysia AND the US!)

DON’T get an ADP programme if:

  • Want to experience higher education in stages (beginner level first!)
  • Looking for a more affordable pre-university option
  • Want a more practical and vocational approach to education
  • Have a clear career plan to work locally  

To find out more about American Degree Programme, click here

VII. South Australian Matriculation/SACE International

The South Australian Matriculation (SACE) is 10 month to a 1-year programme based on the curriculum framework of South Australia and offers a broad range of subjects across different disciplines. 

Similarly to A-Level, SACE provides flexibility in the subject selection, allowing students to choose additional subjects that align with their future study goals (meaning you can customise your study plans according to your interests!)

Because of the broader range of subjects offered, students who are still 50-50 about their career plans can explore their interests through a wide variety of subject areas.

What distinguishes this programme from the other pre-university programmes is its continuous assessment model, where you will be graded continuously throughout your studies instead of facing a major final exam at the end of the year (this is great for students who prefer equal gradation based on different subjects instead of having one huge exam to determine your academic results!).

Like a Foundation programme, you will gain a solid foundation for different subjects, without delving too deep. The difference is that SACE is more internationally recognised, which allows you more opportunities to be absorbed into many worldwide universities if you’re planning to continue your undergraduate overseas.

This programme, however, might not be for you if you prefer a more laid-back approach to your studies that gives you a long time to study each subject without having to juggle multiple subjects at once. With its multiple forms of assessments for different subjects within a short study period, you might feel burned out with a heavy workload

This programme also might not be suited for you if you’re planning to get a highly competitive degree e.g. Medicine, as it doesn’t offer the depth of knowledge and specialisation required for medical studies.

To sum it up, 

DO get the SACE programme if you:

  • You prefer a learning structure that consists of 70% coursework and 30% exams.
  • You desire a well-rounded education that covers a range of subjects, providing entry-level knowledge in various disciplines.
  • You appreciate the idea of being graded equally across different subjects, which contributes to your ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) results.
  • You are looking for a pathway that allows for a faster progression to a degree.
  • You aim to have better opportunities for continuing your studies abroad.

DON’T get a SACE programme if:

  • Want more in-depth knowledge of a specific field of study
  • Prefer exam-focused assessments 
  • Aim to study locally with a local-focused curriculum 
  • Want a more affordable study option 
  • Want a more laid-back study structure with a longer duration to finish your studies

To find out more about South Australian Matriculation (SACE), click here

VIII. Western Australian Matriculation (AUSMAT/WACE)

The Western Australian Matriculation (AUSMAT) a.k.a WACE is very similar to SACE, as it’s based on the Australian Matriculation System. It’s equivalent to Year 12 pre-university Australian high school certificate, with gradation based on the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR). 

The main difference between these two programmes is that they both have a different assessment model, whereby the AUSMAT follows an examination-focused approach, with final exams carrying significant weightage in the assessment.

Besides that, SACE follows the curriculum framework of South Australia, offering a broader range of subjects across various disciplines. AUSMAT, on the other hand, follows the curriculum of Western Australia and focuses on core subjects related to the chosen field of study.

So, if you’re still interested in learning based on Australia’s education system and acquiring a highly recognised qualification but prefer a more exam-based approach with narrowed subject focus, then this programme might be more suitable for you

However, compared to SACE which allows you to customise your study plan, this programme follows a fixed curriculum, allowing less flexibility for you to explore different subjects tailored to your interests. 

To sum it up, 

  • DO get an AUSMAT programme if:
  • You prefer a learning structure that consists of 50% coursework and 50% examination.
  • You desire a more exam-focused learning programme 
  • You are looking for a pathway that allows for a faster progression to a degree.
  • You aim to have better opportunities for continuing your studies abroad.

DON’T get an AUSMAT programme if:

  • Want more flexibility in programme customization
  • Prefer more coursework assessments compared to exams 
  • Aim to study locally with a local-focused curriculum 
  • Want a more affordable study option 
  • Want a more laid-back study structure with a longer duration to finish your studies

To find out more about Western Australian Qualification (AUSMAT), click here

We hope these summaries can help you decide which pre-university option is right for you! But if you're still unsure, you can always refer to our education counsellors to help you gain more clarity on your academic and career goals. They can also recommend the best university option for you! Click the banner below to receive our FREE consultation:

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