University choices may feel like a distant priority for this year’s Matrics who are currently settling into the rhythm of their final year at school. But now is in fact the optimal time to be investigating what they want to study and where, because making the right choice takes time, and will ultimately impact on study success and employability 4 years from now, an expert says.
“Prospective students will start applying from around the April holidays onwards, whereafter the applications will start coming in thick and fast, and the rush to secure a place will intensify. Once your fellow learners start applying, you will really start to feel the pressure to do so as well, which could lead to you settling for a generic qualification or taking the traditional route that others in the same boat as you are following just to make sure you don’t miss your chance,” says Nola Payne, Head of Faculty: Information and Communications Technology at The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest private higher education institution.
“The gravity of the choice you need to make about your future in coming weeks can’t be overstated. The right study choice at the right institution is a solid foundation for future success, but the wrong choice can exact a costly financial and emotional toll for a long time. It therefore makes sense to use the relative calm of the coming weeks – a calm that will not again be repeated in your Matric year – to make absolutely sure about what you want to do next year,” says Payne.
She says there are two main questions around which Matrics should focus their investigations: 1) What should I study and 2) Where should I study.
1) WHAT SHOULD I STUDY?
“If you have more or less of an idea of your strengths and ideal work, that’s a great start,” notes Payne.
“However may people have no idea of what they want to do with their life after school.These learners should start by investigating potential careers that interest them, and importantly, investigate the demand for suitably qualified professionals in these fields.”
Payne advises Matrics to scour job advertisements, see which positions excite them, and devour any media they can lay their hands on to get an idea of the kinds of careers that are out there.
“Remember that new careers exist today that are vastly different to the careers of the past, and you may even land upon something you’ve never heard of before. Once you’ve identified your ideal career, you should then investigate what you would need to study to do the kind of work that excites you.”
A major consideration is whether to opt for a traditional academic degree, or a work-focused one, says Payne.
“In our tough job market, the closer a degree is aligned to the realities of the world of work, and the greater a qualification’s ability to make you land on your feet from the first day on the job, the better your chances of success. So ask institutions about their lecturers and curricula – are they still involved in their profession beyond teaching, and does the institution have close ties with companies and industry professionals?
“The days of academic ivory towers disconnected from the demands and requirements of the real world are numbered, and prospective students must endeavour to find an institution that understands and responds to what is needed in today’s workplaces.”
2) WHERE SHOULD I STUDY?
With South Africa’s 26 public universities and countless private higher education institutions, prospective students have their work cut out for them in determining where their goals and ambitions would be best realised. Because if an institution is registered and accredited, its qualifications will be valid and recognised in the workplace, regardless of whether they originate from a private institution or a state funded one.
But there are other important issues to consider. These include proximity to where one currently lives, class sizes, student support and career guidance services, and the degree to which the curriculum is aligned and able to adapt to modern workplaces.
“Opting for a uni closer to home means savings on the financial front, as well as proximity to your existing support structures which can be helpful when the going gets tough,” says Payne.
“Large class sizes can make you feel invisible and like a number, while smaller class sizes mean more attention and a greater feeling of belonging. Getting real-life work experience and assignments prepare you for the workplace in a way theory only can never do, while student support services can make a crucial difference in your success.
“Make sure you get satisfactory feedback on all these issues before signing up with an institution,” she says.
Payne says making the right choice, based on thorough research and investigation of all options, has a huge role to play in student outcomes.
“Many students drop out of their first year because they made their study choice under pressure, or because they realise after a few weeks or months that there are other qualifications more suited to their aspirations. Some only get exposed to interesting fields and other higher education institutions once they leave school and are already studying – a situation that can be avoided if proper time and attention is given now to exploring what’s out there.
“We urge teachers, parents and guardians to, in coming weeks, guide the young people in their care to enable them to make informed choices calmly and with clarity. This will allow learners to put the anxiety of their 2020 plans behind them, and focus fully on doing their best in the important series of exams that lie ahead this year.”