The alternatives to the STPM for poorer students

Cass Shan has a suggestion or two for students who cannot afford private education.

After all that discussion in my previous posts on why the STPM must go, I now present options, alternatives and solutions to the STPM exam. I understand there are a lot of reasons why students take up STPM and a glaring reason is, unfortunately, that students think they have little or no option but to opt for STPM as a route to a university education.

Also, there are a fair number of students who pursue education in public universities because they get offered that course, not because they want to do that course. Again, a lot of poorer students feel that public university is their only way to a qualification, leading them to sometimes accept courses they’re not interested in.

Hence, I looked at alternatives to STPM, drawn from successful individuals. The people who shared with me their strategies to overcome their lack of money to pursuing tertiary education range in age from the 20s and those in their 40sand 50s, through the golden years. Their occupations range from managers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, lecturers, general managers,  retirees, award recipients, engineers, academicians, doctors, the vice president of a local bank and even CEOs.

So, I present to you alternatives to the STPM (particularly pertinent to poorer students):

Solutions and alternatives

1. Scholarships – Obviously, this is the number one aim. Not everyone gets it – all the more reason to fight for it.

2. Get a PTPN loan – Yes, your PTPN loan for private colleges will be higher than that of a loan for a public university course but will be paid 10 times faster once you get a good job. Don’t succumb to accepting whatever courses universities throw at you just because public universities are cheaper. A PTPN loan is far more enriching than a car loan – which you will eventually get — but a study loan is an asset and a car is a liability! (And if you study hard enough, the loan gets converted into a scholarship!

3. Private college (CAL or other pre-U course of your choice, or even a diploma, and to some extent even degrees) – Yes, this option is more expensive than the STPM, but there’s a thing called a part-time job (or even a full-time job). The less rigorous demands of these qualifications means you get to help your parents and yourself financially while pursuing pre-U qualifications or even degrees.Poorer students know that any additional income can help them and their families – something that a full-time and rigorous education system doesn’t allow. Choose a course/qualification that you know is easier on you and can be managed even if you have a full-time job.

4. Get a job and climb the career ladder – Don’t worry about qualifications for all career paths. Most jobs require good attitude and a willingness to learn. This job then helps you pay for the education that you want, complimented by valuable real working experience. Even without a paper qualification, you can start climbing the corporate ladder and earn a good salary. I have worked for a general manager who was only 30 years of age (he started working at age 18) – and it was a multinational corporation with its head office in London.

5. Independent studying – There is another strategy for private education that is affordable and which is rarely explored. Simply register as an independent student to an international awarding exam body and skip on tuition fees. This saves you tens of thousands of ringgit! Granted, not everyone can study without the help of a lecturer, but Lim Kit Siang studied law while in prison during Ops Lalang. Having said that, there are people who have applied this method while working as well.

6. Free online studies – Harvard and MIT are two examples of sources for free online learning. Google it. Study for free!

7. Get a family loan – Not everyone has the option of having a family member pay their A-Level fees (or any other college fees) but if you have a father with a retirement account – don’t tell him to save the money for himself. TAKE the money (assuming he doesn’t have a debilitating health condition) and repay him with a good education and a high earning capacity for life. That loan is temporary but your growth is forever.

8. Make sibling pacts – Make a pact to a sibling to work to support your studies. Then, graduate and return the favour. If you’re the eldest, be that eldest sibling who works first for the younger to graduate and go back to school after said sibling manages to pursue his/her dreams. I know that this has worked not just for two, but four siblings (born to the same parents) who took turns to study – all achieving career highs by their 20s.

9. Change career paths – If you know you don’t have the money and the odds of getting into uni is low or nil,explore other career paths. Read my article on so-called prestigious career paths here. Everyone’s personality is fitted for more than one career. This does not mean you give up on your dream; you are merely exploring you interest through another route. You can then work your way back to your career of choice later with a wealth of experience to become better at the job.

10.  Start a business – I know of a friend who opened a stall selling pisang goreng and made RM200-300 a day. Pretty good money for a school leaver. Paying for college fees becomes easier when you have good money coming at you on a daily basis.

11.  Get a mentor – Learning can be done by acquiring a mentor to teach you what you need to know. Sometimes, a mentor is free of charge if you’re nice enough. Other times, you return the favour by working for him or her, doing odd jobs and such. Look out for mentors through personal networks and LinkedIn. I know a girl who boldly stepped up to a successful speaker at a seminar and politely asked if she could work for him in exchange for him mentoring her. He said yes.

12.  CON the government – Take up a PTPN loan you don’t intend to repay. Oops, that’s too popular a route.

13.  Promote your sexuality – Rather than actually prostitute yourself, women are lucky that if they are blessed with a good body, they can make money just by looking good. Instead of lamenting about being seen as a sex object, feel lucky, be an opportunist and use it to your advantage. Jobs such as modeling, promoting certain products such as beer and cigarettes, and entertaining guests in a bar (a thin line from GROs who actually go home with clients), actually pay easy money in exchange for showing up to work in a short skirt. This may rile the feminists, but my point is: grow a spine, love your body and watch Coyote Ugly. (Yes, I do know someone who did this; fortunately, knowing her personal values, I have looked past society’s perception.)

14.  Work for a college – Did you realise that some colleges offer you free education (sometimes for your children) in exchange for working for them? When push comes to shove, get your parents to work at a college so you can study there for free or at a discount.

15.   Public funding – If all else fails, tell your sob story to the media in hopes for public funding. There are members of the public who would be willing to help you financially if you make a strong enough case. Just remember to make your pity party one that sets people howling with tears. And no, surprisingly, I’m not being sarcastic. Make your story sad, paint yourself as a victim and seek generous donors.

So there you go. Thus said, I sign out from this issue of how we can all live happily ever after without STPM. To those who have secured a course of their choice through good STPM results, congratulations. To those who haven’t, there is still light!


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Cass likes coffee. She equates politics to drinking coffee. Too much will keep you awake. You need to sweeten it yourself or else it will taste bitter. But it's also addictive if you drink it frequently.

Posted on 27 August 2013. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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