Tertiary education in South Africa 101: Part 1

Hi Everyone

Since most people are getting ready for the festive season while trying to #finish2016strong, I thought I would write something for those of you interested in pursuing your tertiary studies in #SouthAfrica. First things first, if English is not your first language: do enroll real quick and start preparing for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL): you will need it! To understand why I think South Africa makes a great destination, check out the article I wrote on top destinations of African students, heresouth-africa

I have chosen to break this topic  into at least 2 or 3 articles
as there is just too much to go through (do watch out for part  2). This first part will focus on making sense of the tertiary education system and basic entrance requirements in South Africa. Generally speaking, there are three types of tertiary institutions:


(Ivy-League). The typical entrance requirements would be centered around securing “matric exemption”and good grades. This involves submitting your translated transcript from the last 2 years of high school, an entrance test (fairly basic, except for the English part if it is not your mother tongue called National Benchmark Test). Of particular note, should be the fact that entrance requirements into faculties like Law, Architecture, Medecine and Engineering tend to be extremely high-so make sure you ace those exams. For a number of countries like the DRCongo, Tchad, South Soudan, etc; South Africa (and many other Western Countries) does not recognise the high school leaving certificate. Your only way of securing matric exemption is to either complete one year of university in your home country and/or re-do the last year of high school and/or A levels once in South Africa. In my case, I chose the later and re-did my matric.

(Universities, the rest)-The entrance requirements are typically lower and it should be less painful to get admitted especially when one has good grades. Find the list of all tertiary institutions in South Africa, here. I recommend applying to at least 3-5 institutions to increase your chances: most institutions on this list would still be rated better than many other universities on the continent depending on where you come from (so not getting into the #UniversityofCapeTown aka #UCT should not discourage you). A word of caution though, if your ambition is to attend Harvard Business School (dear universe take note oh #failedattemptatpigin) and/or work for the top consulting and/or engineering/law firms: these sadly look at both (i) institutions and (ii) grades-be careful in your choice of universities as it might create a glass ceiling for you later on.


These would be the equivalent of “Institut techniques” in the French system. The entrance requirements are typically less cumbersome than universities. Also, for those of you that come from difficult countries like the DRC, all you need to do is translate your results via the  accredited institution i.e the South Africa Qualification Authority (SAQA) and it does not require matric exemption to get admitted. For these reason, many foreign students typically end up enrolling with technickons, rather than a university. Note of caution though: many people make the mistake of thinking they can transfer from a technickon to a university: you can’t! You would have to start over even with a full degree.


Also called “Technical and Vocational Education Training colleges”; generally with the lowest entrance requirements and not really valued well in the professional world. You would be typically trained to become an artisant unless studying at private colleges like Damelin, or learning a particular set of skills e.g. photography, marketing/advertising at VEGA (school of advertising), etc. Colleges can be useful for foreign students because I know of people that have enrolled into colleges (by choosing courses very carefully), and use that to apply for matric exemption instead of re-doing the last year of high school .

Other things that might be useful

  • Academic timelines in South Africa: The typical academic year in South Africa starts in late January/early February and closes in November (different from the European system). Applications typically open in June/July and close in October for international students: do not be late-you sadly cannot negotiate yourself out of a late submission!
  • SAQA website,here:   This will be required to get the equivalent of your qualifications, and can take a bit of a while. Start the process early to get the paperwork in time for the applications process
  • Department of Home Affairs, Study permit: check out the requirements for a study visa, here. I remember having to deal with Home Affairs as probably the most difficult, humbling and frustrating part of my stay in South Africa. However, things have changed drastically and if in order, I have been told you can almost get your visa in 2-3 weeks.

Also, check out both articles I wrote on things I wish I knew before I left my country (here) and things to consider before selecting a degree (here). I hope you found this useful if interested in South Africa. Are there any points you would like discussed in more details? If yes, do let me know and leave a comment down below. Share it with a friend interested in South Africa since sharing is caring.

Yours in awesomeness


Other articles you might enjoy

  • 5 top reasons why you should study in South Africa by Masterstudies.com,here
  • Study abroad in South Africa by Studyabroad.com,here
  • Study in South Africa by Topuniversities.com,here
  • Study in South Africa by Educations.com,here
  • Universities in South Africa by Studyoverseas.com,here




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