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Getting Your Foot in the Door

by Annique Bolliger

Have you been accepted to university but want to change courses? James Kieser sheds some light on the process of changing courses at University and provides you with a few tricks to consider when doing it yourself.

Firstly, I think it is important to tell you a bit about myself, well at least about who I was back in high school when I first contemplated the idea of going to university. I have never agreed with the current education system in our country, finding it way too theoretically based and lacking a big element of practicality. I think this is the core reason why I was never too interested in the academic side of things during high school. As a result, I did enough to get by so my marks were fairly average. Okay, maybe I am being a bit hard on myself, let’s just say that my marks were between the range of 60 to 70%. I was also engrossed in a lot of sport which took up a lot of my time.

This being said, I found myself in my final year of high school sitting with a fairly average set of marks to start applying to university with. At this point an idea popped into my head of which, looking back, was pretty damn impressive. I say that because very few of the scholars that I speak to today have not considered the option at all. I always liked the idea of going on a gap year but my parents were not as keen on the idea (I’m sure a lot of high school kids out there can relate).

Thus, my idea in a nutshell was to take a gap year, to apply to university on my gap year for the following year and not to apply during matric. This would allow me to put my grade 11 marks to bed, ace my matric finals and apply to university only using those marks (well that was the master plan anyway). I had no idea what I wanted to study but I knew in my heart that the only university that I wanted to go to was the University of Cape Town (UCT). This is a typical scenario of where I wanted cake, and I wanted to eat it. As in, I wanted to study at the most prestigious university in Africa, yet I wasn’t so focused on achieving top quality marks to get in.

Gap Year Growth

Looking back, the master plan almost worked out exactly the way I wanted it to. I managed to convince my parents that a gap year was the only way forward, using the fact that I had no idea what I wanted to study as my main source of leverage. I made it through my matric year and achieved slightly better than average results (2 A’s, 3 B’s, 3 C’s to give you some perspective… so much for acing them). I went on the most incredible gap year of my life. I worked a number of different and exciting jobs in Joburg and Cape Town, I worked and travelled around the East Coast of America, and I developed so much as a person. I gained life experience and I identified what sort of career paths I would love and which one’s I would hate. Overall, to this day, it was and still is one of the best decisions I have ever made and I would highly recommend it to any high school scholar regardless of your motive behind it.

Read about my gap year experience.

Applying to University after Matric

I ended up only applying to university for the first time in the middle of my gap year. So my plan to bypass my grade 11 results worked and I only had to send in my matric results. The downside to this was that I busy travelling in the USA while I had to deal with the whole application process (not such a big deal, especially because my parents were helping me out a lot). However a lot of stress arose from this because I was so worried about whether or not I was going to be accepted.

By the time it came to actually applying, I had a better idea of what I liked and what I didn’t like but I still had no idea of exactly what I wanted to do. I came to the cloudy conclusion that my personality was well suited for business and I enjoyed things like the stock market and money in general. Thus, I set my sights on the Bachelor of Business Science specializing in Finance as I thought it would give me a good business grounding for when I entered the working world. I decided to make my second choice a general Bachelor of Commerce.

After sending in my application I received news a few months later saying that I had been rejected from UCT for both my choices. I received this news while I was still in the USA and it put a serious dampener on my trip. I couldn’t believe that I wouldn’t be attending UCT the following year. However, after a few encouraging Skype sessions with my parents and some advice from a few American friends, I decided to submit another application to UCT applying for a Bachelor of Social Science which had a lower APS requirement. At this point my priority was to get into UCT for anything. I had fallen in love with Cape Town when I worked there earlier on in the year and my girlfriend, at the time, was also at UCT. Just as I got back from my trip to America, I was delighted to hear that I had been accepted at UCT. As you can see, the master plan pretty much worked out, with a few hiccups here and there.

Commerce Student trapped in a Humanities Body

Now to finally get to the crux of it all and essentially why I even wrote this article. Off I went to Cape Town, ready to start a new chapter of my life as a student. I was lucky enough to get accepted into res and I was all settled in absolutely loving the student culture. Orientation week allowed me to explore what it would be like to be a humanities student and I learnt a great deal as to what courses I could take etc. However as the week went by, I realized that humanities weren’t the way forward for me, and the idea of the commerce faculty seemed very attractive.

When registration day finally arrived, I felt like I was a commerce student trapped in a humanities body. The day turned out to be extremely stressful as I battled my way through course advisors, head’s of departments and other UCT staff to try and work out how I could go about changing courses. I finally managed to figure out that in order to fall under the humanities faculty all I had to do was take a minimum of 2 humanities recognized courses. This meant that I could choose a whole bunch of commerce courses, two humanities courses and still comply with the degree that I was enlisted for.

Needless to say, the humanities faculty were very unimpressed with me when they signed off my registration form. I was essentially a commerce student residing in the humanities faculty and they could do nothing about it. Thus, I took commerce courses that mirrored that of the Bachelor of Business Science so when it came to the following year, I could attempt to change across to the commerce faculty.

Crossing Over to Finance

Fast forwarding a bit, that’s exactly what happened. At the start of my second year, I managed to change across to a Bachelor of Business Science in Organizational Psychology (that was one of the humanities subjects that I took). I just remember the dean of commerce looking at me in disbelief, wondering why on earth I was sitting in the humanities faculty when my transcript resembled that of a commerce student (it gave me a good chuckle). Finally at the start of my third year, I managed to change across to a Bachelor of Business Science in Finance. Essentially it took me 2 years, a huge amount of stress and countless hours running around campus or speaking to faculty staff to finally end up where I wanted to be.

Yes I know, I brought it on myself and it was completely my fault but at the end of the day, I learnt a lot and now you guys can learn from my mistakes. If there is a piece of golden advice that you should take away from reading this article it’s this: Whatever your situation, identical to mine or the complete opposite, once you are registered at a university for a degree it is much easier to change courses or even faculties than trying to do it from the outside (by addressing the university or reapplying etc).

I never said it was easy, just easier. It will take a lot of running around and charming various university staff but in most cases (depending on how drastic your change is) it is possible. I must emphasize though that I did work extremely hard (to the point that I made it on the Dean’s Merit List in my 1st year) and I was only able to change across because of my marks. Thus, if you are planning on implementing this golden advice, make sure you work your butt off. As with most things in life, as soon as you get your foot in the door, a world of opportunity opens up.

Tips for High School Scholars

  • I know school sucks and it’s not the most riveting experience (I’m talking about the academic side of things). However, it’s the way things are done in this country so suck it up and push forward to do well. You will thank me later when you can get into any degree you want (this is particularly aimed at the lazy, unmotivated, clever kids. Yes, you know who you are – get off your bottom and go study)
  • Matric is not the most important year at high school, grade 11 is. It is the grade 11 marks that you apply to university with (unless you are 120% sure you are going to take a gap year). If you’re planning on taking a gap year, I would recommend you apply to university in your matric year regardless (if you are happy with your grade 11 marks). If you get accepted, then you can simply defer your acceptance onto the following year. If you get rejected, then you know you have to work that much harder for your matric finals to get into that course. Just think about how nice it will be if you are busy experiencing your amazing gap year and you know you are sorted for your studies in the following year.
  • TAKE A GAP YEAR. You already know that I’m pro gap years but still. You have just done 13 years of school and I think it’s about time that you have a bit of a break, gain some work experience and even travel to some parts of the world. Ensure you plan a structured gap year and you don’t sit on your ass for most of the year. If you are interested in doing a work & travel programme like I did, visit the CCUSA and OVC pages.
  • Apply to university as soon as possible. If applications open in March, apply in April. I know this doesn’t give you much time to think in your matric year but if you are uncertain about what you want to do, then take a gap year!
  • Enjoy high school while you are there. It’s amazing how most high school kids can’t wait to get to varsity and then as soon as you leave high school, you wish you were back there. Make the most of it and create epic memories while you are still there.

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