Name: Andrew Loh Zhu An
Date of Birth: 2nd June 1987
Nationality: Malaysian


SMK Damansara Jaya 2004

Swarthmore College 2010

From the Andrew's Heritage Dictionary:

Andrew (AND-roo)

1. noun. common name.

2. adjective. smart, dumb, intelligent, retarded, clever, stupid, bright, dull, witty, tounge-tied, shrewd, stuttering, slow, quick-witted, moronic, autistic, lively, outspoken, eloquent, dense, daft, idiotic, foolish, thick, spirited, sharp, vigourous, rude, arrogant, pompous, bloated, ostentatious, boastful, inflated, direct, brave, cowardly, gullible, free, free-spirited, burdened, depressed, optimistic, pessimistic, defensive, creative, innovative, irritating, annoying, impossible, infuriating, shy, loud, displeasing, norm-challenging, harassive, irksome, troublesome, vexatious, worrisome, provocative, impatient, pleasant, diplomatic, unreserved, trouble-making, short, defiant, fickle, shallow, timid, audacious, brainless, indoctrinated, indoctrinatory, proud, exploitative, zesty, humourous, anal-retentive, rebellious, lame, innocuous, dangerous, explosive, spontaneous, adaptable, stubborn, pig-headed, nervous, offensive, pestering, useless, ironic, paradoxical.

Usage: You're so Andrew! [Interchange with any of the above definitions]

And yes, I did look at the thesaurus.



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Saturday, March 31, 2007
Why Study in America?

For Enghan's Discover US Education newsletter.

"I never let my schooling interfere with my education." - Mark Twain. 

Why Study in America?

By Andrew Loh 

"So why did you go to America for university, ah?"  

That is often the first and most staggering question US-based Malaysian students face back home. So why would anyone in their right minds not study in Malaysia or Singapore (a bargain!), or go to, God forbid, an unknown liberal arts college in the middle of America when they could just as easily get into Oxbridge or other famous Australian universities? 

The most important reason, I strongly believe, is because American education fits us (Malaysian students in America), like a key to its lock (or as we learn in Biology, like an enzyme to its polypeptide). Because American tertiary education offers us students something other countries do not. It is flexible, allowing indecisive students the chance to change their majors. It is tolerant of divergent, anomalous, and even ambiguous schools of thought, which maintains a scholarly atmosphere of debate and discussion. It places less weight on academics, compared to other systems, placing instead relatively greater importance on extracurricular activities and personal qualities like leadership, community service, and passion. 

Conversely, and an even simpler reason, is that students choose America because other forms of education don't fit us. Many of us could not flourish intellectually had we chosen to study in Malaysia given a combination of factors, some of which include our mentally-stifling academic milieu, the Universities and Universities Colleges Act (which forbids student participation in BN-sanctioned politics,) and the comparatively lower standard of education in our universities. 

While the universities in the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia do present an attractive destination for many Malaysians, these systems force students to choose their majors prior to enrollment in their applications. In this case, the incentive for many a student choosing to study in the United States is to avoid prematurely choosing one major, spending three or four years of time, effort and money, and then regretting the choice in the end. The United States suddenly becomes the only alternative: where students don't have to choose a major to apply, and where students can switch their majors if they happen to change their mind. 

There are many different reasons for choosing an American education, but this belies the fact that many students go there not only because American education fits them best, but also because it misfits them least


  1. In America, there is no effective difference between the terms "college", "university", and "institution," all refer to degree-granting institutions.
  2. Undergraduate education refers to the education leading to a Bachelor's degree.
  3. Graduate education refers to education culminating in a Master's or Doctorate.

Fit #1: Intellectual experience 

What has come to define an American education is the liberal arts philosophy. Liberal arts is a short form of "liberal arts and sciences" and is a philosophy of education which believes in developing students who are well-rounded in all aspects of human knowledge: the natural sciences (e.g. Astronomy, Chemistry;) the social sciences (e.g. Economics, Political Science;) the humanities (e.g. Religion, Languages;) and the arts (e.g. Drama, Literature.)  

This ideal is practiced in American colleges that mandate distribution requirements for their students. For example, a Physics major might be forced to take some courses in History or in a foreign language. A Music major might be forced to take Mathematics classes. Specific requirements differ from college to college, but the general liberal arts philosophy is the same. Students generally begin their studies with a broad syllabus, with classes in most academic sectors, and then ultimately specialize in a major (or two.) Even in major intensive courses like Engineering, students typically take anywhere from 30-75 percent of their classes within their major, and the rest in other fields.  

Note well that the liberal arts philosophy is a system of holistic and comprehensive education in the natural sciences, the social sciences, the humanities, and the arts. It is not a liberal arts degree (like in some Australian universities,) and it is not only for artsy-fartsy people who draw, sculpt and paint. It is aimed at developing resourceful, exposed and dynamic students who have the skills and knowledge to cope with the rapid change in different fields today.  

This system has come to differentiate American education from the rest of the world:  students in other universities in Malaysia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand only take classes in their major. The American perspective on that is that these students might be missing out on education outside their specialization; that they are being confined intellectually. 

Of utmost importance is that this philosophy is practiced in virtually all American universities: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the rest of the Ivy League, Stanford, Duke, and MIT all provide a liberal arts education. If you find this hard to believe, you can go to their websites and find out. 

Another unique aspect of American education is its liberal arts colleges. While a liberal arts education is the philosophy itself, a liberal arts college is generally a small, private college that uses a liberal arts curriculum. What contrasts them from larger universities like Harvard is that most of these liberal arts colleges have none or very few graduate programs.  

While professors in larger universities such as Harvard might choose to teach only higher-level and graduate courses and might assign their introductory and lower-level classes to Teaching Assistants (who are usually graduate school students,) professors in liberal arts colleges generally pay more time and attention to undergraduate students. So for many students, the quality of education in liberal arts colleges (being able to ask questions and getting individual attention in class, having a small discussion course as opposed to a huge lecture, chatting with professors after class and visiting their houses) is much higher than in large research universities. 

Students in the top liberal arts colleges receive an education similar in breadth and depth to the Ivy Leagues. In fact, a higher percentage of students who graduated from liberal arts colleges attend PhD programs than students from large research universities. Notable liberal arts colleges include, but are not limited to: Williams, Amherst, Swarthmore, Wellesley and Middlebury. Google to find more. While liberal arts colleges aren't all that popular in Malaysia, they are very famous for both the quality of their education and the competitiveness of their graduates in the United States. Some students have turned down Harvard for liberal arts colleges, and you would do well to check them out. Just because you haven't heard of a college doesn't mean that it's not good. 

The most important fit for an American education is the intellectual experience. If you aren't sure what you want to major in, or think that you might change your mind half way, then America might be for you. Even if you know what you want to graduate in but want to take other courses as well, a liberal arts education caters for that need, while other systems do not. Perhaps the only students who should not consider an American education are those who absolutely know in what major they want to graduate, and who do not want to dabble with any courses outside their majors. 

Fit #2: Student Preferences 

America's college system is as diverse as its people. There are many different types of universities, and here is a quick summary of their differences. 

While a liberal arts education is distinctive of American higher education, there are also American trade track schools whose students only take courses in their major.  

Size can be a concern. If you like small, personalised, discussion based classes, small liberal arts colleges like Macalester and Wesleyan might be your best bet. If you like universities with huge student bodies and lots of people to meet (and date), you might want to consider large universities like the University of Pennsylvania or the University of California, Berkeley

Another factor to think about is the setting and the region of the university. Would you prefer a rural college far in the woods with spectacular scenery, like Cornell and Dartmouth; or a suburban setting, like Brown; or a university smack right in the city, like New York's Columbia University, or the University of Chicago? Do you want to go to school in the Northeast, where most prestigious universities are, or enjoy the lower cost of living in the Midwest, or live up the surf in California and the West Coast? 

Most colleges offer great social scenes, with lots of dynamic and interesting students to talk to and live with. This is true, especially of the international population, who bring with them norm-challenging perspectives and diverse experiences. Most colleges also have a plethora of extracurricular activities to choose from, from sports to debate and music to art.  

With plenty of options and variables with which to play around and hundreds of colleges to choose from, it would be hard to not find a university that suits your tastes. There is not much difference in this section between American colleges and other Anglophone countries, save for its liberal arts philosophy and the fact that small undergraduate colleges are very rare outside America. 

Fit #3: Finances 

Education in America is very, very expensive. Tuition and costs of living combined can reach a sum of USD 45,000 per year in many universities. If your parents can afford that, then good for you. If not, there is still a way to overcome this.  

The first and most important requirement: You have to be very, very good. Colleges want students who shine in academics, extracurriculars, and personal qualities. 

If you are very, very good, universities might pay for you to come in the form of scholarships, financial aid, grants, and/or loans. This is where the difference between public universities and private colleges come in. Public universities often offer education at a subsidized rate for local (American) students, so the University of Iowa or Kentucky State University may not be able to offer you a substantial scholarship, let alone any financial help at any rate. The American government does not fund tertiary education for international students. Private colleges, on the other hand, have their own endowments to draw from and so may offer more generous financial aid to international students, some of which might even cover annual board and lodging.  

The down side is, even if you are very, very good, applying for financial aid might count against you in your college application – sometimes there just isn't enough money to go around. It is harder for a college to accept you if you need aid. The "need-blind" Super Six who do not count your financial need against you when you apply are Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Williams and Middlebury; however, the competition for admissions to these universities is extremely intense. You will be competing against the global crème de la crème, a process which is as subjective and uncertain as it is cutthroat. 

Another good strategy is to check out the lesser known, but still relatively rich liberal arts universities like Carleton, Pomona, and Bates, who might have less competition for international places.

If you are very, very good, you will, somehow, someway, find a college that will pay for your education. 


Going to college in America is a personal choice with personal incentives. Some of the most compelling reasons are because American education is comparatively more flexible and more personal than other countries. Some students like the weather, some like the parties, some like the wonderful spread of extracurricular activities. Others go because they loved the intellectual fit, and fell in love with the liberal arts philosophy. And of course, some come for the scholarships. Ultimately, it is a combination of factors and personal decisions, none of which will be exactly the same for each individual. 

So why did I go to university in America? Because my major is Undecided (yes, that's acceptable in applications.) Because I didn't want to be confined to any particular field of study. Because Swarthmore paid for me to come. Because Swarthmore has the prettiest and greenest grass amongst all American colleges. (Seriously, we're a national arboretum.) Because I'm taking courses in Arabic, Economics, Political Science, and History. Because I'm in the Chorus, a Jewish a cappella group, and the Badminton team. Because Swarthmore is small enough (1400 students!), and its debating club rich enough, to send me, as a freshman, to the World Universities Debating Championships 2007 in Vancouver, Canada.  

That's why I chose America. What's your reason?

Posted at 02:27 pm by andrewlza

March 31, 2007   10:01 PM PDT
i certainly would quote several part of this entire text in my application essay!
April 1, 2007   12:09 AM PDT
haha as long as you cite me!
April 1, 2007   07:55 AM PDT
azhan, to be honest, that wouldnt be a good idea at all.... cause for us applications, you should use all the given opportunities to showcase yourself instead of just telling why you wanna go there ^_^

and to andrew, Nice post :D
April 1, 2007   07:59 AM PDT
Great post. I would like to add that a broad based education indirectly trains one to think outside the box. The ability to be creative (even when working on things like engineering problems) is far more important than very specific or detailed technical knowledge in most fields.
April 2, 2007   04:40 AM PDT
Hey great post! It certainly opened my eyes to things I haven't thought about before. Thanks for posting it!
April 2, 2007   09:03 AM PDT
This is a definitely a great post! =)
April 2, 2007   12:49 PM PDT
thanks, all!
Hsueh Ming
April 3, 2007   02:32 AM PDT
Well, if you already know what you want to do, what's the point of taking other subjects?

Also, you said that American colleges give you academic freedom, yet they force to you take certain courses?

Myself, I love where I am, and I wouldn't give it up if Harvard or Princeton came a-knocking. For me, nothing beats the tutorial system and having 1 on 1 lessons with some of the finest minds in the world.
April 3, 2007   04:15 AM PDT
my son,

1) if you read properly, you would see that i've included that caveat in the article.

2) never in the article did i mention "academic freedom", because it is a very different thing altogether, dear. it is intellectual holisticism, flexibility and fit that have come to define an american education.

3) duuuuuuuuuuh. that's why you're in oxford, right. but too bad they don't teach you to read properly over there.
hsueh ming
April 5, 2007   08:26 AM PDT
I'm sorry if I don't quite see how forcing someone to take other subjects is any better than limiting someone to the subjects he or she chooses. I'm not criticising American education; I'm criticising the tone of superiority inherent in your article towards other forms of education.

Both the US and the UK systems limit their students: one by not letting a student specialise as much as he or she wishes, one by not allowing the possibility of other courses. That being said, there are a great many number of spliced courses in the UK, my own discipline, Philosophy, Politics and Economics being a prime example.

Darrell: It comes down to how much you want to specialise. Undoubtedly a UK student, while not as rounded as a US student, would be more adept in his or her own discipline. Extra knowledge is never a waste; but the point is that it isnt extra knowledge; it is knowledge gained at the expense of teaching time which could have been used to deepen ones understanding of his primary discipline. The opportunity cost of breadth is depth.

Ultimately it comes down to personal choice, although I might suggest that perhaps American education is more suitable for people who don't quite know what they want to do yet, such as Andrew here.

Also, 'just as easily get into oxbridge'? It is a liiiittle competitive, you know. I mean, they're just number 2 and 3 on the world rankings.
April 5, 2007   04:31 PM PDT
again, you misperceive the tone of the article. no where does it say that it is superior to other forms of education - all it states is that some forms FIT some students better.

the second paragraph of your comment is true. we agree. voila.

and that is why throughout the article is the term fit, not superiority.

the gist of your argument has been explicitly stated in the conclusion of the first section in my article, btw.

"just as easily get into oxbridge" is a reference to the QUALITY of the students applying, and not to the difficulty of admission.

hsueh ming
April 6, 2007   01:11 PM PDT
I agree that your article never explicit states the superiority of american education; i merely contest that, regardless of intent, that is how it came across as doing. Hence why I said tone rather than content.
April 6, 2007   02:14 PM PDT
and thus we have consensus.
hsueh ming
April 7, 2007   06:09 AM PDT
You disappoint me. I came looking for a nice, splendid argument, and all we get is agreement agreement agreement.
April 7, 2007   01:16 PM PDT
the opportunity cost of further argument is homework.
hsueh ming
April 8, 2007   04:38 AM PDT
Ah, I'm on holiday, see... Hah, another reason UK education is better! I get 6 months of holiday a year!

*wills andrew to argue*
September 23, 2007   08:36 AM PDT
well, perhaps i should write an essay on why did i choose to study in hk. i'd probably reverse all ur arguments to suit my purpose...for ex, the HK university system is for those who know what they want to do in the future.

*ahem* but i don't really know...

or at least i should *pretend* to know, so that people can stop bugging me in the future with the same question 100 times a day..."WHY NOT THE U.S.???" "Do you regret?"

-ppl in UK get 6 months of holiday a year???!!!!

September 23, 2007   08:38 AM PDT
how many/what universities were there at the debate championship?
November 29, 2008   12:37 PM PST
Yeah, can you talk more about the debate championship which you had gone through?
November 30, 2008   07:55 PM PST
January 26, 2009   11:28 PM PST
If you are very, very good, you will, somehow, someway, find a college that will pay for your education.

I believe only about 10% of Malaysian teenager population is under that category.

I realized those who apply to American colleges as freshies are usually those who are all-rounders. It kinda hampers the hopes of other people like me who aren't the littlest bit like you.
August 23, 2009   02:32 AM PDT
hey,is ielts acceptable in the US unis or is TOEFL required as well?
April 18, 2011   06:15 AM PDT
Hi Andrew! I don't know if you remember me, but we met at KDU's CQ Teo 2010. I'm from SMKDU. Your blog really caught my eye. I'm planning to go to US too =)
September 26, 2012   03:10 PM PDT
I'm doing the same thing from England. Love this! :)

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