6 things to ask yourself before committing to that 4-year degree


Now that our matrics have finally gotten their results, it’s time to gear up for the next phase of their lives and for a lot of ambitious teens, that’s university.

Social media comedian, Thulasizwe, was kind enough to give our young matriculants a few words of advice:

He suggests you “mind your own business”, go at your own pace, don’t be too discouraged when you don’t do as well as you did in high school, focus on your studies instead of parties because “parties will finish you – you won’t finish the parties” and books before boys because boys bring babies.

“You’re going to have to balance your baby with your books!” he says.

So “be smart, be woke."

But before you can even get to “gefail with flying colours”, or perhaps in an effort to ensure you don’t, you have to decide which courses you’re going to sign up for and if they’re the right courses for you.

If you’re going to matric this year you’re probably in the same position as you decide which degree or programme you should apply for.

Expert advice

Dr Felicity Coughlan, director of The Independent Institute of Education, explains that when applying, students often apply at the same institutions as their friends, opt for a standard 3-year degree without knowing much about what it entails, or decide on their course because of pressure and expectations from others. They then often find themselves studying a traditional degree at a traditional institution that they then end up not enjoying and not doing well in as a result.

But she continues, “There is so much research evidence that success in first year requires that students are doing something that has meaning to them and not just what they have always been expected to do. So if there is any chance that there is a better fit available, even at this late stage, we encourage students and their families to make the move now.

"This applies equally to high performing students who are often the ones who have the most choices and yet still find themselves doing something they do not actually want to do or being somewhere that does not match their personal needs.”

Thus, Dr Coughlan says choices about tertiary education must be based on a thorough assessment of the student's personal aspiration, circumstances and the institutional choices available, so that one day you aren’t simply mildly happy with the choices you’ve made.

A few things to consider

We’d suggest using those key points to answer the following questions:

1. What am I interested in and good at?

Becoming an accountant or a brand manager is all good and well if you love working with numbers or you’re a creative soul, respectively. But hating maths all through high school to study business science may not be the best thing for you. Ask yourself, what am I interested in, what am I good at and what do I enjoy doing?

2. Where do I see myself in 10 years?

Having a vision of what you want to do for the rest of your life, as daunting as it is to have to decide that all at once, will give you some sort of direction of where to begin. If you don’t want to pitch ideas to clients on how they can improve their Instagram feed, maybe digital marketing isn’t the way to go. So whatever you decide, whatever you see yourself doing for years to come, again, it should probably be something you enjoy.

If you still aren’t quite sure, consider taking an aptitude test. It won’t necessarily tell you which courses to sign up for, but at the very least, it will give you some direction.

3. Can I make a career out of this?

The things you’re interested in could range from physics to gaming, and that’s okay – there are jobs that require both. Make a list of these professions and do some research on what exactly you’d have to study to make a career out of it.

4. Which institutions offer the courses I want to take?

Once you’ve figured out more or less what you’re interested in, you can find the institutions that offer courses that will help you get the required degree to go into a particular profession.

Go online and check out the handbooks to various institutions. They have full breakdowns of degrees, courses and the requirements to pass each course. You might even find completely unrelated courses that seem appealing to you. Some degrees (a BA general degree, for example), even allows you to build your curriculum with courses you want, even if they’re completely unrelated. Sometimes it’s not a bad thing to explore before majoring or settling on a fixed degree.

5. Which institution is right for me?

While you’d have to go to an institution and that offers you the courses you need, you also have to go to one that’s right for you. Big, prestigious institutions, for one, are great, for a child that can handle being just another student number and can discipline and take care of themselves. These public institutions certainly are more affordable, or so you’d think. Dr Coughlan suggests while there is no state subsidy for private institutions, which means that the cost of private higher education is still sometimes higher than at public universities, this cost is often offset in the long run because of improved results.

“Private institutions are often far more affordable from a broader perspective than members of the public seem to realise. And because these campuses are mostly relatively small with class sizes rarely exceeding 100 students, individual focus and therefore higher success rates are the norm. As a result, proportionally more students graduate, making the overall educational experience a real value for money opportunity.”

Make sure to therefore weigh all your options and not necessarily go on the institution you’re expected to attend, but the one that is meant for you.

6. Am I doing this for all the right reasons?

Finally, ask yourself once again, am I doing this for all the right reasons? Is this what I want to be doing for the rest of my life? Will I enjoy this? Will I succeed as a result?

Remember that while it might be nice to drive fast cars and live a lavish life someday, the road to success is a long one, one that doesn’t quite end once you get a job. Ask yourself, is this what I want? Can I do this for the rest of my life? Will this make me happy?

Because remember, the rest of your life is a long time to be only mildly happy.

Are you struggling to figure out which course to apply for? Or if you were, how did you eventually make a decision? Was it the choice for you? Tell us your story by emailing to chatback@parent24.com and we may publish your comments.

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