A Comprehensive Guide to Choosing Pre-University Programmes in Malaysia

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Upon completing secondary school education with a SPM certificate in hand, Malaysian students have two options: be part of the workforce directly or elevate their study in a tertiary institution.

If you choose the latter, don’t be baffled by the multiple choices out there such as Foundation in Business and Foundation in Science yet. This article provides clear insights on deciding which pre-university programme to pursue after graduating from secondary school.


  1. A Levels

A programme administered by the United Kingdom education system. This fully exam-based qualification is recognised worldwide. There are 3-4 subjects available for selection based on your area of interest.

Duration: 15-25 months

This is for you if:  

  • You are academically oriented because final exams are the only assessment method.
  • You wish to enrol in reputable universities abroad as it has international recognition.
  • You are unsure about your future studies because it grants you an avenue to several choices.

 This is not for you if:

  • You prefer assessment that involves a combination of coursework and exams.
  • Your desired course requires practical skills.
  • You want financial aid from PTPTN because it is not MQA-approved.


  1. Australian Matriculation

A course monitored by the Australian education system. You will be assessed through coursework, tests and final exams, then you will get your final grade (ATAR).

Duration: 1 year

This is for you if: 

  • You prefer continuous assessments over a frantic final exam.
  • Enjoy an integrated learning approach whereby you can select 5 subjects from different streams.
  • You would like to study abroad as it is recognised by numerous international institutions.

This is not for you if:

  • You have poor time management as you will have to juggle tests, presentations, lab reports and exams.
  • You are a procrastinator as there will be continuous assessment throughout the year.
  • You are pursuing a high entry degree that requires several competitive standards (e.g. medicine and law).

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  1. American Degree Programme (ADP)

It is monitored by the American education system. You can transfer into an American or Canadian institution upon completing the programme.

Duration: 4 years

This is for you if:

  • You prefer studying in America.
  • You are uncertain of your choice as you can switch your major halfway through the course.
  • You enjoy holistic learning experience as the assessment includes coursework, presentations and final exams.

This is not for you if: 

  • You are academically oriented.
  • You do not favour public speaking


  1. Canadian Pre-University (CPU)

Supervised by the Canadian education system, it is mainly assessed via a mix of coursework, exams and community service.

Duration: 12-15 months

This is for you if:

  • You are interested in pursuing your studies abroad as it is a recognised qualification worldwide.
  • You have variety of interests as your passions are likely to be offered through subjects like creative writing and drama.
  • You enjoy an interactive learning process as you will be assessed through projects and presentations.

This is not for you if:

  • You favour exam-based assessments.
  • Public speaking is your pain point.
  • You cannot multitask coursework, projects and exams.


  1. Diploma 

A programme that allows you to elevate directly to a degree programme or employment upon completion. It consists of coursework, exams and internship which helps you to gain working experience before employment.

Duration: 2-3 years

This is for you if: 

  • You are pursuing a career that involves hands-on skills
  • You prefer to enter the workforce soon
  • You require financial aid as it is eligible for PTPTN
  • You have a minimum of 3-4 credits in SPM

This is not for you if:

  • You are uncertain of your preference
  • You want to pursue academically difficult degrees (e.g. medicine)
  • You want to enrol in reputable universities abroad


  1. International Baccalaureate (IB)

A programme whereby you have to take 6 subjects across of a number of disciplines as well as writing research papers and fulfilling your sports, arts and community projects.  

 Duration: 2 years

This is for you if:

  • You want to study subjects across various fields.
  • You have good time management to cope with exams, writing research papers and extra-curricular activities.

This is not for you if:


  • You prefer exam to be the only assessment.
  • You prefer to stay in your focus of study.
  • You want the path of least resistance to obtain a degree.

  1. Foundation

It is offered by the university itself prior to the enrolment in a degree programme in a related field. Foundation is familiar among students in Malaysia as most them have heard of Foundation in Business, Foundation in Science and Foundation in Arts.

This is for you if:

  • You are clear about the field of pursuit in your degree.
  • You prefer the fastest pathway to register a degree programme

This is not for you if:

  • Your degree of preference is ambiguous.
  • You would like to transfer to another university for your degree as your foundation qualification is not always applicable for other institutions.
  • You plan to study abroad or apply for a scholarship.


  1. Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM)

Administered by Malaysian Examinations Council (MEC), its assessment includes projects, practice and final exams in which the results are mediated by Cambridge Assessment from the UK.

Duration: 18 months

This is for you if:

  • You prefer an affordable programme
  • You wish to take a gap period to deliberate on your degree choices.
  • You want to register for a public university.

This is not for you if:

  • You are not academically oriented
  • You want to apply practical skills in your study.
  • You want the fastest route to enrol in a degree programme.


  1. Matrikulasi 

If you are interested in studying at public universities, this pre-university programme is for you. There are several streams available for selection such as science, accounting and technical (based on your stream in SPM). The assessment includes coursework, exams and involvement in co-curricular activities.

Duration: 1-2 years

This is for you if: 

  • You prefer an affordable courses it is funded by the government and comes with an allowance each semester
  • You want various options for your degree programme

This is not for you if:

  • You want to study overseas since it has recognition from a limited number of universities worldwide.
  • You want to study a course that involves practical skills.


Finally, you have gone through this no-nonsense guide that outlines all pre-university options clearly. Hopefully, it helps you with making a better decision about your tertiary education. Good luck!