Just as with any other scholarship body, the very first thing you have to do is simply apply. Which roughly translates to constantly sifting through your old certificates, tediously scanning each one through your school’s ancient computer (Yes, I had to go through this! My school’s computer was a pain in the neck) and writing your essay.
I was fortunate to be included in my school’s batch of prospective YK scholars, so our little group was nominated by our school to apply for the Early Harvest intake. This meant we would all apply with our trial results and the application process was right smack in the middle of our SPM preparation. Some of us (me included) definitely felt as if we were undertaking one of Hercules’s labours at that time - especially when we all had to share one computer who was slower than the plot progression in Neon Demon - which is why you should always be prepared.
The application process is fairly straightforward: fill in your details and write an essay. The essay generally revolves around you and your future ambitions and how they relate with Malaysia. Make sure you have all the required documents, preferably all scanned and organized in a folder in your devices which you can reuse for other scholarship applications as well. For the essay, while it is helpful to look at examples, I think you should write your essay the way you want it to be. The essay will be what differentiates you from thousands of other applicants, so let it reflect yourself and not somebody else. Tailor it to your own self.
Stage 1 & 2: Aptitude and Attitude Tests
These two stages are basically a series of online tests which include verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning and personality/moral dilemma questions.
Personally, I think the best you can do is not worry that much (I know I did). When you’re taking the IQ tests, make sure you relax and do it like any other test you did before. If you want, you can try sample questions that are available online beforehand to familiarize myself with the format so it doesn’t shock you as much when you actually take it. Once you do that, you’re pretty much good to go!
We were given a timeframe to complete all the tests. When I decided I wanted to get this over with, I secluded myself in my school auditorium which thankfully was:
- One of the few places (“few” is not an exaggeration) in my school where our Wi-fi was relatively stable and strong (Make sure you have a good internet connection, guys! You don’t want to disconnect in the middle of a test, I assure you)
- Completely deserted at that time (Reduce your distractions!)
In retrospect, the test was actually really challenging, especially considering the time constraint you’re under. But I’m sure, if you’ve made it this far, you’ve got what it takes to get through! Believe in yourself!
Stage 3: The Assessment Centre
At around 6:00 p.m, YK sent an email regarding my current application status. Now, at that time, I wouldn’t open my email until I got back to class for evening class since the Wi-fi at our dormitories never seemed to be turned on (and never seemed to work when they were on). But I was filled with absolute gratitude (and fear, obviously) when I read that I was accepted to the next stage. You’ll soon realize as well that opening your emails slowly becomes a ritual of some sort.
The third stage is essentially a slew of assessments all at once: a group exercise, a “business analysis” presentation and lastly, a one-on-one interview session with one of the panel of interviewers all done in succession at - alright, take a breath - the Khazanah building. To say that I was nervous would be an understatement; this was my very first experience with interviews.
My session was during the morning and I was grouped with one of my friends from my school who we’ll dub as L (whether it was meticulous planning or mere coincidence; we may never know). My other friends who also got to this stage were scheduled during the same evening or the day after. Both L and I were the first to arrive there (I’m guessing there’s no brownie points for this) and we were slowly joined by other candidates who were in our group. Our group consisted of a measly 6 people, but I could bet you I let out an audible gasp when I saw the others. I remember thinking to myself, “They’re all so good! I’m screwed…” But this group consisted of some of the friendliest people I’ve met and we all got along well. We were invited for breakfast, which frankly, none of us seemed too eager for. It’s not that the food wasn’t good; I already had breakfast earlier with L and I wouldn’t risk eating more lest the possibility of me throwing up from being too anxious.
Once we were ushered into one of the rooms (imagine your typical corporate meeting room), the group exercise began. We were given 2 resumes each and we had to decide who to hire in our imaginary company, under some constraints like our financial capacity and the limited slots which we had to consider. If I recall correctly, the interviewer who was observing us said we should try to advocate for the employees we got. I’m not completely sure if it gave any impact, but in retrospect I guess she was trying to make it seem more competitive. Keeping that in mind, I totally expected a Hunger Games style showdown in there but that was not the case. We had a civil discussion, though our efforts did fall back short on certain aspects, which we were later informed of by our interviewer. I definitely thought the task was daunting and confusing, especially considering how we all just jumped right to it without time to digest what was happening (or time to digest your breakfast if you had extra servings earlier). Considering the time constraints, there’s got to be at least one person in the room to drive the discourse. If nobody else wants to initiate, go ahead and ask politely if it’s okay for you to start things off. But of course, being the “leader” isn’t your main goal (I wasn’t the leader, by the way!); instead you should focus on how you can approach the task at hand as a team and figure out how you can contribute.
For the individual business analysis task, we were given a file containing statistical data and other stimulus and were asked to act as some sort of business executive. My scenario went something like this: I’m looking to expand my restaurant business, so I need to decide where to locate my new chain. After a few minutes of research and preparation, you are to present your plan to an interviewer who will evaluate your performance. My mind was a bit overwhelmed by the numbers and graphs so I guess I went a bit off tangent with my proposal. After that, the interviewer pointed out what I had overlooked in my presentation and all I could think was how this was a complete disaster. L soon shared a punchline that he used in his session which he thought was the peak of comedy (it was funny, L). I didn’t want to ruin his mood so I just told him that mine went well too (although the complete opposite was the case). For future candidates (yes, you!) if you are ever greeted with this same scenario, try to be calm and collected and be sure to read between the lines! Don’t make the same mistakes I did.
Lastly, we were each called for our individual interview sessions. Most of us dreaded this the most, which was evident by the apprehension in a few in our voices during our casual chats whilst we waited for our turn. I was among the last ones to be called. Surprisingly, this session was my favourite out of the three. Partially because it was the last one and we were all itching to leave but also because it was genuinely fun. The interviewer asked general questions about my personal journey and my ambitions. She was also nice enough to offer me her own insightful advice which I took into heart. When I stepped out, I knew that whether or not I’ve succeeded at this stage, I’ve come out a bit wiser and grown a bit older. Which is what I want you to do to: take the experience and critique to build yourself as a better person.
Note: During my year of application, they didn’t sponsor any students for the accelerated January intake programme (where most Early Harvest scholars would register) so instead we all had to wait until after our SPM results came out and continue the selection process along with a bigger pool of candidates.
Stage 4: Interview with YK Management
Thank God. An email from YK confirming the date for the next stage greeted me in my email in January, marking the start of my 2020. But lo and behold, the COVID-era started to show its fangs; and this new challenge called for drastic adaptations worldwide such as staying inside as much as we could, wearing face masks whenever we were outside and making dalgona coffee whenever we were bored. And so was the case for my interview, which was rescheduled from April to May and was to be held virtually instead.
I tried to view this as a blessing in disguise, as not only was I able to undergo the interview from the comfort of my humble abode, but it helped dissolve my sense of disquietude a bit, not having a pair of eyeballs directly staring into my soul. The interviewer was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met; she asked a few general questions about myself and that was it. However, I do remember accidentally getting a bit emotional (which you shouldn’t do!) but my interviewer was really sympathetic and helped me get through it. As you can probably guess, that little voice in my head was already chanting about how foolish I was to be so unprofessional. I brushed it off and plowed on. At the end of the interview, I got the chance to ask her something so I just went with my gut and asked her for any advice she would give to herself if she were in my shoes. Her response was very moving and I still remember her words until today. In the end, I still had to emerge from the situation with the same mindset I had last time: that this was still a learning opportunity and I shouldn’t focus that much on the outcome.
For those who are bound to face the same fate of virtual interviews, don’t fret! Even though you’re at home, it doesn’t hurt to dress up nicely to get yourself in the mood and boost your confidence. I knew the lack of human interaction I had during MCO would make me sound like I just woke up from a coma if I tried to speak suddenly, so I tried talking to my own reflection in the mirror to help myself get the hang of speaking again.
Stage 5: Interview with YK Board of Trustees
Truth be told, I wasn’t expecting to pass the previous stage considering what happened. It had been months without any news, and I didn’t know when to expect any updates so I just assumed that I was unsuccessful. However, if there’s one thing that you could grasp from my story, it would be how God works in mysterious ways. I was lucky I didn’t sleep yet at that time, because around 11 p.m I received a call from an unknown number. Upon answering, the voice on the other side informed me - calmly but surely - that I had been successful in my previous interview. And here’s the catch: my virtual interview was tomorrow. No kidding. By the time I had finished frantically ironing my clothes for tomorrow, I had gracefully received their email confirming my session tomorrow (which I replied at midnight), and I was the first on the list. Gosh. Talk about catching me by surprise.
And it didn’t end there. No, no, no. My call was supposed to be at 10:00 a.m but I hadn’t received any news until 11:00. You can just imagine the amount of anxiety I had by just sitting in front of my laptop thinking if I’ve suddenly been automatically disqualified. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t Alice in Wonderland and time hadn’t completely halted. Even once we started, we initially got off on the wrong foot since the interviewer(s) couldn’t hear me at first! After a few minutes of tinkering with both our devices, we finally could commence the session. Lesson here: keep these possible setbacks in mind so that it doesn’t affect your performance later on.
During the short time I had to prepare for this stage, I just read some notes I had previously made about my goals/pathway in life. Past scholars said this stage was the easiest and most relaxed, and while it was less strenuous and more casual, the questions were equally as hard as the other stages for me. I didn’t want to feel overconfident because I knew this stage was ultimately the most consequential one. I presented my bare self, and if this scholarship wasn’t meant for the genuine me, then so shall it be. Let go and let God, I thought.
Thank God, the final email I received was one that reflected the cumulative effort of everyone that had been a part of my journey. An email so concise in its nature but so significant in its substance. See? I told you opening your emails slowly becomes a ritual. I hope you will later experience the same emotions I felt.
Being awarded the YK Scholarship translates to new open doors of opportunity, but not without the responsibility that you shoulder towards the country as a part of the community of scholars who are working towards catalysing change. For aspiring applicants, I wish you the best and hope to see you as a part of our small family.
To add on to that, hang your hopes high but do know that getting a scholarship isn’t everything. Life isn’t a series of binary options, instead there are lots of possibilities in between. Think of rejection as protection. I’ve been rejected by other scholarships, and I knew that His plans were always better than mine. All the best!