Not sure which career direction to take after matric?

We asked South African career advisors for their expert advice.

Are you in matric and still unsure about what to study next year? Consider doing an academic bridging year in your field of interest.

This allows you to constructively explore your options while gaining new skills and knowledge, says Prof. Zak Nel, a career advisor based in Johannesburg. Nel has been providing career counselling for approximately 40 years. 

“Think of your first year after school as a key building block to help establish your career path,” Nel says. 

The gap between school and tertiary education is huge, causing thousands of students each year to fall by the wayside. Many first-year students experience problems adapting to the university workload and tempo. 

Luckily, more than one route is available to aspirant students who want to obtain a qualification and start building their careers. 

Consider all your options

Nowadays, many universities offer focused academic programmes that can serve as a bridging year for students whose matric marks for Maths and Science were too low to gain entry into science-, technology-, engineering-, or maths-related courses. 

In addition to the academic bridging years and extended degree programmes offered at public universities, there is also a vast academic offering at many private institutions of higher learning, ranging from higher certificates to diploma and degree courses.

For those matrics who are uncertain about their study choices or perhaps did not fare as well as they hoped to in matric, enrolling in an accredited, industry-specific higher certificate or diploma course could serve as a valuable first step towards higher education.

“The most valuable academic bridging year options are those crafted with purpose and intent,” Nel says. “Such courses afford students a better idea of where their interests and talents lie, all while earning them a form of certification.”


Students may choose, for example, to spend a year doing various short courses in a certain field, or enrol in a structured academic bridging year programme, he says. “There are now excellent online courses to choose from too.”

Take into account your field of interest

Consider your general field of interest and the admission requirements for particular courses carefully, says Shirley Brooks, a subject choice and career guidance counsellor in Cape Town.

“Some learners are geared to succeed at a long academic marathon while others thrive doing shorter sprints,” Brooks says. “Different people are simply suited to doing different things. The key is to establish your unique tertiary study path.” 

In many cases, matrics who have the ability to pursue a higher education qualification, for instance at a university, have their course options limited by their initial uninformed subject choices. 

“Perhaps your first choice of study ends up being unattainable, but that doesn’t have to be the end of your career development story,” Nel adds. “There are, for instance, many options in business studies beyond your original dream of, for example, becoming a chartered accountant.”

The first year of study post matric is also just the beginning of your career and study journey, Nel emphasises. “It gets you out of the starting blocks.”

Recalibrate your options

Enrolling in a higher certificate course is often a good starting point for learners who need more time to consider their options before committing to a university course, or who want to improve their matric results in certain subjects in order to reapply for a given course at a particular university.

With a higher certificate under their belts, students can either undertake further studies or enter the job market to start building a career in their specific field. 

Nel says the Academy for Environmental Leadership (AEL), for instance, offers students much more than the traditional gap year as it affords them an accredited higher certificate in conservation ecology that has many possible post-study applications. 

“Remember, there is seldom only one path towards your future career,” Brooks adds. “Consider your school marks, your academic potential, your interest profile and your personality preferences realistically. If you are still unsure, get professional advice.”

Nel adds: “If needed, recalibrate your options and your approach to gaining access to higher education and the world of work.”

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