School Advisor Articles

Marissa Leong's remarkable academic journey: From elc to GIS, and beyond to UCL

Published by SchoolAdvisor | Oct 23, 2023

When it comes to academic journeys, Marissa Leong's story is a remarkable one. With an impressive trajectory from elc International School to Garden International School (GIS), and now poised to embark on her adventure at University College London (UCL), her experiences offer valuable insights into the world of international education and personal growth.

A positive start at elc International School

Established in 1987, elc International School is about moulding the whole child. Here, students follow a broad and varied curriculum based on the National Curriculum for England in conjunction with Cambridge Assessment International Education (CAIE). Step into any class, and you'll see students participating in active learning through various subjects and activities that will make them resilient and confident global citizens. 

Marissa spent the entirety of secondary school in elc, where she skipped Year 6 due to the transition from the government to international syllabus. Her first year at elc was a period of adjustment, but it was also a time that shaped her academic drive. 

Marissa shares, “My year group was rather competitive, and it drove me to do well in my school work, tests and exams. I made lifelong friends there whom I am still very close to now, even though I’m halfway across the globe.”  

elc’s teachers played a pivotal role in her growth. They were not just educators but also supportive mentors, always willing to lend a listening ear. One such example was her music teacher, Ms Carol, whom Marissa still fondly remembers today. 

The school offered a diverse range of extracurricular activities (ECAs), and Marissa, as a prefect, had the opportunity to contribute by setting up ECA Selection days. Among her favourites was the Cooking Club, which taught her valuable skills and allowed her to enjoy delicious meals on campus. “Overall, my experience studying was positive and I probably would not have made it to GIS without the help and support of my teachers here,” she says. 

Thriving at Garden International School (GIS)

Transitioning to Garden International School (GIS) for A Levels marked a new chapter for Marissa. The shift from a smaller school to a larger institution was initially a culture shock, but she quickly found the friendly atmosphere conducive to making friends and engaging in her studies. 

“Classes were always engaging, and it made me realise that I genuinely enjoyed going to school every day to attend classes and see my friends,” Marissa says. 

Marissa was also impressed with the learning environment, particularly the dedication and availability of teachers. “My teachers were amazing, so I always looked forward to attending their classes. They were always available for a quick chat or to answer a question or two about work or content. I also found counselling extremely helpful to help me deal with exam anxiety and the stress from university applications,” she says. 

With the addition of hard work, such an excellent learning environment ultimately led Marissa to score 3A*s and 2As in Economics, Biology, EPQ, Mathematics and Sociology respectively. 

“In biology, I improved from an 85 in AS to an A*, even after getting a low C during Year 12 mocks, with the help of my biology teachers, Ms Taylor and Dr Noakes. I truly believe their support boosted my confidence in the subject to achieve this grade. Even though I had never taken Economics or Sociology in IGCSEs, the environment at GIS allowed me to gain the confidence I needed to do well in these subjects. My teachers ensured that I was progressing well and if and when I needed help, I could always speak to them for advice and feedback on my work or essays.”

GIS students consistently gain admission into a wide variety of universities around the world, including the world’s most selective institutions. This is possible thanks to its outstanding Higher Education (HE) team — something Marissa can attest to.  

“A big thank you to Ms Leng and Mr Mercer for helping with my university applications, especially since my Personal Statement had gone through more than ten drafts before finally being submitted,” Marissa says. “It was stressful, but having two experienced safety nets in this field made the process so much easier and allowed me to produce the personal statement that got me into UCL.”

The impact of co-curricular activities (CCAs)

When it comes to university applications, CCAs are a vital component in demonstrating that an applicant is not just academically inclined but possesses a well-rounded character.

Marissa's active involvement in CCAs at both schools allowed her to cultivate skills beyond the classroom, fostering discipline, commitment and an all-rounded personality.

“Activities like ballet and violin helped me with my creative side, allowing me to enjoy my time outside the classroom,” Marissa says. “Specifically, it taught me discipline with the sheer amount of hours that went into practising and learning new techniques. This helped me with my personal statement, seeing as universities could see a different side to me rather than just being academic.”

Marissa graduated from GIS and is currently pursuing her higher studies at UCL

From GIS to KPMG: Real-world experience

Marissa's internship at KPMG as part of GIS’s work experience programme allowed her to delve into the world of consulting. She worked on various projects, gaining insights and building valuable relationships with the People and Change team. This experience solidified her career aspirations and provided real-world exposure to her field of interest.

“I learned a lot about the consulting field and was able to build valuable relationships with the People and Change team — who I’m still in contact with today,” she says. 

Pursuing a dream at UCL

Marissa has dreamt of attending UCL since she was 13. So, she couldn't be happier when she found out she was accepted to pursue Information Management for Business there. 

“I’m excited to live abroad for the first time, eager to make new friends and pursue my passions in a bustling city. My goal is to graduate with First Class Honours, and I aspire to work in consulting or technology, a dream I've had since Year 10, following a Business Studies project on FAANG companies and their marketing strategies.”

Having studied in an international school for about seven years, Marissa has gained substantial cultural capital, much more than she ever could at a government school. She shares, “It has opened my eyes to the world around me, not just locally in Malaysia. I’ve learned multiple languages from my international friends — which I probably would not have known if I was in a government school. In university, I’ve quickly made friends from countries such as Australia, the UK, Canada, America, China, Japan etc.”

Marissa Leong's academic journey is nothing short of inspirational. Her story inspires all students embarking on their educational journeys, emphasising the importance of dedication, support and the pursuit of one's dreams.