What if I don’t get into my dream institution or course?


Just as I was about to matriculate, and before my final exams, I stood teary eyed in the hall of my high school as the principal read that classic end-of-journey-and-beginning-of-a-new-adventure Dr. Seuss poem:

“Congratulations! Today is your day! You’re off to great places! You’re off and away! You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go.”

With tissues in one hand and my best friend’s hand in the other, I was overwhelmed and honestly, terrified, because while I was starting a new chapter of my life, I had no idea what to expect.

And worst of all, I had yet to be accepted to the university of my dreams.

At the beginning of the year it was reported that the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) only had space for 6 200 first year applicants; the University of Stellenbosch had space for 5 000 students; and the University of Cape Town only 4 200. But with more than 26 000 applicants, on average, only 1 in every 6 students would then receive placement for 2017.

While we often hear inspirational stories of the Mark Zuckerbergs and Steve Jobss of the world who went on to become successful despite deciding not to complete their studies, not getting accepted into university can be heart-breaking.

So what then do you do if you’re of the 5 students who unfortunately don’t get into university on the first try?

Here’s a list of things to do and possible alternatives: 

1. Follow up:

Before beating yourself up over the matter, we suggest you follow up. 

Quite often university staff find themselves having to tackle heaps of admin and do not carry out the application process properly.

I was initially rejected from an honours programme only to discover that the admin staff hadn’t given all the documents I’d provided them with to the committee.

On another occasion, a student thought she’d been rejected from the University she applied to only to find out that she’d been accepted and hadn’t received her acceptance letter. 

We therefore suggest that you follow up and check your application status online, contact the university itself and, if you really really feel as though you deserve a spot at the institution and you have the credentials to back yourself up, check the university’s admission requirements and policy again, because you may just be able to appeal their decision.

2. Accept another offer:

When applying for university, we suggest students apply at more than one institution and for more than one degree.

Most universities in fact make it a requirement to put down a second choice so that in the event that potential students do not make it into their first choice, they might still get placement at the university for their second.

Our advice: accept the other offer.

Instead of seeing a rejection letter as the university rejecting you, see it as the university saying that perhaps you aren’t well suited for your particular first choice, but you are for your second. Or, there were just too many applicants for that particular year.

You may also find yourself adapting a little better at a different university with a different environment and similarly, end up actually enjoying the work associated with a completely different career path.

That being said, if you are completely sure of what you’d like to study, we suggest that when you apply for your second choice of study it relates to your first, as you may very well be able to transfer your credits.

When applying for a particular degree, students are to complete a certain amount of courses, most of which are compulsory courses. And while you may not get into your first choice degree, you can still sign up for some of those particular courses and organise your curriculum for the year so that you complete them. That way, should you end up switching from one degree to another or reapplying for your first choice the following year, you can carry over those credits from the courses you’ve completed and not have to do them again.

Taking particular courses may even better your chances of getting into your first choice degree should you reapply.

3. Use the time you have wisely before you reapply:

Bridging courses

Similarly, bridging courses could prove to be beneficial in the event that you take certain media courses, for example, and you then have those credentials to reapply for Film and Media studies.

Should you get into your desired programme of study, you’d then also possibly be exempted from having to retake those courses.

There are a few other constructive ways that you could also spend the year before reapplying:

Remarking and retaking your final exams

Students can have their exams remarked or retake their final exams in the event that they are notified of, upon receiving their results, whether or not they are eligible to apply for supplimentary exams. Students who have fail 2 or less subjects usually qualify for supplementary exams.

The second chance programme

Students can also enrol in the Second Chance Programme to redo certain courses before rewriting exams.

These results can then be used to reapply for university.

Gap years

Students can also use the year before reapplying as a gap year to find their passion and other things they might be interested in.

This may even result in the realisation that they do not actually want to pursue the career path they initially thought they did or help them find their footing if they were unsure to begin with.

Gap years can also help students build up their CVs as they get temporary work, some even within their desired field of work.

This will be very beneficial to them at a later stage when they begin applying for jobs as while most jobs require employees to have a degree, they value job experience just as much, if not more.

So while we encourage students to further their education so that they can go on to become the future journalists, lawyers and doctors of our country, we’d also like to reassure them that it’s not the end of the world should they not get into the institution of their dreams on their first attempt.

While students may struggle to get into university, what is more important is what they make of their time once they get there.

And as we’ve now mentioned, with brains in their heads and feet in their shoes, there are so many things students can do until they get there.

Read more:

Are there any possible solutions or approaches you know of that we may have left out? Tell us by emailing to chatback@parent24.com and we may publish your comments. 

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