A university application needs focus and your future in mind

Dr. Sheetal Bhoola is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Zululand, and the director at StellarMaths (Phoenix & Sunningdale). Picture: Supplied

Dr. Sheetal Bhoola is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Zululand, and the director at StellarMaths (Phoenix & Sunningdale). Picture: Supplied

Published Jul 8, 2024



Grade 12 students have completed their midyear exams and are now considering various applications to tertiary institutions in South Africa. Managing and perusing an application is daunting, especially if one is expected to present themselves for the first time to an institution for admission.

This is a stressful exercise as South African universities at present need more capacity to accept all our Grade 12 graduates. In 2023, it was recorded that UKZN had only 8500 seats available for 1st-year students and had approximately 250 000 applications from 110 000 students.

Similarly, the University of Cape Town accepted over 3 000 first-year students and had approximately 90 000 student applications. The University of Johannesburg had capacity for 10 500 students from a pool of over 200 000 applications.

Over and above the limited spaces, institutions have also been selecting students on other demographic criteria such as race and income group. This is often shaped by the long-term objectives of the institution that support South African national goals of equity and opportunity for all.

Each college, institutional, and university application should be categorised simultaneously with the degree or choice of subject study that one is applying for. Firstly, you need to identify the institutions that will provide the qualification you wish to pursue. Then look at the subjects offered within the qualification.

For example, in the instance of the bachelor's degree in South Africa, the subject area choices are so varied and an incorrect choice can ultimately redefine one's career path. If one is at a complete loss at which subjects to choose for a bachelor's degree in commerce or the social sciences, the recommended trajectory is to select modules on offer that are of interest to you.

This information is usually available in the yearly published handbook of any university. In your third year, students are then expected to select two or more subjects that are identified as their subject speciality and knowledge expertise area.

These subjects need to be continually pursued from the 1st year till your 3rd or 4th year. The selected major subjects can ultimately lead to entry into postgraduate studies and related qualifications.

Be mindful of the closing dates of institutional applications. The University of Cape Town has listed its closing date as the 31st of July 2024, whereas the University of Johannesburg has stipulated its closing date as the 31st of October 2024.

UKZN, Durban University of Technology and The University of Zululand close their call for applications on the 30th of September 2024. However, KwaZulu-Natal has the Central Admissions Office, through which most institutions are affiliated, and applications are mandatory through this office.

The challenge for many is how to select the correct institution for the course of study. Key factors to consider include the module or course content, tuition fees, location and available support services.

The university's reputation and fringe benefits should be excluded at this point in your selection process. An appropriate way would be to watch virtual tours of the university and attend open days if necessary.

Also, consider the opportunities available for your area specialisation for postgraduate studies and if there are industry-related opportunities or associations. Seek advice from students currently enrolled at particular institutions that you may be interested in.

Ensure that your documentation is uploaded on the sites timeously and that the official documentation is all verified by a commissioner of oaths. Be mindful about not including too much unnecessary information in your motivational or application letters and curriculum vitaes.

Ideally, one's CV should represent engagements and commitments that are aligned with the qualifications that you are applying for. It's essential to abide by the estimated page limitations as stipulated by the admission document portfolio.

Follow the instructions carefully and adhere to all recommendations. Ensure you have the proof of your application fee paid and submit it timeously with the document portfolio.

In addition to academic excellence, most institutions assess a student’s inherent interest and commitment to their place of study. A compelling personal statement highlighting where your passions lie and why you need to be in a selected area of study is also essential.

Be honest and authentic in your statement, and indicate your strengths that can lend themselves to being a successful student at their institution. Avoid cliché or quotations from renowned people, but use examples of how to develop further at their institution in your chosen field of study. A well-written and influencing personal statement can indeed influence decision makers.

Scholarships, bursaries, and loans are vital ways to navigate financial challenges. Ensure you are fully aware of how scholarships are awarded, the criteria and when they are granted. Some institutions offer a financial merit for good academic performance. The tuition fees are then reduced.

Enquire if these merit awards require separate applications once you are admitted to the institution and what other scholarship opportunities there are. Compare the prices of one institution with another. Discuss affordability with family members and consider the costs of being a student in another city, with or without a scholarship or a loan.

The additional added responsibility of working alongside being a student is not achievable for some. Some students are often impacted academically by needing to be off campus and employed part-time to support themselves.

Dealing with rejection is difficult, but also be mindful that this can be an experience you may encounter. If you have been rejected outright, revisit your application and reconsider where you could improve yourself overall.

If finances permit, the ideal is to apply at as many institutions as possible to avoid being a student who has no place at a university, but also consider second career options at the numerous private and TVET colleges we have in South Africa.

Remember, reapplying in your second year at your institution of preference is always possible if you are not accepted for 1st-year entry. Many institutions also have a second round of application consideration dependent on cancellations and no-show students. So also bear in mind that sometimes patience is required.

As you consider your future, consider your accessibility and the focus area of your intended career. More importantly, we should give the application process the effort and focus it deserves. Be fully informed of what each degree entails and visit information guides for a more in-depth understanding.

Dr. Sheetal Bhoola is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Zululand, and the director at StellarMaths (Phoenix & Sunningdale).

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