Choosing a course

With universities now offering hundreds of different subjects, it all may seem a little overwhelming when it comes to trying to narrow it down to the one most suitable for you still. Here are some aspects you must consider when choosing a course for university.

What qualifications do I need?

You need a National Senior Certificate to enter university

Whichever undergraduate programme you choose, you will normally be expected to have a minimum grade in NSC Mathematics and English, or equivalent.

Students are required to have between 30 and 35 points based on the National Senior Certificate (NSC).  Students should have English Language (as Home or Additional Language) and another language, both at rating 4 or above.

Mathematics is required for entry into the Science Faculty and students should have Mathematics at rating 4 or above or Mathematical Literacy at rating 6 or above.  Additional Science subjects are also required.  Students are advised to have either Life Sciences at rating 4 or above or Physical Sciences at rating 4 or above.  Provisional admission is based on final Grade 11 results with final admission based on final Grade 12 results.

All offers made to students are conditional on the final NSC results meeting the University requirements.

If you do not have standard qualifications, for example if you are a mature or international student, contact the universities or colleges you are considering applying to, as they will be able to offer you further advice.

What will I learn?

Read all the details about the course in the university prospectus.

What you will learn ultimately depends on your course

This doesn’t mean just skimming the summary – you need to look at what the module options are and their content, as these can vary significantly.

Although a particular course may have the same or similar title at two different universities, the content can vary a great deal.

Each course may place emphasis on different areas of the subject, so find out exactly what you’ll be learning.

You may also find it useful to make a list of your academic strengths and weaknesses, so you can see which courses you think you will be better at and enjoy more.

How will I be taught?

The teaching style of the course is important, as some courses will consist of more practical work, essay assignments and group tasks than examinations.

If you take this into account, you can play to your strengths and ensure you’ve chosen the course that is best for you.

Think about previous experiences – do you achieve better marks in essays and exams? If yes, you may want to choose a course that is more exam-based.

Look at the weighting of marks, too – you may not want to take a course that allocates a majority of the total marks to coursework, and then have to do lots of revision for an exam at the end of the year that doesn’t carry a significant amount of marks.

Does it include a work experience placement?

Some courses include a period of work experience – this is normally for a year between the second and third year of your degree, though can vary slightly depending on the subject and the university you are attending.

Some courses include work training

A work experience placement will be very useful if you only have limited experience of the field you want to go into, or no experience at all, as it will provide you with invaluable skills employers will look for when you start applying for jobs.

Working for a year can also be a welcome break from all the stresses of studying for your degree and give you an insight into what the real world will be like when you’ve graduated.

It can also help you develop important skills such as communication, team work and problem solving, as well as being an opportunity to meet new people and make some friends.

You don’t have to work somewhere in South Africa either – some courses offer students the chance to take a job at a company abroad.

This would allow you to experience a different culture, language, and possibly even a different climate.

How many modules can I choose from?

Usually your first year modules will be compulsory, but you should get a choice of modules in your second and third years.

This allows you to study the particular areas of your subject that you find most interesting.

For example, if you are taking a biology degree, you may want to choose modules that cover cellular topics, such as immunology and biochemistry, rather than modules that focus on nature and the environment.

You may also want to pick modules that go into more depth on a certain subject, or if you prefer, ones that give more of a general overview of a topic.

Check there is a wide choice of modules and that the topics you are keen on are included in the range.

You’ll be disappointed if you get to choosing your modules for the final 2 years and discover you can’t learn about the topics you wanted to.

Can I change my course once I’ve started it?

Although you may have pretty much decided on a course based on the details of the content and the nature of the work involved, you might want to consider whether you are able to change your course after you’ve started it.

Most universities will let you change your degree as long as it’s within the first 4 to 6 weeks or so. This is an invaluable option if you haven’t yet decided which career path to follow.

Making a final decision

If you take these factors into account when choosing which degree to undertake, hopefully you will find it easier to make the right decision and you’ll be happy with your choice once you’ve started your course.

Decide carefully if university is the right place for you

It’s important to try and pick the right course first time, otherwise you could end up wasting thousands of pounds on a degree that you won’t even use in your career once you’ve graduated.

If you already have a career path in mind, such as IT, journalism or medicine, then this should make your decision much easier.

However, if you’re still undecided, it’s probably worth taking a subject that you enjoy doing and/or are quite good at. At least this way you will be enthusiastic about it and feel like you can stick with it until the end.

You can also keep your options more open by taking a joint degree (2 subjects), e.g. Economics and Maths, History and Business Studies.

Some combinations will not be available at all universities you are thinking of applying to, so make sure to do your research beforehand.

Remember that some professions don’t require a subject specific degree, such as law, business, media and IT.