Why the U.S. – Sara-Ann (Mount Holyoke ’18)

Going to university so far from home can be daunting for some. After spending a year abroad, Sara-Ann Yong (Mount Holyoke ’18) shares a few reasons she wanted to further her studies in the US back when she was applying to university, and a few reasons that she sticks by her decision today.

Sara (1)

My biggest problem after high school was not knowing how to proceed with my tertiary education. It was daunting that countries like the UK and Australia admitted students by major, and I was unsure about what I wanted to pursue. For 12 years, my academic choices were predetermined by a system and I was desperate to start shaping my own education. I was a pure science student throughout high school and A-Levels and I couldn’t appreciate the rigidity of the education I was receiving. On one hand, I wanted the opportunity to explore other fields of study, but on the other hand, I still wanted the sciences to be an option in case things didn’t work out. I didn’t want to commit to a major, end up disliking it, and be stuck with it for three or four years.

The US offered the flexibility I yearned for.

I applied to college as an ‘undecided’ major, and it was comforting to know when I got to Mount Holyoke that almost every other freshman was ‘undecided’ too. I initially planned to major in Biology, but I took one class in the field and realized it wasn’t for me (luckily I didn’t apply to the UK :p). Now one year into my undergraduate degree, I can safely say that after taking a handful of seemingly random classes that piqued my interests like psychology and scene design (thank you, distribution requirements!), I will be declaring my major in Architectural Studies when I go back to school this fall.

As a current student, my reason for applying to the US has not changed. Going to school in the US has not only given me an open-ended education and allowed me to dabble in different fields, enabling me to find my true passion; it has also opened my mind in the way I view the world.

I never expected to end up in an all-women’s college, but being a part of the Mount Holyoke community has made me a lot more passionate about women’s rights, sexual liberty, etc. – issues that I didn’t care for as much before going to the US. I’ve met some of the most wonderful and accepting people – people, who have followed me outside in the middle of the night, let me jump around like a kid because it was snowing, then called me back inside two minutes later because it was 1 a.m. and they wanted to go back to bed. Mount Holyoke is so breathtakingly beautiful that I’ve spent evenings watching the sky turn pink, purple and orange as I walk to a dining hall after acappella practice wondering how in heaven’s name I got so lucky. I’ve become obsessed with mozzarella sticks (seriously, I cannot find them in Malaysia, please let me know if you do). I’ve spent nights at UMass Amherst with the craziest bunch of people and taken the last bus home, swearing that I would never drink again. I’ve also spent nights in the studio and stayed there till seven in the morning working on my final project, Elmer’s glue and paint covering my hands, and it didn’t matter much that I hadn’t slept in two days or that I had a class in two hours because I was finally doing something I enjoy.

I chose the US because I wanted to learn, really learn – not just to memorize and regurgitate facts to obtain a good grade. I can say that in the past year, I’ve achieved that.

Thinking of studying in the U.S., but don’t know how to get there? USAPPS is a workshop by Malaysians, for Malaysian dreamers who want to apply to U.S. universities. Students, parents and teachers are all welcome. Come meet Malaysian current students and alumni from U.S. universities. Register here – http://www.usapps.org/the-2015-workshops/ 

Myth: U.S education is no different from education elsewhere – Yeng Kerng (Cal Poly ’18)

Is going to school in the US different from going to school in any other country? In our Mythbusters series, Yeng Kerng (Cal Poly ‘18) shares about his experiences furthering his studies in the land of the free.

Yeng Kerng

The United States of America – land of the free and home to an increasing populace of international students. With over four thousand universities to boast, the US remains the world’s leading destination for international students. Yet, despite all the praise we hear, there seems to be a lack of interest toward studying in the US amongst Malaysian students.

The most common question I get about the U.S. of A is regarding my studies, or rather, about how studying in the U.S. is different from studying in other countries. I’ll start by pointing out the obvious: Education in the U.S. isn’t purely academic. Academics is without a doubt one of the biggest factors that comes with your degree, but what really sets the U.S. apart from other countries I would say, is the diversity you experience. The U.S. is literally a huge melting point of cultures and ethnicities; in no other place would you be in a room with Caucasians and Latinos sharing a bowl of kimchi made by Indians.

Another important thing to note is that you may have to take classes outside of your major. Engineering majors like me are still subjected to taking history and psychology classes. One of the biggest aspects of the U.S education system is to build character and develop life skills; these classes are there to help you apply subtle but vital life skills in your degree. Remember, education is 20% information, 30% ingenuity and 50% getting the ingenuity to work with the information.

Of course, going to university in a different country may be daunting. For example, Cal Poly is mainly made up of caucasians, so unlike some other schools in California, Asians are a minority here. Having said that, I was very well received when I first came and was integrated into the college within the first few days. Americans that I’ve dealt with are definitely more upfront and personal, which was a welcoming change from the more timid Malaysian persona.

Whatever your reasons may be and wherever you may go, studying abroad is an experience unlike any other. Take this opportunity to travel the world and learn about new cultures, and let the experiences shape your life completely. Also, should you visit California, please let me know – I’ll bring you to In and Out (a famous burger place)!

Yeng Kerng- Burger

Dear Past Self – Amanda (Wesleyan ’19)

As she gets prepped to leave for her first year in the land of the free, Amanda Yeoh (Wesleyan ‘19) reflects on some things she would have liked to have known while she was applying to university. Here’s the second edition of our “Dear Past Self” series.

Amanda Yeoh

Dear Amanda,

I generally don’t spend too much time wondering what my life would be like if I had known XYZ. But it wouldn’t have hurt to have known a couple of these things when I was in your position.

Getting into the college you want is all about preparation, preparation, preparation. The earlier you can begin, the better. Studying for the SATs in Standard 6 is pushing it… but note that you’ll be in a pool of applicants from the US who have prepped for college their entire (junior) high school lives. The point is, figure out what you want as soon as possible—and more importantly, what is financially realistic—then work towards your goals. Visit as many college booths as you can, even if you’re not considering attending a specific college, because you never know what you may be missing out on.

 You’ll want to look your best on paper. Be it from your extra-curricular activities to your academics, you should always challenge yourself into becoming better in what you’ve set out to do. Dedication to your chosen commitments is a huge plus point as well—it’s not enough to participate in activity just to boost your resume. While that is an understandable launching point, you must be able to demonstrate how significant your contributions have been. Don’t be lazy either. Take the most academically rigorous classes your pre-university can offer. US colleges hold your academics in high regard, in case you thought otherwise.

Speak to as many people as you can! Ask lots of questions about schools you’re interested in. It’s one of the many ways to determine which colleges “fit” you best. It’s important to get a sense of what a college’s culture is like because you want to spend four years flourishing in an environment that helps you maximize your potential. If you’re not into Greek life, you probably don’t want to attend a college whose Greek life is a huge part of the school’s culture… (The weather should be a factor too!!!!)

Always use your time wisely. Why not learn a new skill (via edX or MIT) during your holidays? Become an independent learner. You actually want to be an interesting individual—more than just “2200; Malaysian; President of Club XYZ”. Read voraciously—I cannot stress this enough—because it is through reading that you’ll develop your thoughts and opinions.

Above all, keep yourself motivated. To quote one of my favourite figures on Twitter, Goldman Sachs Elevator, “’Do what you love’ is great advice for making 30k a year.” Remember that at the end of the day, your education is one of the largest investments you’ll make in your lifetime, and you’ll want to maximize your returns.

Stay savvy.



Dear Past Self – May May (UPenn ’17)

If our facilitators could give any advice to their former applicant selves, what would they say? In the first of our “Dear Past Self” series, May May Pau (University of Pennsylvania, ’17) reflects on all nighters, cherry blossom adventures and her journey so far in the U.S.. 


As I look at my half-packed suitcase at the end of my sophomore year at Penn, there are still things that completely baffle me – how I applied and got in, how I have this beautiful apartment, how I survived two full years in this insane institution. There are still mornings where I wake up thinking that I deserve none of this – the now dead and dried up flowers from my show in March, the wall full of handwritten notes from people who love me more than I know how to describe, the super high quality printer paper they have in Wharton printers, admission to the school that one of my closest friends called his dream. Then, there are other days where I wonder how it is that there was ever a point in my life I considered giving up on all of it and giving college a pass.

People say, “You will not remember the all-nighters you pulled studying for that midterm”. That is untrue. You will have distinct memories of sitting in a GSR with Petra and Peter till 8AM one Sunday morning and the exceedingly long walk back from DRL with Miao after astronomy lab, as you will remember skipping Friday class to see cherry blossoms in DC, screaming your lungs out at Half Moon Bay, and nearly getting run over by cars driving in the bike lane in West Philly. You’ll have more “first”s than you could ever have imagined – first frat party, first hamantaschen, first Amazon shopping spree, first major academic disappointment since Moral Studies in Form 4; MLB game, hush puppies with melted butter, snowball fight, contra dance, Yogorino… In your first two years at college, you’ll get to do more than some people will in a lifetime. Things won’t always go as planned, but there will be people who let you have one candle on your birthday cake and people who wake you up in time for your 9AMs. You will live, and life will be so full – of surprises, of challenges, of insurmountable grace.

When things seem the bleakest and hopelessness clings onto your heart like paint on glass, remember these three things: First, you are more than what you are (or are not) on any piece of paper – a resume, a transcript, or even a rejection letter. You have much to say, much to give. Have faith that you are worth it, and don’t take chances away from yourself. Second, you couldn’t have made it anywhere near where you are if not for the people who have supported you all this way. It is a blessing to even be able to start on this journey, to know that college exists, to be in a position where applying is a possibility. Be grateful. Say thank you. Finally, a lot of things in life – the weather, success, failure, admission, rejection – are completely beyond your control. Just give it your all, and roll with it – things will be okay. You’ll be told that teardrops taste a little salty, but also a little sweet – there will be pain, no doubt, but there will also be immense joy. Don’t give up. It will be beautiful.

It will be so, so beautiful.

All my love,
May May