South Africa boasts some of the top universities in Africa, and they are also held in high regard internationally. Which university is “the best”, however, depends on the research agency doing the ranking, as well as which faculty is being focused on. The University of Cape Town, University of the Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch and Pretoria are ranked high on most international listings.
Choosing a university
Choosing a university involves a balancing act — weighing up where your chosen courses are offered, how good those faculties are, whether you can afford them and qualify for enrolment there, and the logistics involved in attending the chosen university. Factors to consider include:
How employable are its graduates?
Do your homework: ask recruitment agencies and leading enterprises in your chosen field for their views on graduates from the universities offering the course you’ve chosen. If possible, speak to students currently enrolled in the course as well as recent graduates from the course, to ask about the pros and cons of that particular university, faculty and course.
Will you be accepted?
Each university and each course has different acceptance criteria. It is important to determine well ahead of applying whether your grades are likely to get you accepted into the course you’d like to enroll in. Universities use the Accumulative Point Score (APS) as well as marks in single subjects to decide on your application. APS adds all your marks together.
Attend open days
This will help you to evaluate the environment. One size does not fit all in education. If you prefer small classes and one-on-one engagement with a lecturer, you will not flourish in an environment where 300 students crowd into each lecture. Assess the research labs, libraries, sports facilities and canteens. If sport, social activities, community service or cultural activities are important to you, determine whether these are available. Look at the accommodation you’d be living in and the transport infrastructure you’d be using. Assess whether student support such as career counselling and job placement is available. Consider whether the overall environment is really conducive to your style of learning.
Can you afford it?
While the priciest universities may be your first choice, harsh financial realities may force you to downgrade your expectations. Remember that in addition to the cost of enrolment and tuition, you will need accommodation, food, study resources, books and transport. It is unrealistic to sacrifice regular meals in a bid to pay study fees, or to attempt all-night bartending work to raise the necessary fees, since a lack of adequate nutrition and sleep will impact your results. Determine whether financial assistance is available and if you qualify. Consider whether lower-cost options such as accredited distance education, short courses or college instead of university will better meet your education needs.