ONE of the biggest mistakes prospective students can make is to sign up for degree study based not on a realistic assessment of their personal strengths and interests, but on outdated ideas of what was historically considered the best or most prestigious course of action, an education expert says. “Deciding what you want to study and where must be based on a thorough analysis of what the job market looks for in employees, which skills will be in high demand in coming years, and how these translate into the qualifications and curricula offered by respected institutions,” said Dr Felicity Coughlan, Director of The Independent Institute of Education, South Africa’s largest and most accredited private higher education provider.She notes that the time and money students are going to invest in their studies will be substantial, so it should be logical that they properly investigate their options before making a commitment. “Yet so many prospective students set themselves up for disappointment and failure because they sign up for something based on perceptions of prestige, rather than prospects of success,” Coughlan says.“While it might feel good for a while to tell people you are studying to become x at university y, the reality is that you may come down to earth really quickly if your expectations do not match reality, particularly upon graduation when you may find employers are searching for work-ready graduates rather than ones only well versed in theory, or that there are few job opportunities in your chosen field.”Coughlan says that career options have evolved dramatically and substantially over the past decade, and that students and their parents should keep this in mind when investigating what to study and where.“New career paths are opening up which were not even considered five years ago — for instance digital and social media marketing, game design and development, mobile app development, digital media law as a specialisation, climate change specialisation, and so forth. And ongoing automation and online platforms continue to change the career options for young people, so both parents and future students should consider this when making the choice of an institution and qualification,” she says.“It is natural for a learner who performed excellently academically to want to consider entering a field considered a match for their mental prowess, but if that career choice is not a good fit in terms of a person’s passion, personality and crucially, the potential career opportunities in coming years, we would highly advise a re-consideration of their approach.“Just because you are a straight-A student does not mean you are going to be happy as an actuary or a doctor. You may choose to go study science, but unless you have marked out a clear career path in your chosen field, you may find yourself unable to marry your qualification to gainful employment.”Coughlan says parents and guardians must also help their children with this important decision with a clear mind, because too often there is still pressure to make the obvious choice, rather than the smart one.“At the end of the day, you don’t want your child to sit at home with a prestigious qualification but no job. While certain qualifications are somewhat anachronistically still considered elite qualifications, the ones that really boost one’s chances of career success are ones that develop transferable and travelable skills.”It is also important to note that the offerings at various institutions differ substantially, whether it be at a public university or private.“All accredited degrees, regardless of whether the institution is public or private, are put through the same accreditation process and are therefore equivalent. So prospective students are really spoiled for choice when the time comes to find the right qualification match. However, instead of just going for what their friends are doing, or what they think will confer the most status, they should look for future-facing, work focused-qualifications that will give them the edge and the best chance of success when entering the job market. “While this may require a mindset change for many, doing the work now to find the best fit for an individual, at an institution with the best track record for work-integrated learning and industry alignment, is small investment that will ultimately come with big returns.” — Supplied.