If I were to have gotten a ringgit every time someone questioned how I started my first year as an undergraduate student at the age of 17, I probably would have enough extra pocket money to eat out for every meal without a second thought – which we all know is a luxury few students can afford.

Although I am certainly not the first or sole person to have started my undergraduate studies early compared to the standard, and many, exceptional people have started theirs at much younger, it’s a question that arises so frequently simply as it is nonetheless an unconventional scenario to most; international school students typically begin their undergraduate studies at the age of 18 and onwards, whereas those from the Malaysian education system, at the age of 19 and onwards. At this point, you may be thinking that this post will detail my unique experience as one of the youngest amongst my batchmates – well sorry, but that’d be a non-story. Although I can’t speak for everyone in the same position, I’d say from my personal experience that a few years of difference in age makes no significant difference in our experience as classmates; we’re all students trying to stay afloat in the same boat!

You can always expect large crowds at every edition of the Sureworks Higher Education Fair! Image credit: Sureworks
You can always expect large crowds at every edition of the Sureworks Higher Education Fair! Image credit: Sureworks

Rather, I was motivated to write this post after my recent experience as a Student Ambassador, at the Sureworks Higher Education Fair held on 19th and 20th August, at the Midvalley Convention Centre. As one of two Student Ambassadors at the university’s booth that weekend, I helped the university’s staff to inform the fair’s visitors regarding everything related to studying at the University of Southampton, Malaysia Campus; from the courses taught and tuition fees, to the student experience at the university and surrounding EduCity. As a current student of USMC, it was only natural that many asked to hear regarding my personal experience at the university and what prompted me to study there; and thus, it was there where I was made to explain, time and time again to complete strangers, how I had come to start my undergraduate studies in Electrical and Electronic Engineering months before I had even become 18 – as the short explanation lies in the decisions I had made regarding the latter half of my secondary education.

When it came to the topic of how I had joined the university, many had simply asked “You did A Levels, or SPM?” It didn’t take me long to realize that to most, when it came to pursuing studies at universities in the U.K., there were two clear, obvious paths to take: you either do IGCSEs, then A Levels and then start your undergraduate studies, or you sit for SPM, then do a Foundation program, after which you can then start undergraduate studies. With that in mind, you can then imagine why I was nearly always met with a face of shock and confusion when I replied that I had done neither.

Rather, I had done the combination of IGCSEs, followed by a year-long foundation program – which is how I happened to enter my first year in university last year, rather than this year along with my secondary school peers, who sat for their A Levels a few months back. Furthermore, since I seem unable to be anything but unconventional, rather than University of Southampton’s Engineering Foundation Year (EFY), after my IGCSEs I had done Monash University’s Foundation Year (MUFY), despite already being inclined to attend the University of Southampton.

See, having done a lot of research into universities and courses during Year 11, after my IGCSEs I had already shortlisted University of Southampton as one of my top choices of where I wanted to do my undergraduate studies. At that point, I was still deliberating between a few different universities, but had firmly decided on doing Electrical and Electronic Engineering (EEE) – thus I felt that taking the typical engineering subjects for A Levels (Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Chemistry), although the choice that offered the most flexibility in terms of both course and university, the scope of content I would have to learn was a bit too broad. On the other hand, although doing EFY came with syllabus content that was more relevant to what I wanted to study, it is very specific to the university, and I was still considering other universities, some of which were in Australia. There were many other factors that affected my decision, but eventually, I chose to do MUFY as it was the optimum choice for me at the time – and in the end, I got exactly what I wanted, as by the second semester of foundation, I had my eyes set on studying EEE at the University of Southampton, Malaysia Campus (USMC).

By early 2016, I was set on doing EEE at USMC and made sure to attend one of the university's open days.
By early 2016, I was set on doing EEE at USMC and made sure to attend one of the university’s open days – an experience I would recommend to anyone even remotely interested in studying here!

So, was I at the higher education fair, advising parents and their children that this was the way to go? Of course not, rather I used my own experience to explain why students need to know their future aspirations, as well as what they prioritise regarding their education, so that they can research into all their options – as when it comes to higher education, the choices are seemingly endless; the sheer number of options can be overwhelming, and thus having an idea of what you’re looking for will help in narrowing it down to a manageable amount, as well as in comparing between them.  

And so, the next time anyone asks regarding the best way to get into university, whether it be a younger sibling, friend or parent inquiring on behalf of their child, feel free to advise them based on whatever experience you have – but don’t forget to tell them that there are plenty of other options out there that you may be unaware of, and it’s best to find what fits best, rather than simply follow the crowd. After all, to every destination there are many paths, with some being more traversed, and some more straightforward than others, but it’s up to the individual and their own views as to which path is best – and in the end, although the journey may have differed, the destination will still be the same.

The Path Less Travelled

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