Your Guide To The 8 Pre-University Programmes In Malaysia

Have you just graduated high school and feeling confused about what and where to study? Take a look at our guide to the 8 pre-university programmes and get it all straightened out.

Though these programmes are known as Pre-University, some of them are taught in universities and colleges. In general, they are a level below and a step towards obtaining a degree. However, some programmes such as the American Degree Programme (US higher education system) do not require a pre-university programme.

8) A-levels

A-Levels are a 18 to 24 months (1.5 – 2 years) pre-university programme available in private institutions. They are split into two components AS level and A2 level and are more costly than most other pre-university programmes.

A-levels have a broad and comprehensive curriculum with a fair amount of flexibility. There are no set pre-determined subjects. A-level students are able to choose anywhere from 3 to 5 subjects to study (most students choose 3). For example, if you are interested in becoming an Engineer, you may pick Maths, Chemistry and Physics. However, the contents of the subjects are deep, substantial and designed to examine student’s critical thinking and analytical abilities. Hence, A-levels have a reputation for being slightly more difficult than a number of other programmes.

Though A-levels are taught in the university or college where the student studies, the examination is assessed by an external body, Cambridge International Examinations. Because of this it is internationally recognized by a wide range of countries including Singapore, Australia and Canada. As it originated from the UK, it is especially suited for individuals looking to study in the UK. However, this also makes A-levels 100% exam based. Instead of a continuous assessments with assignments of presentations, students, students are scored purely on their two final exams (50% on end of each level).

Key Advantages:

  • Flexible: Students able to choose Subjects
  • Internationally Recognized (Designed for Study in UK)
  • Broad and Comprehensive Curriculum

7) Foundation Programme

Foundation Programmes are designed, assessed (through a combination of coursework and examinations), and administered by private universities themselves. Hence, they are meant to complement the same university’s undergraduate programme. However, this means they are not as internationally recognized and also harder to transfer to other institutions.

Foundation Programmes often come in Foundation in Arts or Foundation in Science. Still, you can find a wide variety of more specific programmes such as Foundation in Engineering, Foundation in Business, Foundation in Biological and Biomedical Sciences, etc. The programmes often have fixed subjects with a few electives. Thus, students often already know what they want to study for their undergraduate degree. This makes it a quick one year programme that is more focused and specialized.

Key Advantages:

  • Quick pathway (One year)
  • Focused and Specialized
  • Smoother Transition (tailored for continuity in same university)


The Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia is the most taken pathway to a undergraduate degree in a Malaysian public university. Malaysian Examination Council under the Ministry of Education administers the examination and the programme is available in a large number of high schools in Malaysia.

You will have to pick five subjects out of twenty three in this 1.5 year programme. In addition, students are required to take the Malaysian University English Test (MUET). Students are assessed on school-based coursework such as assignments, projects and field study (20 – 40%) and the final exam (60 – 80%).

One of the main draws of STPM is the significantly low cost. Students only pay the examination fee and a subject fee for each one taken. Overall, you will pay less than RM1,000!

Key Advantage:

  • Low Cost
  • Flexible: Students able to choose Subjects
  • Access to Malaysian Public Universities

5) Matrikulasi

The other pathway to public universities in Malaysia is the Malaysian Matriculation Programme or Matrikulasi. It is separated into two categories the one year programmes (PST) which is available for non-bumiputeras and bumiputeras and the two year programme (PDT) which is exclusive to bumiputeras.

There are three streams in the programme Science, Accounting and Technical. Science stream is the only one available in PST and PDT, the other two are PST only. In addition, the subjects students will take for Accounting and Technical stream is fixed but Science Stream students will have the opportunity to choose from 3 modules. You will be evaluated through a combination of assignments and examinations but the majority of the weight will be on the final exam.

Matrikulasi is even more cost-effective than the already low STPM. Students only pay a small registration fee and are even given an allowance each semester. However, this makes it a very competitive to gain entry into this programme.

Key Advantage:

  • Supremely Low Cost
  • Focused and Specialized
  • Access to Malaysian Public Universities


There are actually two different commonly taken Australian pre-university programmes in Malaysia, the South Australian Matriculation (SAM) administered by the South Australian Government and the Australian Matriculation (AUSMAT) which is administered by the Western Australian Government.

Both programmes generally take a year to complete and require you to take five subjects. You will have the freedom to choose your subjects. However, AUSMAT is 50% coursework and 50% exams while SAM is 70% coursework and 30% exams. Interestingly, your overall end score is compiled through Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) which is calculated with your four best subjects including English and 10% of your weakest.

Key Advantages:

  • Flexible: Students able to choose Subjects
  • Internationally Recognized (Designed for Study in Australia)
  • Quick pathway (approximately 1 year)

3) Canadian Pre-University (CPU)

Canadian Pre-University Programme also known as Canadian International Matriculation Programme is aimed towards undergraduate degree studies in Canada. It is also internationally recognized in countries such as the USA, Australia and New Zealand. The programme takes 12 to 15 months to complete and in the end students will be awarded with the Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD).

Students are required to take a total of six subjects. Similar to A-levels you have flexibility in choosing which subjects to take but English is a requirement. Furthemore, students need to pass the Ontario School Secondary Literacy Test (OSSLT) as well as ten hours of community service. Additionally, you will be assessed continuously with 70% of your grade based on coursework and the other 30% based on exams. There is also large emphasis in equipping students with communication and cooperative skills through presentations, public speaking, debates and group projects.

Key Advantages:

  • Flexible: Students able to choose Subjects
  • Internationally Recognized (Designed for Study in Canada)
  • Emphasis on Communication and Co-operation Skills

2) International Baccalaureate (IB)

One of the more unique and less taken pre-university programme in Malaysia is the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. The programme originated in Geneva, Switzerland and takes a total of two years. International Baccalaureate programmes are offered in mostly international schools in Malaysia such as Malborough College and Penang Uplands International School.

It is unique in that while it does prepare students for academic challenges of university degrees, there is a substantial focus on the student’s personal development through a holistic education. Students are required to take a total of six subjects (3 higher level, 3 standard level) from a wide variety of groups such as literature, languages, science, the arts and more. Furthermore, students need to complete the three core components: Extended Essay, Theory of Knowledge and Creativity, Action, Service (CAS). Students are assessed through a combination of internal assessments by their school’s teachers for their coursework (assignments, presentations, etc) as well as externally in final examiners. Overall IB aims to promote critical and creative thinking.

Key Advantages:

  • Internationally Recognized
  • Holistic Education
  • Promotes Independent Creative and Critical Education

1) Diploma

Though not technically, a pre-university programme, with a diploma you can fast-track your way into Year 2 of an undergraduate degree. Diplomas have a unique place as both in between pre-university programmes and undergraduate degrees. While you are able to enter a diploma programme with just a high school diploma, you will also be qualified to work upon completion. Still, your job salary and career opportunities will be lower than those with a degree.

Diplomas take two to three years to complete. They have a heavy emphasis on gaining students practical and industry specific skills. Hence, there is a more specialized curriculum of courseworks and exams with little flexibility. In addition, students will gain more hands on industry knowledge with a final semester of internships.

Diplomas have lower entry requirement and cost but are also not as internationally recognized. Unlike other pre-university programmes, students are also able to get more financial aid as they are eligible for PTPN loans.

Key Advantages:

  • Practical and Hands-On Skills
  • Qualified to Work Upon Completion
  • Lower Cost/ Eligible For PTPN Loans

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