With three months left before they enter their final year of school, Grade 11 learners could be tempted to make relaxing their only priority before the whirlwind year that is Matric.
However now is precisely the time they should be investigating and even pinning down their further study plans, an education expert says.
“Once you’ve started your Matric year, you will have very little time to focus on ensuring you choose the right course and the right institution for you, because of the workload, endless rounds of revision and exams, and all the fun and functions that go with your last year at school,” says Peter Kriel, General Manager at The Independent Institute of Education.
Kriel says many Grade 12s get so caught up in the social and academic demands of their final year, that they don’t spend enough time ensuring they investigate all their options and apply timeously to university or private higher education.
This could lead to them missing out on a space, settling for second best, and diluting their Matric study efforts with stress and anxiety about what they are going to do after school.
“Another thing that Grade 11s are often not aware of, is that they can submit applications on the basis of their Grade 11 marks, which means that they can then focus wholely and completely on Grade 12, without further concern or distraction about what happens the year after.
In addition, knowing what you want and where you are going at the start of the year, will also help you focus your study efforts, as you’ll know exactly what you need to achieve during the year and at your final exams.”
Kriel says that the changed Higher Education landscape in South Africa means that prospective students now have many more options than what they had in the past, when the default approach was to enter a public university for a 3-year degree.
But he warns that because there are so many more options now, prospective students also have more work to do to ensure that they find the right course and right institution for their unique goals.
“Finding the right study direction should be on top of your priority list when finding out about what and where to study,” he says.
“In addition, selecting an institution that will meet your needs is the most important aspect of helping you prepare for your future.”
Kriel warns that while the websites and brochures of institutions may provide one with the basic information about which programmes are on offer, the process of applying and cost, merely looking at brochures and websites may not give you the type of information that would really allow you to make an informed decision.
“In fact, all institutions would provide you with course information, but no institution will state that the size of the Business Management 1 class is over 500 or that it is really challenging getting academic support on campus. Therefore, the only way to find out about such underlying aspects is to ask the right questions. And to do so thoroughly takes time – time which you are not likely to have next year.”
Kriel says when evaluating institutions, future students should attend open days, physically visit the campus, and make telephonic or written contact.
“These actions and the way your inquiries are handled will provide a solid indication of what you can expect from an institution going forward.”
For Grade 11s who are serious about getting their ducks in a row before jumping in the Matric pond, Kriel has a handy checklist that will help them determine which institutions will be able to provide them with the highest quality education. He says prospective students should ask institutions the following questions:
How do your class sizes in this particular programme compare to other institutions or universities? (Keep in mind that the institution may not have in-depth information about the class sizes at other institutions, but you want to hear about this particular institution).
How is classroom contact time and self-directed study balanced? (Self-directed study is an integral part of higher education and therefore as important as classroom contact).
How is technology supporting the learning experience of students at this institution? (Merely having a data projector in classrooms or lecturers making presentations available electronically is not the response you are looking for).
How important is employability of students after studying at your institution? (You want to listen out for responses that relate to industry ties, industry input into curricula, work readiness programmes, career centres, as well as the lecturing staff’s industry experience and relationships with industry).
If I get stuck with an assignment or project, which resources and courses of action are available to me?
(Only talking to your lecturer is not an ideal response. You want to listen for reference to, for example, library support and resources, writing centers and other forms of student support).
Even if not applicable to you, it may also be a good idea to ask about the institution’s policy and support for students with special needs, for example needing extra time in assessments. (If they stumble in answering this question, it may be an indication that they are not really focused on this aspect of student support, which may be a sign about their overall student centeredness).