Where to Start

Explore Your Study Options in Malaysia

Published by Afterschool.my on Feb 07, 2020, 03:36 pm

Many international students choose to study in the metropolitan areas in Malaysia like the capital, Kuala Lumpur (KL), or heavily-populated areas like Penang. These areas are the hubs for international students as the cities welcome foreign individuals and contain a substantial amount of educational institutions catered to anyone regardless of their background and race.




Educational Pathways


  • Foundation
    • Duration: 11 months - 1.5 years (fast track)
    • Subjects: Varies depending on the programme and institution (usually a combination of compulsory and elective subjects)
    • Coursework: Varies depending on the programme and institution (usually a combination of coursework e.g. research papers, assignments, and exams)
    • Price: 15,000 - 30,000
    • Tailored to: Students who know which course they want to pursue in their desired institution after pre-u ? simpler to move to the next stage of higher education.
  • Diploma
    • Duration: 1 year
    • Subjects: Varies depending on the programme and institution (usually a combination of compulsory and elective subjects)
    • Coursework: Varies depending on the programme and institution (usually a combination of coursework e.g. research papers, assignments, and exams)
    • Price: RM 10,000 - RM 25,000
    • Tailored to: Students who want to fast-track their education to a degree. After spending only a year in Foundation, upon completion, you can immediately enrol in your choice of undergraduate degree.
  • A-Levels (Cambridge UK)
    • Duration: 1.25 - 1.5 years
    • Subjects: Minimum 3 and maximum 4
    • Coursework: 100% exam based (AS Level and A2 Level)
    • Price: RM 20,000 - 40,000
    • Tailored to: Students who are looking for a globally recognised pre-university qualification, are very academically-inclined and prefer exam-oriented assessment rather than coursework or assignments, then A-Levels is the right choice for you.
  • Australian Matriculation: SACE/AUSMAT
    • Duration: 11 months
    • Subjects: 5 subjects including English
    • Coursework:
      • SACE ? 70% coursework (eg. tests, research papers, assignments) and 30% exams
      • AUSMAT ? 50% coursework (eg. tests, research papers, assignments) and 50% exams
    • Price: RM 21,000 - RM 34,000
    • Tailored to: Students who want a globally recognised programme with a much quicker route. Also, preferable for students who want a continuous assessment throughout the year rather than just preparing for their final exams at the end of their course.
  • Canadian Pre-University (CPU)
    • Duration: 1 - 1.25 years
    • Subjects: 6
    • Coursework: 70% coursework (e.g. tests, research papers, assignments) and 30% final exam
    • Price: RM 13,000 - RM 35,000
    • Tailored to: Students who like more subject options in your pre-university programme and prefer hands-on learning. Also, want a continuous assessment throughout the year rather than just preparing for their final exams at the end of their course.
  • American Degree Program (ADP)
    • Duration: 4 years (direct route to an undergraduate degree)
    • Subjects: Between 2 - 6
    • Coursework: 70% overall assessment (tests, assignments, presentations, extra and co-curricular activities) and 30% final exams
    • Price: RM 30,000 - RM 60,000
    • Tailored to: ADP is the only pre-university course that provides a direct entry into your university level course. If you pursue this course, it technically as if you are pursuing your degree. Another upside to the programme is that it has a credit-transfer option which allows the student to transfer their credit to universities overseas after finishing their study in Malaysia.
  • International Baccalaureate (IB)
    • Duration: 2 years
    • Subjects: 6 subjects plus 3 additional IBDP cores (Extended Essay, Theory of Knowledge, and Creativity, Action and Service (CAS))
    • Coursework: 60% coursework (eg. tests, research papers, assignments) and 40% exams
    • Price: RM 20,000 - RM 100,000
    • Tailored to: Students who are interested in learning from a range of subjects, IB may be the one for you as they allow you to choose your subjects from different fields of study including English, Maths, Science, Language and Arts. Also, for students who want an effective university preparation programme as they teach you the different skills and ways of learning at a tertiary educational level. During the two years, the fundamental skills of conducting independent research, writing a university style report and source citing will be taught making the university process easier for the graduate.



Certificate programmes are offered to students who have specific goals set in mind already. Certificates are offered in vocational and technical schools or community colleges. The academic length/completion time in order to receive a certificate takes around a year and after receiving your certificate, students are able to find careers in the technical and vocational fields. The programmes’ main field of studies includes cosmetology, auto repair, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, refrigeration technology (HVAC) and more. Other examples of certificates are medical receptionists and small engine repair.



Undergraduate Degree

There are multiple degrees a student can choose from at different levels, associate's; bachelor’s; masters or doctorate. All these degrees have different completion times and areas of study;

  • An associate’s degree takes two years
  • A bachelor takes around three to four
  • A master takes an additional two more years
  • If you plan on taking a doctorate, it will take another four years

These types of degrees are offered in most colleges and universities and help the students receive a well-rounded education.


Postgraduate Degree

Postgraduate degrees come in two forms; a master’s degree or a doctorate (PhD). This degree is usually done after your undergraduate degree if you wish to continue with your studies. Students typically choose this option as there are more job opportunities that come when having a postgraduate degree.


A master degree typically takes two years to complete and this is only done if you have finished your undergraduate degree. There are different types of masters degree, however, the most common ones are; Masters of Arts (MA), Masters of Science (MSc), Masters of Philosophy (MPhil), Masters of Engineering (MEng) and Masters of Business Administration (MBA). Now, the majority of master courses require a thesis or dissertation to graduate along with any coursework given in the course.



A doctorate’s degree (PhD) is the highest qualification a student can receive in their higher education academic career. A PhDs completion time is around three to six years and consists of the individual undertaking and being involved in the elements of working and researching in the institution. The curriculum for a PhD student consists of: firstly, qualifying as a PhD candidates status by passing a comprehensive examination; secondly, conducting research in a particular subtopic of interest; and finally, students must write a doctoral dissertation and must defend it before a panel of faculty members in order to graduate. PhDs are commonly taken by students that wish to further specialise in their field of study and advance their careers as; researchers, teachers or scholars.


Types of Institutions

There are various types of higher education institutions you can choose from when you come to Malaysia. However, the type of school you want to go to will depends on your needs and what you want to pursue in the future after graduation. Here are some institutions that are available in Malaysia that you can choose from!


Private Colleges

Private colleges is an independent institution that has been privately funded with policies and goals that have been set by themselves. Private colleges are usually smaller than public or private universities with 2,000 to 3,000 students enrolled. While these institutions are catered to all, there are times where the college may be affiliated with a particular religious body or gender, which leads to the course curriculum and student activities becoming catered to those populations.


Private colleges are usually for individuals who want a close and warm atmosphere due to the small number of students enrolled in the institutions. Class sizes would be considerably smaller and you have a better chance knowing people on-campus and having the professors remember your name. The small environment will allow an easier time participating in your classes and joining clubs and societies around campus!


The downside to private colleges, however, will be the limited options compared to public or private universities and will have fields of studies catered to individuals who already have in mind on what they want to study. For example, liberal arts college will offer a range of courses to individuals interested in majoring in the arts or social science fields but will not have many options for students interested in anything else other than the fact. So do keep this in mind, private colleges are institutions with specialized courses for students who already have their goals in mind after finishing high school.


Skill Training Providers

Skills Training Programmes are short specialised courses that help individuals strengthen their soft skills. Such skills can be obtained through physical, face-to-face courses or online courses. The types of skills the students can choose from include:

  • Corporate and Executive Training
  • IT Certifications
  • Administrative and Clerical Skills
  • Business Ethics
  • Customer Service
  • Leadership Skills
  • English and Linguistic Skills
  • Public Speaking Skills
  • Writing Skills
  • and more!


Language Centers

Language centres are available for individuals who want to learn a specific language that may benefit them in life. English is a popular choice among the students here who choose to enrol in these centres however, you still have the choice to study other languages as well such as; Malay, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Spanish and many more. While the language centres offer these courses, there are some universities that also offer these courses but you do have to check with the institutions before applying.


Public Universities

Public universities in Malaysia are fully funded by the government and are governed to be self-managed institutions. These institutions are the main choices for students who are looking for courses that might not be offered by private universities because of the lack of demand or because of the low financial expenses. Public universities in Malaysia offers various types of educational pathways for their students however, the most common ones are bachelor degrees and postgraduate programmes (such as, Masters and PhD). Some universities may offer their students degrees at a diploma and foundation but it will depend on the institution of your choice. 



Currently, in Malaysia, there are 20 public universities, with at least one in every state, established all over the country on both peninsulas. Public universities usually have a larger campus and student enrollments compared to other types of institutions. The famous and well-ranked Research Universities include; Universiti Malaya, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Universiti Kebangsaan, Universiti Sains, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. The Malaysian Technical University Network; UTHM, UTeM, UMP and UniMAP.


Courses provided at these universities are; pure science (eg. physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics and statistics), agricultural sciences, forestry, fishery, veterinary, agro-based, earth science, marine science, town planning, nanotechnology, aerospace engineering, and humanities.


Private Universities

Private universities as known are independent institutions that are usually self-funded. The institutions award their own undergraduate and postgraduate degrees to their students and conduct their own research. There are some that offer programmes are diploma and foundation levels however, they are not as common as taking them in public universities. Now, the courses that private universities provide for their undergraduate students are based on courses that are demanded in the industry, the popular courses that are taken in private universities are:

  • Social Science: Psychology, Communication, and Journalism
  • Allied Health Sciences
  • Engineering
  • Medicine and Health
  • ICT
  • Business: Accountancy, Management, Economics, Banking, and Commerce




Foreign Branch Universities

These universities are invited by the Malaysia government to establish their off-shore campus in Malaysia. There are currently 10 foreign university branch campuses in Malaysia; Monash University Malaysia, Curtin University Malaysia, University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, Swinburne University of Technology, Newcastle University Medicine, University of Southampton, Heriot-Watt University, University of Reading Malaysia, Xiamen University Malaysia, and Royal College of Surgeon in Ireland and University College Dublin. These universities originate from Australia, China and the UK. They award their own degree (undergraduate and postgraduate), diploma and foundation studies qualifications. The qualifications are identical to that of the host universities.



Now, the tuition fees are higher than private universities but are lower than at the host universities abroad. 2+1 and 2+2: Twinning Degree Programmes? Cross-Border Experience


Many foreign branch universities in Malaysia offer their students to experience the opportunity of studying at both the off-shore campus and the host campus while still doing their degree. Many students choose to this twinning degree programme for numerous reasons however, the most common reasons is because it allows the students to experience both lifestyles in the separate campuses and also, because of the different units and classes a student can choose from when going to the host campus.


Now, the twinning degree arrangement may also offer the students substantial savings in tuition fees and other living expenses. The student while in Malaysia will pay the fees in Malaysian Ringgit (MYR) which will be much cheaper, especially for the international students because of their higher currency exchange rate, then moving to the host campus in the last year of their degree then will they only pay their fees in the country’s fees. So doing the course in Malaysia first then moving compared to doing the entire degree outside will be substantially cheaper!


Educational System

Academic Year



In Malaysia, the most common intakes for higher education are February, June and September. However, you do have to cross-check with your desired institutions as they may have other intakes available.


Course Credits

Course credits are important as it determines your abilities to graduate. In most universities, there is a certain amount of credits you need to obtain in order to graduate. If not, you must redo a class or semester depending on your lecturers and course management office. For example, in Monash University Malaysia, a class is equal to 6 credits and you have 4 classes in total (total of 24 credits per semester). If you do not obtain a minimum of 18 credits, you must retake your classes or overload your semester. So do check how many credits you need to graduate in your respective institutions!


Field of Study: Popular Fields of Study taken by Students in Malaysia


  • Arts
  • Language and Literature
  • Law
  • Economics
  • Social Sciences
  • Politics
  • Psychology
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Computer Science
  • Business
  • Engineering


Language of Instruction

Most of the higher education institutions here offer their courses in English however, it depends on where you go and which university you plan on studying. The foreign branch universities and most private universities will offer their courses in English as it is considered the main language of instruction in those institutions. However, if you plan on studying in public universities in Malaysia, do know that many courses are in Malay and only a few of them are offered in English, so do check before applying.


In conclusion, there are various choices for international students to choose from if you wish to study in Malaysia. Malaysia is a hub for international students and higher education institutions. All students from all around the world will feel welcomed here as the main language of instruction is in English is most schools, there are many institutions to enrol in and different types of educational pathways to choose from. So if you do choose to study in Malaysia, do look around for which institutions and level of study may be right for you!

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