Grades 11 and 12: What to do if you did not receive a university offer

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During Grade 11 and matric, the stress and anxiety for students and parents can be overwhelming, not only because of the pressure to perform well during exams and assessments but also because of the complexities and uncertainties brought about by applying for university placement.

Apart from the stressful and exhausting application process to various universities and for different qualifications, many students endure the disappointment of not being placed in the universities they applied to and having to decide on their next steps.

“While this situation now facing thousands upon thousands of prospective students throughout South Africa feels like an intractable problem for them and their families, it is important to put the matter into perspective and, first of all, not take it personally or view it as a failure,” says Dr Linda Meyer, MD of IIE Rosebank College.

“Of course, it is frustrating not to be able to cross this item off your to-do-list, especially if you have worked very hard and were not accepted while many of your peers already received offers. But view this as a temporary hurdle rather than a permanent roadblock,” she says.

The 26 Public Universities in South Africa only accept around 210,000 first-year students annually, and this reality can create significant worry about what will happen if a future student’s plans to attend a public university unfold differently than expected.

“The reality of the admissions process is that only a small number of students will receive an acceptance letter from their preferred institution for their preferred degree. The competition is intense, with tens of thousands of matric students vying for a limited number of spots. It’s natural for parents and students to feel anxious about whether they will achieve the necessary results to secure a place at a university,” says Dr Meyer.

She urges parents and students to remember that there are many pathways to success and that a university or college acceptance is not the only – or even best – route to a fulfilling and successful career.

Some alternatives to consider include:

Technical and vocational training colleges: Vocational training programmes and technical colleges offer specialised education in various fields such as engineering, healthcare, information technology and the arts. These institutions often have more flexible admission requirements and provide practical, hands-on experience that can lead directly to employment.

Distance learning and online education: Distance learning and online education have become increasingly popular and accessible. These programmes offer flexibility for students to learn at their own pace and often at a lower cost than traditional universities. Many reputable institutions offer accredited online courses and degrees.

Bridging courses and foundation programmes: For students who may need to meet the direct entry requirements for university, bridging courses and foundation programmes are an excellent option. These programmes are designed to help students build the necessary skills and knowledge to qualify for their desired courses in the future.

Internships and learnerships: Internships and learnerships provide valuable on-the-job training and experience. These programmes allow students to earn while they learn, gaining practical skills and industry insights that can be highly advantageous in the job market. Contact a SETA for further information.

Private higher education institutions: The only significant difference between a registered and accredited Private Higher Education Institution and a public university is that the former is not government funded. PHEIs remain a valuable alternative to studying at a public university, and their graduates are in high demand in the workplace. It is essential, however, to ensure that you confirm your qualifications. SAQA must register all qualifications in South Africa, and the provider must appear on the DHET list of licenced providers. The Council of Higher Education oversees public and private higher education providers as the responsible quality council.

“Starting from Grade 11, the period leading up to and following Matric exams is undoubtedly challenging for students and parents. The uncertainty surrounding university admissions adds to the stress, but it’s essential to remember that there are numerous paths to success,” says Dr Meyer.

“By exploring alternative education options, managing stress effectively, and keeping an open mind, students can find fulfilling and rewarding career opportunities regardless of the outcome of their university applications. The journey to success is rarely a straight line, and flexibility and resilience are vital to navigating it successfully.”