How to choose a University in South Africa 2020

choosing a university


We all want the best education we can afford and more especially if you’re a South African because Higher Education is practically free, you just need to choose where to study. Deciding where to study after you have considered your finances and admision requirements is not easy, this article provides some insights on factors to consider before making that big decision. It is easy to rank universities based on the overall performance and on their research output but often times you can’t judge solely based on that, you need to take into account many factors. Below we discuss some important factors to take into account, if you want to know what are the Top Universities in South Africa 2020, read this article.

Job shadowing

Now one thing I will stress, is that,as soon as you get to college, or better before you go there, is to go find someone who is already doing the job you would want to do one day and shadow them for a day or two just to see what it is like. The next thing you should do, is to actually go to a careers website and search for the job, if you search and nothing shows up then you know your job is not in demand, if something shows up, take the deliberate effort to copy down the requirements for that job. The next thing you need to do now, is to try and acquire those skills while doing your undergraduate degree, through online courses or part-time jobs. 

What to study

We have all heard it from our parents, study to be Doctor,a Pilot, a Scientist, a Lawyer and all other supposedly safe jobs. A safe job is a myth, don’t study something simply because you believe you will have a guaranteed job or worse it will pay well. This is a difficult choice for South African youth because we are practially living in a third world country, not every thing you study has the potential to sustain you financially. Think about the person who is studying Astrophysics in SA and someone studying the same subject in the USA, the latter will have opportunities in a billion dollar industry and the other will only be limited to a research industry at best which is poorly funded.

So the question becomes, is it worth it to pursue a career that you’re passionate about or should you study something that will pay the bills? My personal view is that you should always think along the lines of what you’re passionate about and what you willing to do to earn a living. When it comes earning a living, find something that comes relatively easy for you to do, and pays well according the lifestyle you want to live and you wouldn’t mind doing it. For example, there is a guy who does Web Development really well and it comes natural to him, his passion, however, is music. He loves music, but he is smart enough to understand that music at the moment will not pay the bills however  if music starts paying him well enough to fund his lifestyle then he can commit to it full time. This is not always the case, in some rare instances it is also possible to find a job that you’re passionate about, pays well and is also in demand, then you will do what you love and get paid for it. If you have that career, good for you if not, stick to the plan of separating what you do to earn a living and what you do as a passion.



Don’t get pressured by your family or friends to study something that you will not enjoy in the future. Spoiler alert, university is hard, it really is, not only academically wise but also socially, especially for most young people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, so don’t add to your stress levels by doing a difficult major that you don’t even enjoy. Remember you will spend 4 years studying that major and that’s a long time so don’t waste your money and time on something you will not enjoy, you must resist the pressure.

Once you have prepared yourself psychologically, the next step is to find a school that excels in your industry for example, if you want to pursue medicine, UCT has a good faculty for that, if you want to do mining then Wits might be a better choice. Also keep in mind travelling and the location of the university, your ideal place to study might be in Cape Town, but if you staying in Mpumalanga it might be convenient to study in Pretoria or Joburg. To check how well the university is doing, have a look at our article on the Top universities in 2020. In addtion to reading the article, do your own research by downloading the faculty brochure for that university, they will usually state why they are remarkable, the facilities they have, the research they focus on and also the staff compliment. Also look at how many graduates actually graduate from that university.


This is an important point to consider when considering studying, in South Africa we are really spoiled, education is almost free if you do well in high school you will inadvertently find a way to be sponsored. Previously you needed to do well in order to get a bursary, but with state funding like NSFAS you just need to qualify for admission and they will fully fund your studies that’s if you’re a South African citizen. Now it’s possible for you not to qualify for NSFAS because  you are part of the middle class or you’re not a citizen, there are other funding options for you. The first one is bursaries or scholarships, this is your golden ticket to ensuring a great career start especially if you need to work it back. I know most people don’t like bursaries where you have to work it back, but if you think about it, it’s a great bargain because when you graduate you get a job and also 3 or 4 years of experience and after that, you will be in a better position than most graduates without a job or experience. Here are a few places to get bursaries on the internet 

  1. Puff and pass
  2. All bursaries
  3. Bursaries portal

If you don’t get a bursary, it’s not the end of the road there are many financial institutions that will fund your studies via a loan. These loans are different from personal loans in that the interest on them is lower than normal personal loans, also since you are a minor your parents take the loan on your behalf and they pay the interest-only while you study. So when you first get your job, you will only be paying for the capital amount. Here are a few places where you can a find study loan, but before this your first option should be NSFAS.

  1. Fundi
  2. Absa
  3. Standard Bank
  4. Nedbank
  5. FNB

Rankings, do they matter?

It is not easy to rank universities because there are so many factors that people may deem valuable to constitute a good university. Factors such as prestige or reputation are largely based on perceptions and tend to distort the real value of the university, although it does provide immaterial value such as social currency which may in return be traded for a better job or being part of some affiliations that you may have otherwise been exclueded out of. Another subjective factor is the employability survey or the industry reputation survey in which employers reveal where they prefer to seek graduates, this can also be a good measure for those looking for good working opportunities after graduation.  The alternative to this is to purely look at academic performance such as research output and citations, this, although somewhat objective can be misleading because publishing more does not necceasrily mean better teachers in the classroom, or employability after graduation. This is not to say that academic performance is not a good measure, it is always good being taught by people who wrote the textbook than those who reference it, citations also mean the global community trusts your researchers and considers them knowledgeable in their field of expertise which is great to know you’re getting quality education. Top 10 Universities ranked 2020.

University reputation  

The last topic to consider when comparing universities is very important even though it is not objective. We are humans and therefore we have biases even when it comes to universities, if you went to Havard people will  put a high value on you, even if you studied sociology and Havard it is not particularly ranked high in that subject people will likely employ you even if there is another candidate who went to a better university in Europe that is not as prestigious. In South Africa, it isn’t any different, if you go to a predominantly black-led and populated university, you will be seen in some circles that the qualification is not good enough. This is still true today because of our political past, it matters to some and to some it might not matter. Another factor to consider is the relationship you are likely to forge in your industry, if you are planning on working in Sandton law firms , it might be prudent to find out where most of the people studied and what they think are good universities. I know it sounds silly, but it does count, people like hiring people who have a similar culture as them, you might find it odd that someone will get hired simply because they went to the same male’s residence as the manager. A great way to start building your network is to join student organizations on campus, like for example the law society, get familiar with everyone and you will be amazed at how many opportunities that will unlock for you in the future. If societies don’t interest you, you can also participate in sport like Rugby, soccer or athletics you will be amazed how easily your association can unlock opportunities for you.



In closing, one thing to remember is that  the best investment you can ever make is in yourself, especially with education. Once you have acquired knowledge no one can ever take that away from you, they can take money, your house but the knowledge will stay with you forever .