No matter what you might be hearing, here is the truth: University is not right for everybody. You do not need to go to a university in order to be successful in life.

Did that sink in? Read it again.

There are many options for youths when it comes to making choices of what to do after they finish high school. For many of you, that option is going to be to go to university. Others might take a gap year and work, some might do short courses online, some might start their careers and others will go to higher education institutions that are not universities.

If you want to study further after school in South Africa, your options aside from university are: TVET colleges, online studies or universities of technology. Understanding the difference between these institutions can make choosing what you want to study and where much easier.

What is a university?

Universities offer degree courses that take a minimum of three to four years to complete.  Entrance requirements for courses vary greatly and can be quite specific.  You will need to have completed your matric certificate (NSC) with very good marks, chosen particular subject choices for the degree you want to follow and may need to meet a list of specific requirements to gain entrance to a university.

Courses at universities focus on theoretical training in a specialized field. The longer you study, the more specialized the field becomes; once you have completed your degree you can continue studying and earn a postgraduate level of study (Honours, Masters and Doctorate).

 What is a university of technology?

Universities of technology offer mainly diploma and certificate courses which you can complete in one or two years, but also offer degree courses that take about three years to complete. Entrance requirements vary depending on the course that you want to take and can be less stringent than university.

A University of technology places emphasis on innovative problem-solving and is much more career-directed than a university. The courses are designed to be career-orientated and practical, with experiential learning forming part of the courses, meaning you get job experience while you study.

 What is a TVET college?

Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges offer training courses that vary from a few months to three years and students generally receive a certificate at the end of a course.

The focus is on educating and training students to work in technical or vocational fields. Students who have completed their matric may be able to continue their studies at a University of Technology. At TVETs students are provided with not only the academic knowledge, but also the practical experience to enter the workforce as quickly and as well-equipped as possible.

So, TVET or university?

This is highly dependent on what you want to achieve by studying further, and what part of the industry you want to get into.

Hein Johnson, a third-year BAgri student. Photo: Supplied

Hein Johnson, a third-year BAgri student.

There is a stigma in society that obtaining a qualification from a university is better because it automatically qualifies you for a high paying career, such as an accountant or a lawyer. While this may be the case in some instances, overlooking a TVET course could result in you missing out on a career that you enjoy and want to do, over one that potentially pays you more money.

“Agriculture is not like other fields,” explains 3rd year BAgri student, Hein Johnson when posed with this question. “Higher qualifications don’t always mean higher paying jobs.”

“If you want to go into research, university and a BSc route will work for you. But if you want to go into production, you will benefit more from more practical studies, like at a TVET college.”

TVET colleges were established to produce the skills required by the economy. They are an alternative study path to universities that can be very beneficial to the right student.

EduConnect offers a comprehensive list of all the South African institutions that you can choose from. There are about 250 different TVET colleges across the country that you can choose from. Take some time to look at what they offer, which career paths each course open up for you and what you will need to do in high school in order to get into those courses that interest you.