GETTING a place to study at a higher education institute is big step in advancing one’s education.
For holders of Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) and Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia (STPM) certificates or equivalent qualifications who want to study at a public university, the process begins with the submission of entry applications via the Students Admission Division (UPU) online portal.
While offer letters may come through the post for some programmes, some may require face-to-face interviews to ensure suitability of candidates before an offer for a place is made.
According to UPU, the admission interview sessions have already begun for SPM school leavers (until April 30) while STPM level candidates can expect to be called for university admission interviews mid-May.
With plenty of eligible candidates in the running, an admission interview affirms the applicant already fulfills the academic requirement and will ascertain whether he or she meets the other criteria specific to the programme.
For Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), the admission interview into degree level programmes is important as it would ensure the varsity would get students who are aligned with its vision and mission.
“Our vision is that we are committed to be ahead of society and time in leading the development of a learned, dynamic and moral society. Leadership is an important quality we look for in our students. The university’s mission is to be the learning centre of choice that promotes the sovereignty of Bahasa Melayu and internationalises knowledge rooted in the national culture. Having said that, we also emphasise on other languages. Our students must have a strong sense of identity. They must have exceptional qualities and not be mere bookworms,” said UKM’s deputy vice-chancellor (Academic & International Affairs), Datuk Professor Ir Dr Riza Atiq OK Rahmat.
In line with that, UKM requires entry to all of its 70 undergraduate programmes — 50 science-based and 20 arts-based — to be determined by admission interviews. UKM has carried out face-to-face interviews for the past three years and will be going into its fourth year of such practice.
Admission interviews for the degree in Doctor of Medicine will be going into its sixth year.
Applicants who are located too far from interview centres or face financial constraints are given leeways to email their curriculum vitae and video presentations of themselves online.
“For the 2017/2018 academic year, we will be offering 4,300 undergraduate seats. Going by last year’s record whereby we received 60,000 applications for UKM as the first choice university, the selection process will be tough,” said Riza.
He stressed having a CGPA (cumulative grade point average) of 4.0 does not guarantee applicants a place at UKM but instead the selection will be based on other criteria as well.
“The first criteria we look into is their CGPA. For medicine, the minimum is a CGPA of 3.8. For engineering it is a CGPA of 3.5 while courses like the Bachelor of Education with Honours (Sports and Recreations) the baseline is a CGPA of 2.8 provided the candidate has played sports at a certain level.
“Usually we would invite interviewees double or triple the number of seats available for each programme. For the 150 available seats for medicine, we would call 500 to 600 candidates,” he elaborated.
The interview format varies for different programmes but all interviewees would first have to write an essay on why they choose a particular programme and why in UKM.
Riza said that interviewers can already assess their attitude and personality from there.
“When you are selected to come for an admission interview, we know that you are good cognitively. What we are looking for is differentiation,” he said.
For engineering students, they would be interviewed in groups of five after the essay writing. They would also be tested for creativity and innovativeness at several stations.
For dentistry, Riza said the university would get candidates to sculpt soap. “If the sculpture is neat, we would know if you have an aptitude for the job. For the medical degree, we look for people with positive and cheerful outlook as it is a very serious environment that they have to face daily.”
For the interviews, generally there are at least two interviewers sitting in.
During the sessions, the interviewers would be on the lookout for candidates with potential.
“The students that get shortlisted would have one of the following: experience as a leader at least at school level; have won sports events or have played sports at least at school level as this demonstrates teamwork, leadership and the perseverance; have won awards for singing, pantun, etc. When they are on stage, they would have a certain level of confidence and also posses a sense of creativity and innovation.
“Interviewees should also have dabbled in entrepreneurship or have at least helped out in family business. Entrepreneurship is important because today’s graduates cannot be of the mindset that they would be just employees.
People who lead must be job creators. Or they could have represented their school in Physics,
Biology, Mathematics Olympiads or Model United Nations exercise — this would indicate intellectual ability and confidence,” he said.
Gifted students are also taken note of such as those with special talents like writing, music or art. Volunteerism is another quality as it indicates the candidate is diligent.
“When candidates successfully get through the interview, we will issue a letter to indicate they have done so. However, the final decision as to whether the candidate will be offered a place in UKM is still up to the Ministry of Higher Education,” he said.
Riza said with the admission interviews, UKM has found that there is a positive difference in terms of leadership, creativity and innovativeness among its students.
“The academic performance is still maintained. Students are more active and do not just sit in lecture halls. When students are involved with social work and community work, they know about needs in society. And this translates into research that is more meaningful. Also because they are not shy and are communicative, they can easily approach the industry for sponsorship,” he said.
At Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) education programmes under the Faculty of Educational Studies are among those that require admission interviews.
These programmes are the Bachelor of Education (Agricultural Science), Bachelor of Education (Home Science), Bachelor of Education (Physical Education), Bachelor of Education (Teaching English as a Second Language), Bachelor of Education (Teaching of Malay Language as a First Language) and Bachelor of Education (Guidance and Counselling).
Its dean, Professor Dr Aida Suraya Md Yunus, said the faculty offers 40 places per programme with the exception of the Teaching of Malay Language as a First Language programme which has 50 places.
“Eligible candidates would be selected to sit for the Malaysian Educators Selection Inventory (MEdSI) test. This is a selection test for entry into Education programmes at local public institutions of higher learning. This particular instrument will be able to capture candidates’ inclination towards the teaching profession — their attitude towards education, children, etc,” she said. MEdSI is a psychometric test with 300 questions which has to be answered within an hour.
Once the suitability of the candidate has been determined by the test results, candidates will be called in for a programme admission interview.
“Our selection is based on 90 per cent merit and 10 per cent co-curriculum. We have had candidates who would be very much challenged in a classroom or school. The interview is done with hopes we can see their attitude and to ask them, why do you want to join the teaching profession?” she said.
Interviews are conducted according to stages in three zones: Sabah, Sarawak and the main campus in Serdang, Selangor. Candidates are expected to put in effort in terms of appearance and presentation.
“Candidates are interviewed individually and we will be asking questions in both Bahasa Melayu and in English. There will be two interviewers and one person who records the session. Mainly, we want to see attitude and communication skills. They have to know the programme: Why TESL, for example? Do they know anything about Malaysia’s education plan? Any knowledge of UPM?” Aida shared.
She highlighted that the interview is the first hurdle into gaining admission into the programmes.
“We only select those who have indicated UPM as their first choice. Getting an interview grants candidates a 30 per cent chance. Our intake is always full and we only attend to appeals if there are rejections to our offer — which seldom happens,” she said.
The interviews help the faculty to screen for the best candidates with the most potential as teachers.
“We make them ready for the open market though. But the main aim is, as far as possible, to groom teachers for the real world out there,” she said.
For the Diploma in Music programme at the Faculty of Music in Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), the stance is that it is necessary to conduct admission interviews to ensure candidates who apply have the ability to sing or play musical instruments.
It is also necessary to seek candidates with natural musical ability, aptitude and interest even if they do not have any formal musical training, said its dean, Associate Professor Dr Ramona Mohd Tahir.
“Apart from the academic requirements for admission set by the university, the interview — or rather the audition — is the main mechanism in determining entry into the programme,” she explained.
According to Ramona, the interview is conducted individually — whereby candidates will sing or play on any musical instruments of their choice and they will be tested on their musical abilities.
There will be three interviewers in a session to ensure fairness, accountability and a smooth process.
“The candidates are expected to present two musical performances that showcase their best ability on the instrument or voice. Candidates without formal musical training are usually advised to seek some prior musical instruction before the interview. It is also important for the candidates to be confident in answering questions,” she shared.
Some of the common mistakes made by interviewees include lack of preparation and practice of the pieces presented; disability to articulate their musical and career intentions; and incomplete documents.
“The interview or audition session is vital for music programmes to ensure that the candidates exhibit potential for musical and artistic development on a personal basis,” she said.
Personality, attitude and communicative ability are what the admission interview is expected to capture for the TESL Foundation programme (Asasi TESL) at the UiTM Centre of Foundation Studies in its Dengkil campus in Selangor.
Asasi TESL head of programme Norshiha Saidin said the admission interview aims to recruit the best candidates, and the interview allows the centre to assess qualities that cannot be captured on paper.
“The written and oral section of the interview represents 50 per cent and the other 50 per cent comes from the academic merit of the candidate. Candidates have a 50 per cent chance of admission depending on the number of intake each year, which varies between 400 to 600 students. The numbers are determined by the MOHE,” she said.
Of the interview, Norshiha said it is divided into two sections — written test and the oral interview.
The written test is one hour long and comprises reading comprehension questions and a 250-word essay. The oral interview is conducted individually by a panel of two and may take about 10 to 15 minutes per candidate.
“Potentially successful candidate should be able to give opinions, draw conclusions and discuss issues and problems brought forth by the interviewer. He or she should be able to accept the opinions of others, be honest as well as possess the skill to lead and be mature both in thought and behaviour,” said Norshiha.
The panel will also look for confidence, awareness of local and international news, and pleasant behaviour and a warm personality.
“Lastly, the candidate should show interest in the programme and is zestful when giving opinions and have a clear vision as to what she or he needs, to be successful in life,” she said.