Meet Amelia Yeoh!

You’ve not met them all! With May May and Josephine form UPenn and Wesleyan University respectively, lets get to know Amelia who is studying in a liberal arts college.


Hello! I’m Amelia Yeoh, a rising sophomore at Smith College who plans to major in neuroscience. Born and raised in Penang, I’ve also spent quite some time in Kuala Lumpur; partly because my family has temporarily moved there and that I interned at the Brain Research Institute Monash Sunway (BRIMS) before coming to Smith. However, I’m a Penangite at heart and hokkien mee, to me, would always be yellow noodles in a spicy prawn broth. Yes, I am a foodie.

What was your pathway to the US?

After Form 5, I remember making a difficult decision. I turned down the JPA scholarship to study medicine and instead, pursued STPM at Saint Xavier’s Institution Penang. At 17 years old, the idea of becoming a doctor did not match my enthusiasm for Biology. At the same time, I knew my parents could not pay for a medical degree should I decide to study medicine in the future. Knowing there were not many scholarships available for a medical degree made this choice a hard one. Ultimately, I decided I should pursue something I was sure of. So I did STPM with the intention of applying to the US. Those additional two years made me realize I had other interests and the liberal arts was a good way to cultivate them. And now, here I am.

Tell us something about your application process.

I wouldn’t have gone to Smith if I didn’t know you could actually appeal for financial aid. I mean, it’s quite bizarre if you think about it. Where else could you possibly do so? It was the resources from the USAPPS and the advice from the faci’s that I believe made my financial aid appeal a success.

What do you do in your free time?

If I’m not in class, you’d find me on the water, in a boat. I wanted to row for Smith but my coach decided I’d make a better coxswain. (person in charge of steering the boat, but really there’s a lot more to it!) Yeah, somehow I ended up doing a lot of outdoor activities like skiing, kayaking, hiking and biking. Perhaps once I get out of New England, I will try surfing! But the most fun thing I’ve done in college so far was curating an art exhibition.  I submitted my name for a curatorial program and by random chance, got selected! So I designed my own posters and labels for my show and had access to 1600 drawings, 5700 photographs and more than 8000 prints stored in the Smith Art Museum. The day could not get any better when I received a congratulatory message form the wife of the photographer whose photo I featured.

Amelia with her fellow coxswain buddies at Lake Lanier in Georgia, before attempting the ‘coxswain row’.

Meet Josephine!


Now that you’ve met May May, it’s time to meet another member from the USAPPS2014 Core Committee,  Josephine Ho. Read on to learn more about her!



Enjoying the fall season
Enjoying the fall season

Hello! I am Josephine and I am a sophomore at Wesleyan University. I have lived in Kuala Lumpur all my life until I came to Wesleyan. I haven’t been to the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak, but I have been to Sabah and have climbed Mount Kinabalu! I enjoy traveling although I can’t say I am an outdoor person. I spent all my breaks in the US thus far and have been really lucky to have friends who love traveling too. Moving to Middletown has made me appreciate the vibrance of a big city. I am so glad that NYC is just two hours away!

What do you do in your free time?

When I am free, I spend time at the dining hall, eating really slowly and catching up with my friends. My college’s dining hall has a great selection of food but there is nothing like home-cooked meals. I love having potlucks because it motivates me to cook good dishes for my friends. I am casual Latin dancer so I take dance classes with a dance instructor who comes to campus each week. I live in the Japanese Hall on campus because I have a keen interest in living and collaborating with people who are equally interested in Japanese culture. I have a keen interest origami, particularly modular origami. There is a beautiful cemetery atop the hill behind my dorm. When it is not too cold, my friends and I would stroll to the hilltop to watch the city nightlights or the sunset.

Having fun at Wesleyan's  SEA cultural night
Having fun at Wesleyan’s SEA cultural night

What are you involved in your college that you never saw yourself doing?

I played the erhu in a Chinese music ensemble during my freshman year. It was my first time playing a musical instrument in many years.

How do you deal with homesickness?

I tend to be homesick when life becomes too comfortable and monotonous. To combat this, I travel during breaks and try out new things. It can be as simple as a new restaurant in town or getting to know a new friend! I have also met a bunch of friends who are really warm and supportive. We celebrate birthdays with potlucks, video games and karaoke– we have a friend who has a gig in karaoke services!

Curing homesickness with some karaoke.

Meet May May!


That’s right, the USAPPS 2014 is back again this summer with an exciting series of workshops coming your way. In the mean time let’s meet, May May, who is overseeing the core committee this year and has been working hard with the core to make this year’s workshops the best yet!


Enjoying the first days of spring 2014 on High Rise Field

Hi! My name is May May and I am currently a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania. I was raised in Kuala Lumpur, but my family is Sarawakian (taking full ownership of the ‘K’ on my IC). In other words, I have extremely high standards when it comes to the freshness of fish, been on speedboats way too many times than I care for, and know what its like to have goats in my backyard. I love the contrast between East and West Malaysia, and I appreciate the fact that I got to experience the dichotomy growing up.

Some other things I like are music, sunshine and Faber-Castell color pencils. I also have this mild obsession with hair bows. During my school days, I spent far too many conscious hours playing computer games (I was one of those kids who replayed RPGs to the point where I would walk away during cut scenes because I knew all the lines).

What do you do in your free time?

Watching the sunrise from the steps leading up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Watching the sunrise from the steps leading up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art

I used to find myself strolling to Center City Philadelphia whenever I had free time, back when I had free time. Philadelphia is honestly a great city, and there is way too much to explore, from food to culture to history. Every time I think I’ve seen it all, a friend of mine would post up a photo of a different area in town, or a really cool restaurant that I have not been to, and that is more than enough for me to justify another trip down. I spend a great deal of time drawing and designing. To me, art is a realm of endless possibilities, and it makes me really happy to be able to turn a blank canvas into something meaningful. Back home, I was also the kid who brought brownies and macarons to group projects because I was constantly baking, and over-baking. Who knows, I might whip something up during the workshops!

Disney World over winter with USAPPS veterans!

Why is USAPPS 2014 special to you?

Because I’m on the core! Jokes. Yes, it means a great deal to me because I am personally involved, but I think that USAPPS 2014 is great because the first cohort of students that attended the very first USAPPS workshops will be graduating from university this year. With this, I think that USAPPS has reached a whole new milestone, and seeing how well all of these seniors turned out is a huge source of inspiration for me. It is my hope that they would be able to bring their stories and experiences to the table and inspire the next batch of Malaysian dreamers. USAPPS 2014 will be bringing changes to the table – I look forward to it!

What are you involved in your college that you never saw yourself doing?

Everyone who has known me in the past would laugh out loud at the fact that I am part of a fraternity – a professional business fraternity, at that!

 How do you deal with homesickness?

To be completely honest, I don’t! It’s not to say that I don’t sometimes miss having a bed two times larger than it has to be, my adorable cats, and being able to use completely mangled English and still have people understand what I am saying. Rather, I am just very blessed to be surrounded by very loving people who have become my home away from home. My Bible study group does potlucks all the time so I get loads of home-cooked food, which is great. I am very involved with the Malaysian Student Association on campus, too, and it is a very warm community. We often have joint events with other ASEAN constituent groups (where we basically get together and eat massive amounts – yet often not enough -of Asian food) and it’s been great!

Spring break potluck with my SGP Bible Study



“Rather than being told how and what to think about what we are reading, we are asked to reach our own conclusions through deep thinking, critical analysis, and intense discussion.”

Tell us about yourself!
Hey, Malaysian dreamers! My name is Tan Guan Tyng and I am a senior in St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. What is my major? This is my favorite question because I have no major; my major is not ‘undecided’ but I actually have had no major during my time in college. Most people give me a confused look because, unlike most people, my academic major is not the characteristic description of myself. This is because of the system that my college has, which I shall explain later. Beyond academics, I love hiking, singing, dancing, and cooking. To me, there is nothing like going to blues dancing on weekends, after a whole week of immersing in the world of great books by awesome authors.

What about your US education do you value most?
I really value the fact that people from the United States are generally respectful of who I am, who I want to be, and what I want achieve, regardless of where I am from.

During my freshman and sophormore years, I was pretty active in performing arts. Besides several plays and solo singing with a band, I was also part of the two most famous musicals: “Sweeney Todd” & “Don Quixote – The Man of La Mancha” ! (Just in case you don’t recognize me, I am the long-haired police officer in the middle 😛

Why did you choose to study in the US? What does the “liberal arts” mean to you?
First of all, I would like to clarify that I did not come to study in United States because of the United States itself. I chose the United States because of the unique liberal arts education offered by St. John’s College.

In classical antiquity the study of liberal arts was considered essential for a person to take an active part in the civilized world. I was intrigued by this – I have always wanted to be an individual who thinks, reads, speaks and writes, not motivated by the interpretation of textbook writers, but by the authors who originated the ideas themselves. For example, Plato, Einstein, Euclid, Kant, Augustine, Galileo, Mozart, etc. are the authors that pioneered the most fundamental ideas that this world is built on.

St. John’s has a unique approach to the liberal arts, It has a distinctive program where we read and explore a common body of works that are timeless, and therefore timely, from different disciplines – mathematics, science, philosophy, psychology, language, history, political science, economics, theology, etc (you name it!). One thing that I learned is that many of these authors did not devote their works to matters of a particular discipline, but their works often touched multiple disciplines. The college’s coeducational community, free of religious affiliation, takes an opened-minded approach to ideas of all kinds. Rather than being told how and what to think about what we are reading, we are asked to reach our own conclusions through deep thinking, critical analysis, and intense discussion.

Another distinctive aspect about the liberal arts at St. John’s is the low emphasis on structured assessments. We do not talk too much about grades and we do not take any exams to measure how well we do academically. We are all evaluated by the professors for our class contribution and our essays. So, instead of being bogged down by the grades, we are more interested in learning itself rather than learning for the sake for getting good grades. And of course, we are not just a bunch of nerds who just merely care about answering the hard fundamental questions.

How has US education changed you as a person?
I think it has broadened my perspective towards life. It has given me a great opportunity to grow as an individual as the United States places individual growth as a high priority, unlike other cultures of other countries.

A piece of advise you would give to someone looking to further his/her studies abroad.

To balance out my rigorous academic work in St. John’s, I decided to join one of the toughest but the most fruitful summer internship programs in the United States called Varsity Company International. After being in this program for these past 3 summers, from being a rookie intern to an experienced student manager, I have learned so many practical skills and successful principles that I could never have learned in any kind of classroom settings.

Just by being on this website, I believe that you are at least considering going out of your comfort zone (Malaysia) to pursue the best education that you could ever have. While an overseas education does not necessitate your success in life, I will mention that the opportunity has helped me grow to be a young, independent adult.

Regardless of where you choose to study, the most important thing is that you are making the best decision that will put you on track towards your life goals. Be thorough in doing research when you are selecting colleges/universities so that you will not regret your final decision in the end.

Any last comments?
If you are someone who wants an education that helps you to prepare for your life rather than just focusing on training yourself to be a professional in one or two fields of study, feel free to request more information from me about St. John’s College. I am more than willing to help you understand more about this college to see if this is a place where you belong for your undergraduate education.

So You Want To Go To Graduate School – Your Questions Answered

This first write up on graduate schools in the US was contributed by Henry Yew.

Was I warm or cold – at Yosemite National Park

Tell us about yourself!
Howdy! This is Henry Yew and I am a graduate student at Texas Tech University. Unlike most, if not all, of the facilitators here, I hold a Bachelor’s degree from Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS in civil engineering with special electives in petroleum engineering. Therefore, graduate school was my pathway to the United States. I graduated with my Master’s from Texas Tech last December and (as if that was not enough torture already!) I will be pursuing my doctorate in the same university this autumn.

What are the requirements for graduate studies?
Well, in general terms, these are the items that you will need:

  • A recognized Bachelor’s degree (some schools have a list of qualifications that they do not accept)
  • TOEFL/IELTS (the former is preferred; exceptions may apply)
  • GRE, GRE Subject or GMAT
  • Either two or three recommendations
  • A personal statement, or statement of purpose
  • A curriculum vita/résumé

No, you don’t need SAT scores, so if you didn’t take the SAT, don’t bother. Also, just because you meet the basic requirements does not mean that you will be offered admissions, so keep that in mind!

Have you considered other countries besides the US for graduate school?
The funny thing is that the US was not one of my choices for graduate studies initially! I actually looked into the National University of Singapore, the University of Melbourne, Imperial College London and the like. Texas Tech University was practically unheard of (not surprisingly).
In 2010, a new professor in my department taught me structural dynamics and he has been, and still is, a great inspiration to me. I have always been curious about where my professors graduated from, and I found out that he graduated from Texas Tech. As I built rapport with him, I expressed my desire to pursue graduate studies and he encouraged me to do so in the US. To discourage – nay – to incentivize me, he said, “If you want to do your graduate studies in the US, I will write a good recommendation letter for you, otherwise you can forget it.”

You seem motivated to pursue graduate studies. How did you know that it was the right choice?
First, I need to echo the sentiments of my professor that graduate school is not for everybody. Having said that, I strongly believe that an individual should succeed in spite of a graduate degree, and if you are sure that a Bachelor’s degree alone will sufficiently equip you with the skills necessary to propel you far into your career and create success for yourself, then it is definitely all right not to pursue graduate studies.
My motivation came from my interest in structural dynamics and random vibrations. I recognised this area to be rather unpopular in Malaysia – and for good reasons. Structural dynamics is not a very easy subject to pick up, and there are reasons why this topic is usually taught at Master’s and Doctoral levels. Yet, structural vibrations are a norm in our daily lives. Tall buildings sway due to wind, bridges vibrate due to vehicles travelling on them, and buildings move due to ground motion generated by earthquakes. Analysing and interpreting these problems require advanced knowledge in engineering and mathematics to produce the necessary solutions, but we have relatively few people with such expertise.

Does ranking matter to you?
Although it is nice to have the opportunity of studying in a school which is highly ranked just for the prestige, ultimately my quest is one for knowledge. Personally speaking, it is not wise to apply to certain universities based on rankings alone. Just because a school is ranked at 10th placing in the world does not mean that it has the 10th best business school, the 10th best college of engineering and the 10th best medical school in the world. Such measure is a relative one.

I heard you got admissions to Cornell, so why do you still choose Texas Tech?
First off: money problems. Although I received admissions to pursue my doctorate in Cornell, I was not offered funding, and Cornell isn’t cheap. Despite my efforts, unfortunately (or fortunately) they amounted to nothing. I cannot exhaust my family’s finances just for my doctorate – that’s a very selfish ambition. Pursuing my doctorate in Texas Tech is at least three times cheaper. What’s more – I am offered a scholarship from the department that qualifies me for in-state tuition, effectively slashing my tuition by almost half, and also a half-time assistantship for the first semester which will subsidize my costs significantly. I remember that while working as a research assistant during my Master’s programme, I paid almost next to nothing for my tuition.
Although money was a big factor in my decision-making process, the wind engineering programme that Texas Tech offers is one of the best, if not the best, in the United States. Wind engineering and structural dynamics go hand-in-hand, and Texas Tech has what I believe to be excellent facilities to perform wind-related research. It has even leased a big portion of an abandoned air force base (now called “Reese Technology Centre”) to perform full-scale tests of structures against wind.
Then there are also the people in Lubbock, Texas, who are very warm, helpful and friendly which enabled me to settle down and adapt very quickly.

This is what I find at Reese while setting up my research – do you see the desert horned lizard in the picture above?


Texas Tech University Jones AT&T Stadium – time for some American football!

How expensive can graduate studies be?
Well, it can range from anything as low as $900 per year to tens of thousands of dollars per year. Bottom line is: if you are going to pursue your doctorate, you shouldn’t be paying (much) to do that.
If you want to attend school where tuition is lower, then you would want to opt for public or state universities. Of course, it would not matter where you want to apply if money is no issue for you, or if you are funded.

What type of funding do graduate students usually get?
If you are counting on your department to provide funding for you, then your options are quite limited. Although some schools have departmental scholarships, they are not much and they often cover a part of your tuition; they don’t come with a monthly stipend either. However, it is possible to apply for multiple scholarships such that you end up paying nothing for tuition. I need to caution you, though, that if you are offered too many scholarships where the total awarded amount exceeds your tuition, then your scholarships will be taxable.
Graduate students can also apply for teaching or research assistantships, and such funding is not available for undergraduate students. However, getting an assistantship can be extremely difficult for Master’s students as research grants are usually awarded to doctoral students. I was fortunate enough that there was a research that was short enough to be handled by a Master’s student and I was employed as a research assistant. In many cases, however, Master’s students find themselves unable to secure any assistantship although they are usually awarded scholarships to waive out-of-state tuition.
Alternatively, there are also fellowships that are offered by certain external organisations or even by the college itself. To know more about fellowships, you will need to either contact the organisation or your professors to enquire about the possibility of securing funds through fellowships.
Then there are also our Malaysian full-ride scholarship providers such as Khazanah and JPA. However, timing is very important so you must check the application deadlines carefully and plan way ahead.

What’s the most difficult part of graduate applications?
I would say that writing the personal statement was, by far, the most challenging task for me. Writing a personal statement is not just about telling the admissions committee why you want to pursue graduate studies or why you should be offered admissions, but rather about how your capabilities can complement those of their faculty members, how your ideas can bring added value to your studies and the core research activities of the department, how your life story has led you to pursue graduate studies, the challenges you faced and how you have worked towards attaining your goals. There are quite a lot of materials to write within one or two pages.
You should never take your personal statement for granted because it tells the admissions committee a lot about you. The personal statement is a space for you to be personal yet professional; imagine attending an interview, only that your answers are in written form.
I wrote my personal statement while I was in Texas Tech, and I utilised the University Writing Centre extensively to help me proofread and critique my personal statement. The University Writing Centre (UWC) provides critique and tutorial services to students and faculty members who want to improve their writing. If your university has such a centre, you would want to use such a service to get them to provide feedback and comments on how to make your personal statement stronger. Before I came up with the final personal statement, I had the UWC critique my statement three or four times and made many changes accordingly.
There is also the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) that applicants should never take for granted as well. It is an exam that deserves extensive preparation, and if you have done the TOEFL before, you might be led to believe that the English component in the GRE is just as easy. In fact, it is the exact opposite. If you have done the SAT before, you would know well not to treat the GRE so lightly.

Don’t you miss Malaysian food? Don’t Americans eat only potatoes?
Are you kidding me? You should look at the figure below – they were all taken from the dining halls and restaurants around Texas Tech. If you are not careful, you will return to Malaysia with more than just a degree.

op row – Broccoli beef rice (left), cheese spud potato (right)
Centre row – Fiesta rice bowl (left), vegetable pot pie (centre), chocolate cake (right)
Bottom row – Grilled fish and rice (left), soup noodles (right)

Everybody who goes for graduate studies will only end up as academicians, right?
Of all the questions that people have asked me, this has got to be the one that I am most offended of. When I expressed my desire on pursuing a doctorate to a key figure in the civil engineering industry (who obviously does not have a graduate degree), the reply I got was: “You want to pursue a PhD? What a stupid choice you’ve made! I have met so many people with PhD, and more often than not they end up in universities.”
Happily for me, my immediate goal is not to be an academician, but to be a consultant – a businessman. I don’t measure success in terms of dollars and cents only, although wealth is part of the reason why I want to be a businessman. I love the idea of owning and managing my own company with a few partners and provide services to the civil engineering industry. Above all, I have the opportunity to use my skills and be part of the pioneers in an area that is growing increasingly important and pays well, so why should I opt for something where competition is extremely stiff? Why do something that so many have done before you? Why compete against giants? Success is not about doing something that many others have done before you and surviving the competition, but rather about creating a niche for yourself different from others and to profit from it.
Of course, becoming an academician is always an option that is open to me, but that will be something that I will consider in the far future. For now, I want to prove someone dreadfully wrong – and to emphasise that times have changed.

Graduate students have no life, right?
Says who? I think I have done a lot in the United States as a graduate student – I have travelled quite a bit (Yellowstone National Park, Arches National Park, Mount Rushmore, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Kansas City, San Diego, Los Angeles, New York City, Washington D.C. just to name a few), and I’m not done with travelling yet! Then there is the haunted house during Halloween, and I love musical and orchestral shows. My life is never all about studies and research – it’s a mixture of academics, entertainment and socialising.
So don’t believe everything that you see in PhD Comics (!

“The Sound of Music” at Mackenzie Park – two of my friends performed here and one of them was my classmate!


The Lubbock Symphony Orchestra – Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 anyone?

Finally, there is no snow in Texas, right? Isn’t it warm over there?
Whoa! What gave you that idea? I know that it’s really hot during the summer (almost 40 degrees Celsius) but it can get cold here in Lubbock, too, during the winter (-11 degrees Celsius). It snows in Lubbock, but snow doesn’t sit around for weeks. The weather is so variable in Lubbock that you might see snow today, and it will all be gone tomorrow. But if snow is such a highlight for you, don’t worry, you will not be disappointed.

I made those tracks.


The third door from the left was the townhouse that I used to stay – it’s an on-campus housing (oh, the snow was about six inches thick)

So that is all from me for now. If you have any questions to ask about graduate studies, Texas Tech University and places to visit, you can drop me an e-mail at henry.yew88[at]gmail[dot]com!

Meet Yoshnee!

With the 2 Day workshop just days away, let’s get to know more about one rising senior who’s part of our team of friendly facis, Yoshnee!

Introduce yourself!

Hello folks, my name is Yoshnee and that is how I usually go by. For some odd reason, most people seem to pronounce my name as “Yaw”-shnee thus compelling me to tell them that it’s actually pronounced “Yo” like “yo-yo wassup”.  Other nicknames of mine include Yosh and Yoshi — yes I used to play Super Mario 64 when I was a kid and I know Yoshi is this green dinosaur character from there.

Born and brought up in KL. I attended SMK Assunta and then TCSH for my A-levels before heading to the US of A. I am currently a rising senior at UCLA. What do I enjoy doing during my free time? Other than the watching a movie, sleeping and surfing the net usuals, I also enjoy sitting down and talking about anything and everything with friends and family over some great food. Two of my favourite topics are politics and celebrities – yes a big contrast indeed! Lastly, you can’t say you know a tad bit about me if you don’t know that I am huge fan of The Vampire Diaries. Just understand that in this case, the synonyms of huge also include crazy, super and obsessed –so yea, you get the picture.

What did you do in high school?

I was a prefect all throughout secondary school, from the end of Form 1 to Form 5, so I was pretty disciplined, strict and autocratic (Yea right? This is probably the biggest joke ever). No, but yea I was also very much into badminton and I used to represent the Selangor State up until I was 17. I spent most of my after school hours attending centralized training, therefore I wasn’t very active with any ECA’s in school. I remember that in the whole month of March 2006, I only went to school for one week because I was away on tournaments most of the time that month.

Why did you choose to apply to the US?

To be honest, my story is quite complicated. To make this brief, lets start with the fact that my father did his Undergrad Degree in the US as well, so he had always been encouraging me to do the same from a very young age. When I was doing my A-levels, I was surrounded by classmates who were gearing up to go to the UK, which influenced me to think that that would be a better option. Despite that, I still kept my options opened and let’s just say that upon the request of my father, I randomly (keyword: randomly) applied to the UC schools. I initially intended to apply to more universities in the US, but with the workload and pressure from doing A-levels, I just didn’t have the time and capacity. Well, I’m here now, so it all worked out for the best – and I’m more than glad it did.

Why did you decide to be a part of USAPPS?

Because I know how it feels like to be clueless, to not know how to go about and to deal with what’s in store for you during the next few months; at the peak of the application process. I wish I knew about USAPPS during the time when I applied. It’s always nice to have someone who has “been there and done that” to guide you and answer your questions. The time has come for me to give back by sharing my journey, thoughts and experiences with all of you folks who aspire to study in the States. Just like Chan Leong wrote in his blog post, the reason is simple, and it’s – you!

Meet Elsheba!

All pumped up and ready for next weekend’s  USAPPS 2 Day workshop? Spend some time to learn more about one of the awesome facis we have helping out this year – Elsheba!

Introduce yourself!

Hey everyone! Elsheba K. Abraham here and I am a rising sophomore currently studying in Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. In simpler terms, I’ve basically finished my first (freshman) year in college. I’m back in Malaysia for the wonderful three month summer break that we have before continuing my second year in Hopkins! I am currently considering a double major in Behavioral Biology and Anthropology with a minor in Italian. Yes, if it’s not apparent – I kind of like to study people haha.

What did you do in high school?

Friends at Hopkins Spring Fair

Before I ended up studying in the USA I was just a regular kid studying in SMK (P) Sri Aman in PJ. I was into lots of things in high school: track, tennis and being a prefect took up a large part of my secondary school life.  Outside of school, I developed other interests too – some of which I still keep at till today. I absolutely love dancing (hip-hop especially though I don’t discriminate against other styles) and will find any opportunity to either perform or watch other dance performances. Being the curious traveler that I am, I also make it a point to do as much traveling and exploring as I can – not only in other countries, but in my beloved Klang Valley too. I’m always up for an adventure, and finding hidden food treasures come at the top of my priorities as a traveler.

Why the US?

After studying in Sri Aman, I was given a scholarship by JPA to study in the US. So I was sent to INTEC, Shah Alam to do my ADFP for a year before finally flying over to the States. When I applied for a scholarship to the US, I didn’t even know what field of study I was interested at that time. All I knew was that whatever I studied, I wanted to study in the US. What caused my strong fascination for the US was their unique and wholesome approach to education. I appreciated the fact that students were given enough flexibility to explore their academic options before deciding on their major, and emphasis was placed on knowledge inside as well as outside the classroom. So that’s why it was such a relief to know my dreams were becoming reality when I received my acceptance letter to JHU. Although Hopkins was not my first choice, I’ve come to realize that I was meant to go here and have not looked back since.

What made you join USAPPS?

Sitting at the Hopkins sign

The only reason why I am able to sit here and write to you about my ongoing experience in the US is because I had guidance when I was applying for the US; the people around me helped to ensure I got a spot in the universities of my choice. That is why I am with the USAPPS 2013 team now – I can only hope to give back a little bit of what I got to everyone else thinking of applying to the States. It is a wonderful country with such an amazing range of people, environments and attitudes that you could only dream of. The US is the perfect place for someone to develop both in intellect and as a person in general, and I want to help prepare you for the best four years of your life.

Meet Si Ning!

We just covered Annabelle, a rising freshman at Mount Holyoke College (if you haven’t read it, it’s just over here). Now, let’s meet someone at the other end of the spectrum in terms of experience – a fresh graduate! Introducing…..Si Ning!

Introduce yourself!

Si Ning

Hi! My name’s Si Ning, and I’ve just graduated from Cornell University, that big beautiful university in the middle of nowhere. During my time in Cornell, I double majored in Economics and Government and double minored in Spanish and Southeast Asian Studies. If they had a PE minor, I would have totally gone for that too – one of my happiest achievements in Cornell is having fitted in six semesters of belly dancing, two semesters of swimming and massage each and a semester of rock climbing into my schedule there. Do feel free to discuss with me any and all of these subjects!

What did you do in high school?

I was pretty much the ultimate bookworm during my time in SMK Taman SEA – I still am, in fact, as I voraciously devour any novel which catches my eye. I took part in some Scrabble competitions (though if you were to ask me now, I’ve totally forgotten all those interesting Scrabble tactics and vocab) and was the sub-editor for our school’s editorial board. In short, I like reading, writing, word games and academic stuff. That hasn’t changed much over the years!

Favorite bands/music/books?

On the Cornell Arts Squad – see the clocktower!

Gothic symphonic metal is my one true love. Sometimes random songs from other genres will catch my fancy, but it is bands like Nightwish, Within Temptation and Lacuna Coil which I return to at the end of the day. One of the more enjoyable perks of being in the US was that I got to attend some of their live concerts; one less enjoyable experience was accidentally getting caught in a mosh pit in one such concert. I like not getting squished to a pancake by excited metal fans, thank you very much.

As for books, I can’t really pick a favorite – there’s just so many awesome ones! While I am certainly more partial to sci-fi/fantasy novels (Tolkien, Terry Pratchett and Piers Anthony have contributed quite a lot to my little library at home), I’m happy to lose myself in the occasional Dean Koontz suspense thriller or Georgette Heyer romance novel. Browsing through secondhand bookstores like Pay Less Books was my favorite weekend activity, as I could find so many great books by lesser-known authors that way.

What do you like to do for fun outside of USAPPS?

Learning. I love acquiring new knowledge, just for the sake of knowing more (classes don’t really count – I tend to end up learning for grades there). Currently, I’m taking shameless advantage of the free resources available online and learning German via, coding via, public speaking skills via, etc.

Belly dance class

Meet Annabelle!

With our 2 Day workshop just around the corner, let’s meet some of the awesome facilitators who will be at the workshop ready to answer your questions! To start things off, let’s get to know more about Annabelle:

Introduce yourself!

Volunteering for SPARTFEST

Hello dreamers! I am Annabelle, a rising freshman at Mount Holyoke College. It seems that I have run out of creative introductions so I will just start by listing a few of the many things I love and see if they resonate with your interests : BBC period dramas (namely film adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels), Korean sageuks, sashimi, ice cream, weird conversations. One last random fact : I am really terrified of butterflies.

What did you do in high school?

I was the secretary of the librarian board (geeks unite!). On weekends, I practiced yoga alongside people at least 30 years my senior and traveled to Sentul to volunteer in a weekly reading program for socially-disadvantaged kids. I played the classical guitar ( <3 Andy McKee!). I doodled pointlessly. I wrote extensively on my blog (oh, the good old teen-angsty period.). I also took a gap year after completing A-Levels in TCSJ in June 2012. I spent half of my gap year working in the randomest of places : a printing company where I had to learn to use Adobe Photoshop to design name cards, Kumon (‘nuff said.), an advertising  company where I spent days convincing people to sign up for Unifi in front of a Maybank branch and a real-estate diploma school. As for the remaining months of my gap year, I joined a research internship in the Brain Research Institute of Monash Sunway, learned to cook Asian food at home (while trying to NOT

Interning in the Brain Research Institute of Monash Sunway

burn down my kitchen), volunteered in occasional events like SPARTFEST, etc.

Do you remember much about your college application experience? Tell us a little about it!

The most memorable part of my college applications is probably the (really unexpected) free trips I was bestowed with. One of the liberal arts colleges I applied, Rollins College, shortlisted me as a finalist for its full merit scholarship and flew me all the way to Florida (all expenses paid!) over a weekend in February. Over that weekend, I had the hugest culture shock ever when I noticed how different a class was conducted in the States, in comparison to that of in Malaysia. In stark contrast, every student practically jumped at the opportunity to express their opinions rather than frantically taking down notes. In the same month, I was also shortlisted as one of the final candidates for admission for NYU Abu Dhabi. NYUAD flew me to its Abu Dhabi campus for its Candidate’s Weekend (all expenses paid as well!) and that was when I realized climbing up a sand dune is MUCH harder than it seems.

From the top of a sand dune in Abu Dhabi

In early April, I was admitted to NYU Shanghai and got flown to Shanghai (I guess, at this point, it goes without saying that it is, too, an all-expense-paid trip.) for its admitted students’ weekend. To call these trips life-changing isn’t an exaggeration at all – I was no longer this sheltered kid who has never been anywhere outside the Southeast Asia; I formed life-long friendships with truly exceptional people from Nepal, Hungary and the States; I started doing things outside my comfort zone like talking to random people in the airports and being blunter than usual in my admissions interviews; and the list goes on.

Why did you choose to apply to the US?

Because (a) it’s the only awesome country that has a liberal arts and sciences education system which allows me to major in academically-disparate combinations, like neuroscience and economics, and (b) the generous financial aid policy enables me to study in the States while paying what my parents would have paid had I studied in a private local institution.

Dorm in Rollins College

Why did you decide to be a part of USAPPS?

I learnt about terms like ED and CSS PROFILE when I attended my first USAPPS workshop in TCSJ in 2009 when I was 16 and clueless. I applied to American universities twice in a row (after failing to secure financial aid the first time) and I believe I couldn’t have done it without the support of one of the USAPPS facilitators. USAPPS has played a crucial role in my application(s) to the US and I hope, by volunteering as a facilitator, USAPPS continues to be of help to any prospective Malaysian applicants. Any financial aid applicants who have questions about minimizing your application costs, feel free to talk to me!

Meet Pavithran!

Thanks to all those who showed up for our Half Day workshop last Saturday! If you were there, you would have met some of the core committee members we have introduced over the past few weeks in person. For the benefit of those who weren’t able to turn up, let us introduce another core committee member – Pavithran! Keeping the sessions in check and making sure they run smoothly, he’s been working hard behind the scenes to ensure the workshop sessions meet your expectations.

Ready to find out more? Let’s see what he has to say:

Introduce yourself!

Look what I found on the streets of Los Angeles!

*Cue Budweiser commercial*


What’s good? I go by the name of Pavithran Nair but I have a ridiculous amount of nicknames. My friends call me everything from Puff, Pavster, Paviths, Peeves, Puffer, Puffy to Powerpuff girls. The only people who call me by my full name, usually on a high note and loud voice, are my parents, and most of the time, it’s foretelling of something bad that’s about to happen to me, if you know what I mean 😉 HAHAHAH.

I was born in Pahang, lived in Negeri Sembilan for a couple of years before moving to Kuala Lumpur by the age of 7. I have attended two pre-schools, primary schools, high schools and college-prep schools respectively. What is it about the number two? I don’t know but it is creeping me out as I write this autobiography. Today, I am a rising sophomore at Carnegie Mellon University.

I love good food, interesting people and great conversations! I have had an amazing first year at CMU and some of the things that I have had the opportunity of doing is meeting fantastic people, being a co-founder of a social fraternity called Phi Delta Theta, learning ballroom dancing, becoming semi-pro at video games (okay who am I kidding, not really) and learning how to become a DJ. I have recently been elected as the President of Budaya, the Malaysian society of CMU and I can’t wait to start throwing events!

What did you do in high school?

The high school that I spent the longest time in was Methodist Boys’ Secondary School KL. I had a blast. My friends and I used to monkey around in class and it was so much better for me because I was a prefect! We’d be a zoo in class when there were no teachers, but by the time a teacher stepped foot in our classroom, we’d be angels. Besides being a prefect, I was also Captain and Vice-President of the debate club that my friends and I founded. I made unlikely friends with three other people who had strikingly different personalities but shared the same passion of debate. We trained 7 hours a day after school and managed to become national

Beyond excited at Times Square, New York!

champions in year 2010. I also enjoyed public speaking, badminton and chess among other things. I also learned how to manage website content through a website design competition in MBSSKL and that encouraged my interest in website design and programming. MBSSKL was located near the city and I was always inspired by the diverse students that MBSSKL’s century old history attracted. I will never forget the smells, sights and brief moments of passing through Petaling Street with friends after school, a nearby tourist attraction which in retrospect really did capture the essence of Kuala Lumpur.

What is your favorite thing? Food? Music?

I love food and music. I love anything hip-hop and indie. Right now, I am into Ben Haggerty but I am also an avid fan of Sean Carter. In case you didn’t know, Haggerty is Macklemore and Carter is Jay-Z. I am hooked to the songs “The Town” by Macklemore and “Holy Grail” by Jay. I am also into Citizen Cope and a little bit of Progressive House Music. Fun fact : I enjoy covering rap artists during my free time(mostly in the shower!). Food? Anything that’ll make me cry from spiciness is my cup of tea, wait, spice. 😛

Why US?

Flexibility and individuality. I love the flexibility that an American education provides because it allows me to explore my interests and choose my subject of study. Just in my first year, I have taken classes ranging from the philosophy to programming to business. Oddly enough, this has allowed me to develop my individuality and become my own person while trying to figure out my interests and I believe this is what every education system in the world should aspire to become.

Dinner at a Thai Restaurant with friends on Hollywood Boulevard

Tell us a bit about your experience during the application period.

The college application process was overwhelming. Too many things to fill in, so little time. I had a tough time figuring out my personal statement because it was a challenge to represent my life in one page. Admittedly, my biggest help were the support from my friends and the USAPPS Klang-Valley 2-Day Workshop that helped me understand what I needed to represent on paper. I will be there this year and I look forward to seeing you there as well!