Home Study in SA: Tutorial Series 2: What to study

2: What to study

by Staff Reporter

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Not sure what to study? This section lets you click over the top 8 institutions and get an overview of the general faculties. We also break down what you need to know about course credit transfers and what you’ll need to do before you decide what to study. We’ve got you covered. 

Now that you’re sold on South Africa, it’s time to zoom in even further on the academic side of things.

You could choose a university based on its location, or its popularity and reputation among study abroad and international students, and end up studying whatever fits best. However, if you are going to leave your home country for the sake of studying, then a specific degree or course can also direct your choice of institution. 

  • NB NB! If you are a study abroad student, you want to make sure that the university of your choice has courses on offer that will not only interest you, but that also accommodate the course credit transfer system. 
  • If you are an international student, you probably have an idea of which degree or qualification you want to pursue, so have a look at the different universities and whether their departments specialise in that area. Different universities have a reputation for excelling in different fields of study – hopefully you can get an idea about a department’s reputation based on it’s outputs and by asking around. 
  • If you have no idea what you want to study, but you know you want to study in South Africa, or a specific city in South Africa, then the process is basically the same as it would be for any South African who needs to decide what to study. Browse the different faculties (explained below) of a university (easily found on their website), and see if any specific degrees or courses spark your interests and talents. Also, visit our page on page on qualifications here for inspiration. 

Below you can read about everything you need to know regarding the general faculties at South African universities, as well as the course credit transfer system. 


Needless to say, each university (in each country) has its own specific faculty layout. The way certain departments are sub-categorised may also differ, for example – one university might have a Psychology department within its Health Sciences faculty, a second university might have it in its Humanities faculty, and a third might have Psychology as an entire faculty on its own. 

For studies in South Africa, we’ve drawn up a list of the general academic faculties we have at our universities:


In general, the commerce faculty comprises studies in Economic, Law, Business, Management, and Political Studies. There are plenty of specialized areas within these departments, from Actuarial Science to Information Systems. 

Here are some departmental/ subject examples that generally belong to the Commerce faculty:

  • Chartered Accounting
  • PPE (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics)
  • Financial Management
  • Human Resources
  • Marketing
  • Statistics
  • Income Tax Law


This faculty aims to give students the necessary skills and qualifications to become top of the rank teachers in various sectors – schools, hospitals, organisations, and many more. It covers different areas of educational training, including teaching methodologies, and on-site observations. 

Here are some departmental/ subject examples that generally belong to the Education faculty:

  • Educational Psychology
  • Secondary Education – Subject Specialisation 
  • Early Childhood Education
  • Adult Basic Education and Training
  • Environmental Education
  • School Guidance and Counseling 
  • Educational Research 


Within the engineering faculty you will find various different Engineering streams. Engineering studies equip students with aspects like organisation, design, operation, maintenance, supply chain logistics, etc. within their specific field. 

Here are some departmental/ subject examples that generally belong to the Engineering faculty:

  • Civil Engineering
  • Industrial Engineering
  • Mechanical & Mechatronic Engineering
  • Electrical & Electronic Engineering
  • Aeronautical Engineering
  • Chemical Engineering & Mineral Processing
  • Mining Engineering

Health Science

As its name suggests, the faculty of Health Sciences caters for the studies of health-related disciplines like medical studies or various forms of therapy that require a core understanding of science. 

Here are some departmental/ subject examples that generally belong to the Health Sciences faculty:

  • Medicine
  • Dentistry
  • Physiotherapy
  • Occupational and Speech Therapy
  • Psychiatry
  • Pharmacy
  • Radiography
  • Biomedical Technology


The Humanities faculty is the home of the Arts, Languages, Cultural & Religious Studies, as well the Social Sciences. Students tend to complete their Humanities degrees on an interdisciplinary level, exploring various subjects within the faculty alongside their majors. 

Here are some departmental/ subject examples that generally belong to the Humanities faculty:

  • Languages and Literature
  • Fine Art, Dance, Music, and Theatre & Performance
  • Sociology and Social Anthropology 
  • Social Work
  • Media Studies
  • Creative Writing
  • Film Studies
  • Religious Studies
  • Philosophy
  • History


All things legal – the Law faculty aims to develop and shape students into legal specialists. There are multiple platforms on which Law touches and where it promotes its principles. 

Here are some departmental/ subject examples that generally belong to the Law faculty:

  • Medical Law
  • Business Law
  • Insurance Law
  • Copyright Law
  • Legal Editing or Writing
  • Crime Studies
  • Social Security


There are many different fields in the study of sciences, and thousands of streams within each field, all dedicated to understanding the nitty-gritty nature of the universe and the world we live in. 

Here are some departmental/ subject examples that generally belong to the Science faculty:

  • Chemistry and Biochemistry
  • Biology
  • Physics
  • Genetics
  • Applied Mathematics
  • Ecology and Evolution
  • Computer Science
  • Environmental Sciences


Theological studies delve into the nature of God’s relationship to humankind and the world, structured within the greater framework of Christianity. It generally explores a variety of churches, from Baptist and Catholic to Pentecostal and Zionist churches. 

Here are some departmental/ subject examples that generally belong to the Theology faculty:

  • Christian Leadership
  • Pastoral Counseling
  • Ethics
  • Hermeneutics
  • Ancient Language and Text Studies
  • Biblical Psychology

Course Credit Transfer

If you intend on studying at an institution in South Africa the next step is to make sure you find correspondent courses to match your courses back home. Once found you need to liaise with your home institution about the credit transfer process. Yes, we know – this is where the administration starts, but don’t worry! Below we give you a breakdown of what you need to know. In the end it is your responsibility to find out the compatibility of your courses and confirm the credit transfer with your institution, BEFORE you study abroad.  Remember that your home institution is there to help you figure out specific requirements regarding credit transfer. 

What does this mean?

To start off, university credits (nope, we’re not talking about money) represent your learning process at an institution and showcase all the work you’ve put in over the 3 – 4 years of your degree: your projects, exams, tutorial work, assignments etc. Every institution varies with regards to their grading system and credit transfer process. Depending on your previous studies and if you are planning to study abroad, you should generally select courses that are similar to those of your current year of studying. For example, if you are in second-year at your home institution, check out second-year courses at the SA university you want to go to. 

To graduate you need to have a certain amount of credits and the courses you take ultimately contribute towards your degree. This is why it is very important for you to work closely with your International Office or consult your Head of Departments to make sure they are happy with you continuing part of your degree at another institution. You don’t want to re-enter your home university and realise your credits can’t be transferred (what a fail).

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Find an institution in SA.
  2. Research courses similar to your courses back home.
  3. Take into consideration that each university has its own grading system. 
  4. Find out how many credits you need for your specific courses from your home institution.
  5. Stay calm. Researching your courses can become tedious and frustrating. If you can’t find a course that’s similar to your courses back home just remember there may be other options. Always ask before you give up.
  6. Departments at your home institution will want to see short descriptions of the courses you choose to tell you what type of credit or course may be equivalent.
  7. Your institution needs to approve your courses before you come study in South Africa. In the end it’s up to your institution to give you the heads up or not.
  8. Don’t be afraid to contact departments if you’d like to find out about certain courses. It’s easier to speak to the person directly via email or phone than fight a battle trying to find the specific requirements on the institution websites.

Top 8 Universities and their Credit System

Top 8 Universities and their Credit System

Below you will find the course credit transfer details and available courses for each of our top 8 universities (just to make your life easier).

University of Cape Town

Credit transfer:


Stellenbosch University

Course listings:


Credit transfer:


Rhodes University

Course listings: 

Click here to view the various departments at Rhodes – select the academic department you’d like to explore and you can read up on the credits for the courses

Credit transfer:

Students going on exchange need to contact the head of departments to find out about specific course transfer. Have a look at the grade conversions rate table here.

University of Pretoria

Course listings: 


Credit transfer:

To find information on the course credit transfer process for a specific faculty click here. Go to the faculty yearbook and you’ll find the necessary information for the courses.

University of Western Cape

Course listings:

Follow the link. Choose the specific faculty you’d like to explore, click view, and you will see all the courses listed.

Credit transfer:

Contact the department directly.

University of KwaZulu-Natal

Course listings: 


Credit transfer:

Contact the department directly.

University of Witwatersrand

Course listings:


Credit transfer: 


Cape Peninsula University of Technology

Course listings:

Follow this link to view the different faculties. Select the faculty of your choice and view the handbook on the right-hand side of the page.

Credit transfer:

Contact the department directly.

Student Advice

Tahila Pimentel, current international student from Mozambique doing her Masters degree in African Studies at UCT.

Ruben Masar, previous international student from Switzerland, completed his LLM postgrad at Stellenbosch in 2013.


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