To Pre -U Or Not; That Is The Question!

By Associate Professor Ts. Julian Lee Eng Kim,
Head of School,
School of Computing and Creative Media,
UOW Malaysia KDU University College, Glenmarie


Date: 7th February 2023

When William Shakespeare coined the opening phrase of a soliloquy by Prince Hamlet; one could guess that it had little or nothing to do with choosing his educational pathway. However, that is the question that plagues the 403,637 students who will be sitting for their Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) from January 30th till March 15th 2023; a question that even parents would struggle to answer at this present moment. What do I do after my formal schooling education?

Let’s begin with the psychology of a student transitioning from formal secondary school education to higher education, there is immense pressure to choose “correctly”; this experience is extremely overwhelming and contributes to heightened levels of anxiety and stress (Lowe & Cook, 2003). The situation eventually leads majority of students to follow peer pressure (friends) or leave the decision to parental judgement. Research also suggests that students receive inadequate information prior to entering university, resulting in them making inappropriate decisions regarding their choice of course (Harvey & Drew, 2006; Krause, Hartley, James, & McInnis, 2005; McInnis, James, & Hartley, 2000; Yorke, 2000). Thus, the information presented by the Universities is of utmost importance as the school counsellor who will provide these students with their guided path. Systems of planned transition between schools and universities, as well as mechanisms to ensure informed decisions on course and university choices, are therefore important and may increase retention, student satisfaction and achievement (Berger & Malaney, 2001; Dodgson & Bolam, 2002, Smith, 2002; Yorke & Thomas, 2003). 

The students will find a barrage of information upon leaving the gates of the school. Buzz words used by universities to sell their Pre University courses such as Foundation, GCE A-Levels, Matriculation programmes whilst may please the advertising agencies but bears no advantage in further explanations. In recent pre-covid19 years, education fairs and university specific open days have become a ‘norm’, often drawing crowds of 25,000 and above. Today virtual open days conducted on video conferencing platforms have replaced the physical aspect of visiting these fairs. The key phrase uttered by all counsellors, academicians and educational specialists are the pre-university programmes which would be most likely a student’s destination. Pre-entry programmes may contribute to student satisfaction because they provide information, knowledge and skills to improve decision-making, assist in the development of realistic expectations and preparation, and foster early engagement to promote integration and social capital (Thomas, 2012). In summary, the pre-university programme is designed to bridge the gap between the transition of formal secondary school and university, with emphasis on fundamental educational knowledge, soft skills and the university experience in preparation for undergraduate degree study.

These academic jargons are too confusing. Without proper information and research, majority of school leavers are left in the lurch. So, what do all the pre-university programmes have in common and which is suitable for you? Table 1 illustrates the summary of focus and study of a pre-university programme.

A-Levels Foundation Programme Australian Matriculation Canadian Pre- University
Overview Predominantly United Kingdom based (Cambridge). This Pre-University qualification is widely accepted by all Universities Foundation programmes are catered for specific undergraduate degrees that is meant to prepare for transition. There are the South Australian Matriculation (SAM) and Australian Matriculation (AUSMAT). Both qualifications will lead to the Australian Year 12. There are the Canadian Pre-University (CPU) and Canadian International Pre-University (CIMP). Both qualifications will lead to the Ontario Secondary School Diploma.
Targeted at Students wishing to extend their studies to primarily the UK but also to universities worldwide. Students wishing to extend their undergraduate studies at the same University or similar in Malaysia.  Students wishing to extend their studies at any Australian University. Students wishing to extend their studies at any Canadian or American University.
Focuses on Attainment of knowledge Learning the fundamentals skills needed for your  undergraduate studies. Self-Directed Learning Interactive Learning
Recommendation This is for students who are academically good at examinations as it is 100% exam based. This is for students who want a mixed mode of examinations, formative coursework and continuous assessments. This is for students who want a mixed mode of examinations with emphasis on formative coursework. This is for students who want a mixed mode of examinations with continuous assessments.

Table 1

The general guide for students is to engage in a reflective manner, where asking yourself questions before committing to a programme is essential. A simple 3 step question would suffice. 

  1. What is your learning style? Whilst many students never really had a choice in formal schooling years; at the University level, learning styles dictate how best you learn. Pre-Cursory questions to ask are, do you learn better with practical hands-on assignments or are you a more studious individual able to practice self-directed learning? These answers will point you to and obvious recommendations in Table 1.
  2. What is your financial capability? In the financially crippling time of Covid-19, it would be best to assess the financial capability needed to sustain one’s study of 4 years (undergraduate). Bearing in mind that student loans are not applicable for Year 1 (Pre-University), this becomes an important factor to determine one’s path in the Pre-University choice. Of course, there are incentivised schemes by Universities to promote their undergraduate degrees as you may benefit from these schemes as the pre-university programme may be offered “with minimal cost” as a package. If finance is a burden regardless of the Covid-19 situation, I would suggest staying on for your Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia (STPM) after which you will have direct entry into an undergraduate depending on your results and also the University bridging subjects.
  3. Are you continuing your studies in Malaysia or abroad? This is directly linked with the question above. Does your chosen career path have an undergraduate programme attached to a university? Is there an industry in Malaysia for your chosen career path? These are some of the questions that determines your choice and it goes hand in hand with your financial capability.

Pro-tip:  Shop around, look at the scholarship selection applicable in your undergraduate studies (for preparation), visit the campus, look at the facilities, ask for the lecturers’ profiles to see industry linkages (you want to sure the people teaching you have industry experience and not 100% academic based) and lastly ask yourself if you feel comfortable with the experience.

Taking the first step is as important as finishing your final step in education; there is no wrong choice in choosing a pre-university programme; but choosing the ‘right’ pre-university programme ensures your learning experience is at full effect. This is your first daunting task as a young adult or a learning parent, to which in life there are many more obstacles and life choices. So, the answer to the question “To Pre- U or not? is largely dependent on you and perhaps more importantly, the financial aspect of your education. Charting your educational path is never easy but with self-perseverance and the desire to succeed will clear the way. Wishing you well on your educational journey and I am sure you will make the right choice (for yourself).


Associate Professor Ts. Julian Lee was developing creative ideas as an Art Director at KHK DMB&B where he embraced the use of computers for Graphic Design with the aim of merging conventional and digital production processes. Later, he was involved as a web designer for web travel portal; now a template for travel booking sites. Julian has 19 years of teaching experience in Malaysia and New Zealand; He has exhibited at St. Paul’s Gallery (2005 and 2006) and Chaumont Graphisme (2009). He is a Professional Technologist of the Malaysian Board of Technologies and was involved as a consultant for ACE Pictures Entertainment LTD. 


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Krause, K-L., Hartley, R., James, R., & McInnis, C. (2005). The first year experience in Australian universities: Findings from a decade of national studies.

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Yorke, M., & Thomas, L. (2003). Improving the retention of students from lower socioeconomic groups. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 25, 63-74. doi: 10.1080/13600800305737

Thomas, L. (2012). Building student engagement and belonging in higher education at a time of change: Final report from the What Works? Student Retention and Success programme. York: Higher Education Academy. Retrieved March 19, 2015, from

Charlotte R. Pennington, Elizabeth A. Bates, Linda K. Kaye & Lauren T. Bolam (2018) Transitioning in higher education: an exploration of psychological and contextual factors affecting student satisfaction, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 42:5, 596-607, DOI: 10.1080/0309877X.2017.1302563


22 February 2023


Education and Career