Whoever was or is fortunate to secure a full scholarship with Bank Negara Malaysia is usually viewed differently. After all, thousands navigate the elusive and difficult process to study abroad.
Rebecca Choong — who now works as a manager at the central bank — still remembers the business case study and interview she had to go through when she applied for this prestigious scholarship. “[It was] quite harrowing, and there are a few people as well, so everyone is aware that we are always each other competitors,” she says.
Choong would end up beating them, winning a full-ride scholarship to one of the UK’s best universities: University College London. Here, she pursued a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Business with East European Studies.
But it was more than a degree for her. It was an experience she describes as a “dream come true.”
Living her childhood dream
Growing up, the Malaysian loved reading books by Enid Blyton and J.K. Rowling. She was fascinated by the UK, from the iconic red double-decker buses to the world-class museums and more. “London was at the epicentre of everything, so it was always a given that I would choose to study in London,” she says.
Before that, the Malaysian student had never travelled far from home. “When I applied, I had only gone to Singapore and China, which were very enticing. Many of us also grew up with very Western media, so having heard of that or just being surrounded by the environment was thrilling,” Choong explains.
Securing a Bank Negara Malaysia scholarship
Coming from a family of three, Choong knew that studying in the UK would be too expensive without a full scholarship. “If I didn’t get the scholarship, I likely would not have been able to go or only afford to study abroad for a year,” says the central bank manager.
So, she applied to “everything relevant,” including the Bank Negara Malaysia Scholarship and Khazanah Global Scholarship. Both scholarships fund bright and high-achieving Malaysians to study at selected universities around the world.
The application process, however, was nothing short of an emotional rollercoaster. For the Bank Negara Malaysia scholarship, Choong needed to complete an online application that required her to submit a CV, cover letter and university grades.
Upon passing the first stage, she needed to complete a one-day assessment. These assessments are designed to test the suitability, tenacity, interpersonal and communication skills, commitment, demonstration of teamwork, and aptitude of the applicants.
Studying at UCL: A diverse experience
Today, the mother of one is working on financial policies with the central bank, where she has been for seven years. Asked why she chose her specific major, Choongshares: “There’s a lot of customisation within the programme. You did not just study the core economics topics since you could pick modules that were not directly related to economics.” Her favourite modules include Economic History and Ideas and Introduction to Politics.
The best part? She could also do a dissertation in her final year — something not many UK universities offered. “[The exams] weren’t as fun because you didn’t have the time to go in-depth into a particular topic,” Choong enthuses.
Her time outside of class was equally enriching. Choong was part of the International Council of Malaysian Scholars and Associates, an extensive global network comprising students with diverse interests and backgrounds. She was also the Vice President of the UCL Malaysian Society.
If you are looking for tips to secure a full scholarship, Choong — who occasionally oversees the Bank Negara Malaysia scholarship application — has two pieces of advice: research and reach out. “Reach out to others who have gotten the scholarship. Some people are receptive, and others might point in the right direction.”
She adds: “Read the annual reports. It will give you a flavour of what the institutions are thinking. It sets you apart from all the other applicants because you took to look at these reports.”