Higher Education in the United States of America



The United States offers international students with holistic education that prepares them for the challenges of the modern world and the global market place. U.S universities offer educational experiences that give strong emphasis to development of analytical skills, problem solving techniques, decision-making in a knowledge-based environment. These skills equip graduates to function in the rapidly changing world of the 21st century.

Currently, there are more than 7,000 Malaysian students studying in the United States.

Malaysian students can enroll in a US university by applying as a freshman (first year student) after completing 12 years of education. Some of them also apply as a transfer student through the American Degree Transfer Programs established at local Malaysian institutions. While  some of these Transfer Programs can assist students to save both time and money, those students who apply as freshmen can get scholarships from U.S. universities/colleges. Some universities/colleges do not offer financial aid to transfer students. Most American Degree Programs in Malaysia enable a student to complete the first 2 years of an undergraduate or bachelor’s degree in Malaysia.

The richness and diversity of the American higher education system is second to none in the world. Over 4,000 accredited institutions of higher learning and more than 900 fields of study available, the diligent student can find schools that will provide an excellent education in any field of study.

The education system in the U.S. is liberal and flexible. Each state administers its own system of education on a certain level and institutions enjoy a great deal of autonomy. The system is generally based on 5 years of primary school, 3 years of middle or junior high school and 4 years high school.

Higher education is provided by Universities/Colleges, or Community Colleges, Professional Schools, or Technical Institutes. Students can get an Associate Degree through Community College which they can use to further their studies to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree as well. A four-year institution offers a Bachelor’s Degree and. Some of these four-year institutions do provide Graduate Degrees like Masters and PhD as well. In the United States, the word ‘school’ describes any place where people learn, including a college/university. The term college and university is used interchangeably in the U.S.

Tertiary institutions may be either public or private. Public institutions get most of their fundings from their respective states but they are administratively independent. Private institutions are independent financially as well as administratively.

There is no distinction between Science & Arts students; all first year undergraduates study almost the same subjects irrespective of their course of study. This gives students time and opportunity to decide on their desired course after the first year.

Universities/colleges use a system of credits. Each course taken is assigned a credit value usually based on the number of hours spent in class each week, so a typical course meeting three days a week for one hour each meeting will be assigned a credit value of 3. Under this system, students are required to complete a certain number of credits in order to graduate. The number of credits varies significantly from school to school. It is possible to change majors or institutions. Students have the flexibility to have dual degrees, dual majors or a major and a minor.

There are two calendar systems used by the universities although the semester system is by far the most widely used calendar:

Semester system
First semester (fall) Early September to mid-December
Second semester (spring) Mid-January to mid-May
Summer Session (optional) June to August
Quarter System
First Quarter (fall) Mid-September to early December
Second Quarter (winter) Early January to mid-March
Third Quarter (spring) Early April to mid-June
Fourth Quarter (optional) Mid-June to mid-September


Independent bodies called ‘accrediting agencies’ set educational standards for higher education institutions. A general way to check if an institution is accredited is by using this website: www.chea.org.my .The accrediting bodies are independent organizations with a regional geographic focus or a professional focus. The process of accreditation entails assessing an institution’s (regional) or programs (professional) quality and contributes to the enhancement of operations through compliance with specified standards developed by qualified educators and professionals. Information on whether a program is regionally-accredited in the U.S. can be obtained from EducationUSA-MACEE.

Grading System

Each semester or quarter, students are given grades for courses taken. Grades are assessed on the basis of all work done, not just on a final examination. Work graded may include any or all of the following: weekly or occasional tests, mid-term and final examinations, research papers or projects, presentation, homework assignments and class participation.


Academic Requirements for Malaysian Students:

  • Undergraduate: Some institutions will accept students who apply with SPM or O-Levels. All the US Higher Education Institution will accept if one has 12 years of school education. So, those with STPM, GCE ‘A’ Level, International Baccalaureate (IB) or American Degree Transfer Programs are eligible to apply.
  • Graduate programs require degree from any accredited Malaysian or international university.
  • Transfer students applying to universities must meet the minimum GPA (grade point average) and have enough credit hours when applying.

Academic Requirements for other Students:

China PRC Senior High School Graduation Certificate
Hong Kong Five Hong Kong Ordinary level passes
Indonesia Surat Tanda Tamat Belajar from SMU
Singapore Five Singapore Cambridge Ordinary level passes
Taiwan Senior High School Graduation Certificate
Thailand Matayom 6 Certificate
Vietnam Tol nghiep pho thong or ‘Universal Graduation’

Testing Requirements

TOEFL or IELTS is required for international students who studied in a country where English are not the native language for both graduate and undergraduate program. This test is used to measure the student’s English proficiency. Minimum acceptable scores are set by each university. In some situation, you can waive this requirement depending on the school’s policy.

SAT I and SAT II are required by some institutions for undergraduate programs. SAT I test the student’s Reasoning and Math competency. SAT II is subject specific examinations.

GRE (Graduate Record Exam) is typically required for entry into non- business masters and doctoral programs. GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) is typically required for MBA and other business related fields.


The cost of education varies greatly from one institution to another as each determines its own fees. Estimated average annual costs ranges from USD30,000 to USD90,000 inclusive of tuition and fees and living expenses.

Among others, factors influencing cost of education are nature of institutions and geographical locations – Private colleges and universities are often more expensive than state-supported institutions, but they provide more financial aid. Living expenses are much higher in urban than in suburban areas and smaller towns. Most expensive states to live in include California, Rhode Island, Hawaii, New York and Massachusetts while the cheapest states to live in are Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska  and Texas. Students can live more cheaply by finding their own apartments off campus, buy used books, etc.

Fees cover the cost of student activities such as clubs and sports. Additional fees may be levied for use of the laboratories, fine arts studios, etc. Colleges also require international students to buy health insurance. This is to protect a student against exorbitantly high medical costs in the USA. A comprehensive policy varies in each institution.

Students are encouraged to refer to the total cost value on the schools/university’s website. Also, living expenses like rent tends to increase from year to year.

Tuition, room, board and fees are usually paid in one lump sum at the beginning of each semester. One can also opt on different payment method depending on the university. Sometimes one can pay by installment of deferral as well.


Financial aid may include scholarships, loans or work assignments. Often and especially private universities will create a financial aid “package” that includes scholarship, loans and work. Scholarships at the undergraduate level are highly competitive. Public universities/colleges generally do not offer any form of financial aid. Some private universities/colleges do offer partial financial aid. Students applying for financial aid should begin their applications about 12 months prior to enrolment.


Finding an appropriate institution in the U.S. may be daunting, but Malaysian students can obtain assistance in sorting and evaluating these institutions from EducationUSA- MACEE. It is advisable to study various factors such as choice of major, professional accreditation, financial aid availability, career prospects, academic standard and ranking, and geographical environments of the areas where the universities/colleges are located before deciding on the chosen institution.

Each U.S. Higher Education Institution sets its own admission standards. It is advisable to apply to several colleges or universities to maximize the chance of acceptance. Students will need to apply to their university of choice online. All the information you need can be found on the university’s official website. One is also encouraged to email the admissions team on any specific question regarding university application process.

Admission is generally around August or September. Some universities also admit students in January and June. Applications open at least 12 months before entry dates.

The following documents are normally required when making an application: Certified transcripts (student’s academic record); admission tests (official reports of test scores); application fee; bank statement; personal statement (short essay telling the admissions counselor more about yourself and how you are a good fit for the university) list of extracurricular activities; letters of recommendations, standardized test scores..

Acceptance letters can arrive shortly after application or it may take several months. Most colleges require students to pay a deposit before a certain deadline if they want to reserve space in the entering class.

Students will then receive an I-20 form or an Exchange Visitor’s form with which one can apply for a visa to stay in the U.S.A. To apply for a visa, visit https://my.usembassy.gov/visas/


International students are allowed to work only on-campus for up to 20 hours per week while classes are in session and 40 hours per week during the holidays.

International students are also entitled to apply up to one year of Optional Practical Training in their field of study which is generally done after a student graduates. Such training opportunities are paid and give students real work experience in their field of study. For students who graduate with a STEM Degree, they can also apply for an extension on their OPT.


The Malaysian American Commission on Educational Exchange (MACEE) provides comprehensive services to prospective student: free personal and group advising; library with standard reference books and university catalogues; computer programs to aid in the selection process; information, exam prep course and study materials for all standardized entrance exams: TOEFL, SAT, GRE, GMAT, financial aid information; pre-departure orientation programs; opportunities to meet with visiting university representatives throughout the year.

Malaysian American Commission on Educational Exchange (MACEE)
18th Floor, Menara Yayasan Tun Razak,
200, Jalan Bukit Bintang,
50200 Kuala Lumpur,
Tel: +603-21668878,
Fax: +603-21661878,
Web: www.macee.org.my


Written by:      
Ms Wee Hui Bieh, AFMSA, August 2016

Information verified by:
Malaysian American Commission on Educational Exchange (MACEE)


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