OPINION: What to do if being a ‘walk-in’ doesn’t get you anywhere


This opinion piece was sent through by the UCT Careers Service in response to the announcement about walk-ins. The views expressed don't necessarily reflect that of Parent24 or Media24. 

This is the time of year when some matriculants breathe a sigh of relief and prepare for the next step in their lives, while many others scratch their heads, wondering what their future holds. Sadly, the call to make a “walk-in” application to a tertiary education institution may not be successful for everybody, for one simple reason: there are not enough places available for everyone who wants to study for a degree or diploma.

But there is still hope. Here are a few common scenarios matriculants are facing and the available options.

You didn’t know what to apply for, or didn’t think you would do well, so you didn’t apply in time.

Do not despair. There are many ways to use this year to help move your life forward. For instance, this is a great opportunity to do some research on study and financial aid options:

  • Write to as many institutions as you can to request their 2019 prospectus. (It may be available online as a download, or it may only be available later this year).
  • Make an appointment with the admissions office to discuss anything you do not understand in the prospectus, or about the programme you are interested in.
  • If you are interested in a particular degree or diploma, find out what subjects or modules it contains. This will help you know what to expect.
  • Go to open days to ask questions and clarify your options.
  • Ask for the course outlines of the subjects you are looking at. Many applicants make wrong assumptions about what subjects are about. Concentrate more on the subjects you would study rather than the career you would go into at the end of the course.
  • Speak to friends and relatives who are studying at the institutions you are considering. Ask to see their textbooks and course notes and find out if you can attend a day of lectures with them. Some institutions have a “buddy” system where you can attend lectures with a registered student.
  • Don’t limit your search to one institution. And try to look at ALL the faculties of an institution.

The National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) assists students who cannot afford to study. You must apply for a course of study first, and then for financial assistance. Ask the institution where you are applying about their financial aid scheme, or contact NSFAS directly at (021) 763 323.

Also read: 7 things you can do if you didn't get into university

You were not accepted to your first-choice institution or course.

Many applicants don’t realise that they need specific subjects to take specific courses. There are required subjects – what you must have; and recommended courses – if you do not have them, you are still eligible to apply. Applicants with both required and recommended courses may get in ahead of you. You may face stiff competition, especially for well-known courses such as medicine or engineering, which usually attract many more applicants than can be accepted.

Find out why you did not get into the course you wanted. The reasons may help you to know what to do. Some candidates choose to rewrite certain key subjects like maths or science, but this does not always guarantee acceptance the second time around. And if your maths and science marks were poor, even though you worked very hard, would you thrive in a course that relies on expertise in those subjects?

If your school circumstances meant you could not perform well – for instance, if the teaching was poor or there were no science labs – tertiary institutions have alternative admissions tests to identify ability. You may be eligible for an alternative admissions programme that provides extra tuition and support in the first few years, so that you are not disadvantaged by poor schooling.

Remember that at tertiary institutions there are many courses with subject matter that you do not come across at school and may not have heard of. So be adventurous in your research. Also, look at other institutions that you had not considered. Most failing or unhappy tertiary students admit to making incorrect assumptions about the courses they are doing and not doing sufficient research about courses.

If you have a good set of results, that will give you an advantage when you apply for study in 2019, as you will have a full set of results from early in the year, which may secure you an early offer.

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

Any work experience can be part of your career building.

Meanwhile, you can use the year ahead to put yourself in new situations that will give you life experience.

For instance, being a waitron can expose you to skills like dealing with customers, working under pressure and managing your time. These are useful, transferable skills for a future career. You may have to visit places you are interested in with a CV. Put the word out to people in your family and community that you are looking for a job.

Voluntary (unpaid) work is an excellent way to get experience in an area you are interested in. If you love children, consider crèches, schools and children’s homes (you'll have to get police clearance when wanting to work with kids). If you love sport, consider helping out with coaching, or volunteer for a sports club or a gym. If you love animals, consider vets, animal rescue organisations, aquariums or grooming parlors. Use your hobbies and interests to get ideas. And take every opportunity to learn and ask questions. Some organisations will pay a small stipend for your travel costs.

Do a short course that interests you.

For example, one of my clients did a commercial baking course that provided her with a skill that secured her jobs to pay for her studies later on. It could also help you test out a subject area you are considering without committing to two or three years of study.

Do the things you couldn’t do when you were in school, including careers research.

Find someone who has a job that interests you and ask if you can interview them for 30 minutes: what their job involves, what they studied, what skills are needed and the worst and best aspects of the job. This is called informational interviewing. Find out more at LiveCareer. You can also use this time to get your driver’s license or apply for your passport.

Many students I meet have found themselves with an unplanned gap year – and they decide later that it was the best thing that had happened to them, because they had time to reconsider their options. So take a deep breath, go one step at a time and make the most of your opportunities. You can make this year work for you.

Ingrid van der Merwe is Head of Careers Advisory at the UCT Careers Service.

Read more:

Six bursaries matriculants should know about

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