PETALING JAYA: It was such great news that even the King congratulated them.
Jarell Cheong Tze Wen and Muhammad Hamdi Ahmad Hakimi have been accepted into Harvard College in Massachusetts, whose 3.43% admission rate was at its lowest this year.
This means that only 1,968 students were selected out of the 57,435 applications received by the renowned US institution, said the Harvard Club of Malaysia in a statement.
Harvard College is the undergraduate school of Harvard University.
Muhammad Hamdi, who studied at SM Sains Shah Alam, Kuala Lumpur and completed A Levels at Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar as a Bank Negara Kijang scholar, was in fact also accepted by Columbia University, another Ivy League university.
He was on a prayer mat when the email came in from Harvard.
“I was numb and my jaw dropped when I read the acceptance letter from Harvard College. I still ask myself if the email is real.
“For people who come from low-income (B40) families like me, such opportunities don’t come by every day, ” he told The Star.
His parents owned a small business and are currently doing freelance jobs.
The Kuantan boy said the Bank Negara scholarship gave him the option to study in the United Kingdom, but he was drawn to the liberal arts education and the flexibility of the US education system.
“Many of my friends spoke about studying in the US and through a senior, I found out about how to apply to study in these universities and for scholarships.
“I just wanted to try applying for it because I do not want to regret anything later in life, ” said Muhammad Hamdi, who will be pursuing a degree in economics.
Cheong, who studied at SMK Seri Bintang Utara, Kuala Lumpur, and completed his A Levels at Sunway College, said he was not particularly a top student back then as he spent more time in extracurricular activities.
It was only after watching a series of videos on how to study effectively that he drastically changed the way he studied, subsequently becoming a top student in his school.
He will be taking up Mathematics in Harvard.
“My interest in Mathematics was only sparked in Form Four when I realised that I had a knack for Additional Mathematics, ” he said.
And the interest grew during the movement control order when he learnt Olympiad Mathematics then.
“I plan to pursue quantitative trading after graduating, which I learned about through podcasts and online articles, ” he said.
Cheong had also represented Malaysia in the SEA Games DanceSport events and competed in international chess tournaments.
Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah congratulated the two students.
“Their impressive achievement proves that Malaysia is capable of producing competent individuals of international standards.
“The remarkable achievement also shows that with unwavering commitment, high fighting spirit and hard work, Malaysians are able to compete and succeed at international levels, ” the King said in a post on Istana Negara’s Facebook and Instagram.
The King expressed hope that their achievement would inspire other Malaysians.
Harvard College alumni Wan Nadiah Wan Mohd Abdullah Yaakob, who was one of the two alumni interviewers, said three Malaysian students were shortlisted for an interview from which only Cheong and Muhammad Hamdi were accepted.
She described Cheong as an all-rounder and a very focused high achiever.
“His interest in Mathematics and chess is understandably linked but DanceSport was a curveball; and the fact that he does it at an international level is amazing, ” she said.
As for Muhammad Hamdi, she said: “He is wise for someone his age and because of all that he’s been through in life, he thinks deeply about things.”
Both of them will leave for Harvard College in August.