What to consider when choosing to study after grade 12

For all high-school learners, the National Senior Certificate (NSC) represents the gateway to further study. But what exactly are the options available to the average South African student and, more importantly, does one size fit all? Dr Naresh Veeran, Chief Commercial Officer at the Embury Institute for Higher Education, provides some valuable advice.

What Should I Study?

I have two daughters in high school who every so often raise the subject of further study with me. With my 16-year-old, it’s as clear as day. I see the makings of an artist who has little or no interest in pursuing anything remotely related to maths and science while, in the case of my 13-year-old, I see a scientist, a genuine problem solver, who enjoys the arts but who’d surprise us all if she pursued it as a career.

As different as they are, the advice I offered them both, though, was the same and it was the very same that my dad, a music teacher, offered me when I was in high school: find something that you really enjoy doing and you’ll never have to work a day in your life!

Look to your own family. Chances are that the happiest among them are the ones who love what they do.

While it is a given that your choice must also be able to support you financially when you eventually enter the world of work, choosing a field of study that you feel passionate about is the first step in the process. Passion fuels purpose but, more importantly, purpose fuels life.

Where Should I study?

The South African tertiary landscape is a fairly regulated one which means that a particular qualification from University A is in fact considered to be no different from one obtained at University B.

Against the above, obtaining a qualification is more than just about a piece of paper waiting for you at the end of the road. It is in fact a journey; a journey made more meaningful when accompanied by an experience and strong institutional support along the way.

A great “journey”, then, would ideally incorporate opportunities for students to also grow holistically (vs only academically). Such growth could come from institutional support of students to participate in formal platforms for collaborating and co-creating, or the provision of both space and context for students to network. Participation in exchange programmes and having access to world-class learning technologies also contribute significantly to the overall learning experience.

Having worked in both the university and private higher education environments, I have found that some institutions are far better resourced and equipped to deliver a meaningful and value-laden “experience” than others. My recommendation here would be for you to score your short-listed institutions against such factors as reputation, image, infrastructure, safety and security, social life, the availability of formal support mechanisms and, most importantly, against what employers and/or other practitioners in the industry where you intend working think about Institution A vs Institution B.

In the public education space, you can study at a University, a University of Technology, or a Technical and Vocational Education and Training or TVET college. Universities generally focus on academic research, degrees and post-graduate qualifications, while Universities of Technology focus on higher certificates, diplomas and, to an extent, degrees. TVET colleges offer mostly certificate courses that enable you to work in a technical or vocational field. In order to gain admission at a University or a University of Technology, you have to pass Grade 12 and meet specific admission criteria. However, TVET colleges generally allow admission with a Grade 9 pass.