With the matric exams done and dusted, thousands of learners are now entering the long wait to see how they performed in one of the most important assessments they will ever sit.

There are also thousands of learners who realise without even having to wait for January to roll around, that they did not perform well enough to pursue the plans they had and who need to figure out their next steps sooner rather than later.

These learners, as well as those who have received or will be receiving rejection letters from their universities of choice in coming weeks should take heart from the fact that they do have other avenues to pursue and that this bump in the road does not spell catastrophe for their futures, an education expert says.

"There are many reasons why a learner's application may be unsuccessful," says Peter Kriel, General Manager at The Independent Institute of Education, South Africa's largest private higher education provider.

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He says matriculants finding themselves in this situation should identify the reasons why they were not accepted, then focus and work on the alternatives related to the reason for their university of choice declining their application. These include

1. Marks being lower than the minimum required by an institution

Each university and private higher education provider set their own minimum criteria, and these requirements vary between institutions.

An institution where the demand outweighs the availability of space may set this bar quite high, which means they are likely to accept only students who are very strong academically. Other institutions may have made provision for students who require more support, and will therefore have more accommodating admission requirements.

Prospective students should not be married to the idea that only one institution can fulfil their degree dreams, as all higher education institutions, whether public or private, are subject to the same accreditation requirements in South Africa.

The key issue is to ensure that the alternative you are considering is accredited and registered, by checking online at: www.saqa.org.za, the SA Qualifications Authority's website.

2. Not achieving a Bachelor Degree endorsed pass.

A one-year Higher Certificate will also give one access to degree study.

The SAQA website has a comprehensive list of available Higher Certificate courses at public and private campuses throughout the country.

This means that a student can enter the world of work after only a year of study, which is great news for those who may need to earn while they learn.

3. Not having the correct school subjects for entrance into the qualification of choice. If you didn't have mathematics and want to do a science degree you may need to reconsider your career choice altogether.

As with entry requirements for grades, school subject choice requirements vary between institutions. Investigating alternatives may leave you pleasantly surprised.

Often the same degree may be designed slightly differently at another institution or another institution is better equipped to support students, for example with smaller class sizes, which could result in slightly different requirements.

4. Not having applied on time, many make the mistake of leaving applications too late but all is not lost.

Some institutions may still be accepting applications, but it is imperative that learners approach institutions as a matter of urgency to find out if they have any space left for the 2017 academic year.

Often students apply and get accepted at more than one institution, so it is likely that some space may become available in coming weeks.

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If learners and parents are aware of the very real, quality alternatives available to them, the picture becomes a lot less hopeless. While it may be painful to let your original vision go, learners will be surprised at the bounty of opportunity that is actually out there, and which can help them make a successful start to the next chapter of their lives.