With the holidays almost over and preliminary exams on the horizon, Grade 12s are on the cusp of entering one of the most stressful periods in their school careers. The relatively calm few weeks they still have ahead of them should therefore be used to plan their post-school options, which will free up their physical and emotional energy so that they can wholly focus on doing their best in their final exams.
"Deciding what to study and where to study can be hugely stressful, particularly when you don't have a clear idea of what you want to do with your life, which is the case for many thousands of learners," says Natasha Madhav, Senior Head of Programme: Faculty of ICT at The Independent Institute of Education, SA's largest private higher education provider.
"It is therefore important that learners don't add this burden of anxiety when trying to prepare for exams. This can be avoided by taking the time right now to investigate their options and, ideally, already submitting their applications for the qualifications and institutions of their choice," she says.
She says the most important advice she has for prospective students, given the difficult economic climate and associated challenges of finding suitable employment after graduation, is to look at qualifications and institutions that will prepare them for a specific career and the world of work.
Additionally, they should ideally line up at least one or two additional options, as they may find their circumstances and preferences having changed by the end of the year.
"The worst courses of action, are to sign up for an arbitrary qualification with no real understanding of how you can leverage it post-graduation, spending valuable time and money on something that may not lead to a career, or following your friends' lead because you are not clear on your own aspirations," she says.
Madhav says learners who don't know what to study, should consider what kind of work they would find interesting, and then work backwards to determine a suitable qualification.
"It is also worth remembering that there are literally new fields and careers opening up every year – things that your teachers, parents and friends may not even have heard about," she says.
"So don't settle on a university and then only investigate what they offer in terms of qualifications. Do it the other way around – determine what you would like to do, determine what qualification would enable you to do that, and then find out which institutions offer that."
If, for instance, a learner is interested in Game Design, it makes sense to find an institution that offers that qualification rather than doing a generic 3-year degree and then attempting to break into the industry thereafter.
Or if they are interested in brand management, to determine the best place where they can study this, rather than doing a general business undergraduate degree.
The same principle goes for a host of other career-focused fields, such as copywriting and communications, digital design and marketing, IT and networking qualifications, and business qualifications.
"The world of work is rapidly evolving, and to be competitive in the job market, candidates must try and match their qualification as closely as possible to the work they would want to do one day," says Madhav.
"Making that determination takes time and clarity of thought in the face of all the options out there, which is why Matrics should make the best of the few weeks of grace they have left and get their future plans sorted now."