IN THE United States, finishing high school is a coming-of-age rite of its own, with school leavers receiving their high school diploma scrolls at mini-graduation ceremonies where speeches are made, gowns and caps are worn and portraits are taken to fully commemorate the event.
While end of school procedures here in Malaysia may not be quite as ceremonious, the feeling is essentially the same: being a Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) candidate marks the close of one chapter in your life and the start of another.
With your results in hand, you find yourself at a major crossroads in life, having to decide which bridge to cross and which path to walk as your future looms before you.
Whichever metaphor you choose, the fact is after your SPM you are faced with numerous options of what to do next. To help you on your way (and to help reduce the headache), we outline here the routes, traditional and also non-traditional, that you can take.
After a short breather at the end of secondary school, most of us will continue on the path of furthering our education. If you need a scholarship, you should have already begun searching. Scholarships are abundant! Especially for those with outstanding academic and co-curricular achievements. Besides the usual government scholarships like the Public Service Department (JPA) scholarship, look out also for study awards from other governments, as well as those offered by private organisations. Most universities offer scholarships to students who meet the requirements.
Pre-university courses provide the formal qualification needed to gain entry to an undergraduate degree programme at a local or foreign university. Intakes vary, check with institutions.
STPM: The national Form Six programme that is equivalent to the A-Levels qualification and recognised globally. It takes 18 months to complete.
Local matriculation: A one or two-year programme with a science stream or accounting stream. Taught at designated matriculation colleges around the country, this will gain you entry into a local public university.
A-Levels: The British Form Six programme that is widely offered globally. It takes about 18 months to two years to complete and is split into two levels: the Advanced Subsidiary (AS) Level and the A2 Level. There are different versions of the A-Levels that may be administered by different boards so be sure to check specifics at your college of choice.
International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP): Almost a rival programme to the A-Levels, the IBDP was developed in Geneva and is recognised globally. It takes two years to complete.
A one-year programme that leads to an Australian Year 12 qualification which will gain you entry to Australian and New Zealand universities.
A one-year programme that leads to the Ontario Secondary School Diploma, which will gain you entry to Canadian or American universities.
A programme of between 12 and 18 months typically streamed by discipline, that will transition you smoothly into an undergraduate degree programme. Some institutions offer specifically designed programmes that offer direct pathways into certain universities abroad.
American degree transfer programme:
A four-year programme that will earn you a degree from an American university. You will complete the first two years at a local private institution and then transfer to complete the final two years in the United States.
Lasting 24 to 30 months, diploma courses are typically for fields of study requiring more industry-related skills. Graduating with a diploma gives you the option of continuing your studies to degree level or entering the workforce early.
Technical and vocational training
Designed to groom skilled technicians and semi-professionals ready for the workforce. Courses are offered at certificate and diploma level at polytechnics and community colleges.
Certain fields like accounting and marketing have specific professional courses available for SPM holders through bodies like the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and the Chartered Institute of Marketing.
Some of you may feel that studying is no longer for you. You may feel like you want to start earning money and get a sense of financial independence. For you, the real world of employment beckons. Working may not mean a split from studying forever: some of you may have to work to save up money for your studies later, some may work part-time and enrol in classes while others may choose to further their studies once they have several years of work experience behind them. Some universities accept and/or value working experience as an entry requirement into their undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.
Enter the workforce
If you want to work full-time, your plan of action is to seek out and apply for jobs. Prepare your cover letter and curriculum vitae and brush up on your interview skills. You’ll start at the very bottom, for example as a sales assistant, but if you are a hard and conscientious worker, it is not unheard of to make your way up, for example to assistant manager, in due time.
Join the family business
Your parents or grandparents may have a business that they would like to one day pass down to you. Like a young Padawan, you will be trained firsthand by a Jedi Master, learning all the tricks of the trade so that when the time comes, you may take over the reins smoothly.
This is for you if you have an innate entrepreneurial spirit. If you want to be your own boss, you may want to try your hand at starting a small business, for example running a catering business from home. You’ll have to learn-as-you-go but there are many manuals you can read, both in print and on the Internet, to help you along the way. If you have a creative skill or talent, you may want to partake in some freelance work, for example photographing events or editing videos.
Take part in an internship or
This option allows you to experience a job so as to know if you like it before you get into the field. On your own initiative, approach a company for a short-term internship where you take part in the daily routine just as an employee would, or find a mentor who is successful in a field and is willing to train and guide you.
Taking a gap year means taking some time off from books and exams to see and experience the world. You may not earn formal qualifications along the way but you will gain valuable life experiences. Taking a gap year when you are young is the perfect time as you have few responsibilities and constraints. Look out for our StarEducate cover story next week where we will be taking an in-depth look at the topic.
The most popular option when it comes to a gap year is to travel, perhaps even choosing the low budget option of backpacking. Whether it is around the country, the region or further away, travelling allows you to experience the sights and sounds and soak in the culture and foods of other countries – and come back with great stories and photos!
Broadening your horizons can be a little expensive. So earning money to support yourself while you travel is a good compromise.
Australia and New Zealand, for example, have working holiday visas that young Malaysians are eligible to apply for which allow you to move between short-term or contractual jobs, from apple-picking in farms to office jobs in the city.
Taking time off does not have to be a selfish act. Nowadays, there are many charity and non-governmental organisations that organise international volunteering programmes where you can work with children and animals or be involved in urban and rural development initiatives.
Foreign language course
Enrol in a foreign language course abroad, for example study French in France or Mandarin in China. The immersive nature of such programmes means you can still experience the benefits of travelling whilst picking up an employable skill.
Infographic: Options after SPM - By Muhammad Hafeez Aminuddin