UNISA as a Viable Alternative


Deciding your future is daunting at any age and stage of life. It’s downright intimidating. UNISA could be the answer you’re looking for.

Some people grow up knowing exactly what they want to be one day. They have a step-by-step plan on how to get there. Other people have parents who have decided their dreams for them. While a few unlucky ones, like myself, find themselves 2 years out of matric with absolutely no idea what to do with their future. But don’t stress, it’s actually completely normal to have no idea what you want to do one day. Generation Y has been known for changing careers on a regular basis.

Building Stones

Figuring out what you want to do for the rest of your life is a pretty scary stage of life. What if you end up hating your chosen career? Or you actually suck at your job? What if you never earn enough? What if you get so caught up in your career you forget to enjoy life? The one question that gets me every single time and still confuses me is the following: how on earth is a student supposed to choose which subjects will allow them to study a course they aren’t even sure of yet. I’ve been there and sometimes I still don’t feel ready to be a decision-making adult. I took the following subjects and added is a few reasons why:

  • Mathematics (NOT maths literacy) is a must. Passing with a 50% in pure maths is better than 90% in maths lit.
  • Physical Science opens many doors for you in the medical and science fields.
  • Life Science is really interesting and is also great for biological sciences and anything in the medical field.
  • Consumer Studies, this was just because I love cooking. It’s actually more business studies centered than cooking related, so be warned.

Even though these are the subjects I took, accounting is a really good subject to take if you have absolutely no idea what you want to do. It keeps more options open.

Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with following your parents’ dreams. And for those who know exactly what they want from life, kudos to you and I envy you slightly. I did a BSc at Stellenbosch University. I quickly found out that the BSc was not for me. Check out more info on Stellenbosch and the courses they offer. I also studied a Bed Intermediate Phase through UNISA. I am currently studying BA Creative Writing through UNISA, which will allow me to pursue a journalistic career.

Let me tell you about UNISA

UNISA is a long-distance learning tertiary institution that offers undergraduate degrees, diplomas, certificates, short courses and some postgraduate courses. They offer pretty much every course except more practical courses such as BSc degrees and engineering. It’s definitely more cost efficient which adds to its popularity and you can easily have a career while studying for your degree. It is very popular among the working class and it allows many people in the lower income bracket to achieve their academic goals.

UNISA also offers financial support. Their main form of financial aid is called the NSFAS loan. You loan money from NSFAS and you repay it with interest. However, if you perform well academically, with a 100% pass rate, you can receive a 40% rebate (a discount on your loan). Every faculty would have its own list of bursaries and scholarships, such as the Funza Lushaka bursary for students studying Education.

FYI: Always remember there are options if you are unable to afford your studies. You just need to go out there and ask for help. If you’re looking for further funding options have a look at our finance your studies section.

What’s it like studying at UNISA?

This is a slightly tricky one. There are times I absolutely love the freedom that studying through UNISA gives, yet other times I want to go Kill Bill on them. The application process seems pretty simple, much like any other tertiary institutions. However, after applying online, I received no letter declining or accepting my application. I had to go in to UNISA during the registration period to find out whether I had been accepted or not.

After the frustration of having to sit for hours, waiting in the various queues at the Cape Town campus, I was finally registered. I thought it would be pretty simple from there. Submit my assignments; write exams, pass and repeat. Not quite so simple. The assignments are there to help you prepare for the exam as you don’t have lectures to guide you and teach you everything. You only have study guides, textbooks and online tutors, who only reply in a few days and you generally can’t wait that long to finish your assignment.

UNISA does have a few different campus’s situated around South Africa, but they are not like other universities. The UNISA campuses are mostly used for administrative services during registration and the application period. They have the financial offices, support offices, career counselling and a computer room for those who do have access to online application and registration. There are several small lecture rooms used for tutorial classes. I have only been to the Parow campus so I’m not sure if the other campuses would offer classes. The career counselling department was very efficient and helpful, I would really encourage you to take full advantage of it.

Since the assignments are so vital in your progress, you generally need them back before the exam so that you can see where you went wrong. I went into an English exam without my assignment marks or feedback being returned to me, which resulted in marks which I was not happy with which could easily have been avoided if I had just received my assignment back in time. This has happened to me more than once and I have seen many people complaining about it on the online discussions.

You can also phone the same department, and ask different people the same question and get a different answer every single time. This is extremely confusing and frustrating and leads to a negative view of the institution.

Having said that, the cost and time efficiency which UNISA offers far outweighs the frustrations of miscommunication and administrative problems.

Tips for studying through UNISA

  • Do all of your research on the course you want to study before applying or going in to UNISA.
  • Use the career counselling services, even if you know what you want to study. They can answer all of your questions.
  • Know exactly which modules you want to do and in which order. Plan carefully before registering.
  • Make sure you have the dedication to self-study. It takes a lot of motivation.
  • Don’t assume the work is easier just because it’s long-distance. I can assure you it’s just as challenging.
  • Make use of the online tutors and discussion forums. They offer a lot of advice and support.
  • Don’t hesitate to email or make an appointment with the lecturer.
  • Don’t over commit to too many modules, start off slowly and adjust from there.
  • Be prepared to wait quiet a while for your assignments to be returned.

Is a degree in education for me?

This is a very personality specific degree. It is easy to study the theory and do well in it, however the practical aspect changes the dimensions slightly. I thought that I loved children. I babysat often and I enjoyed teaching Sunday School, but when it came down to the practical, with 40 children with bad attitudes and no respect for discipline, my lid blew. I couldn’t handle it. I clearly didn’t have the passion for children I thought I did. Having said that, there are many men and women out there who love every aspect of studying teaching and thrive well in those situations.

I did not finish this degree as I knew I would probably end up in an asylum if I spent my life teaching, but from what I have experienced here is the advice I would give you:

  • Take a few days and go and job shadow a teacher in the grade you would like to teach. Most schools have a job shadowing task as a part of Life Orientation. Take full advantage of it.
  • Many people choose Education as a last resort, which is a bad decision. You need to have the heart and passion to work with children full time. Rather take a gap year  if you do not know what to study.
  • Studying education through UNISA is pretty cool. You can work as a teacher’s assistant at a school while studying and gain some experience and knowledge. I did this and it’s definitely worth it. It’ll help you decide if you really want to become a teacher or not. I did not.
  • Be prepared to put in a lot of hard work. It can become pricey at times, so start saving, even if it is a little bit every month. Remember to budget in textbooks, petrol or fare to get to the exam centre and stationery.

EduConnect 2Cents

Choosing which institute to study at is a pretty daunting decision. Do all of your research on the various institutions and courses before. Ultimately, this decision has the ability to make or break your life, not anyone else’s, so do what is best for you. UNISA is a great alternative option, some people have the dedication to self-study while others do not. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that! There is tons of information and help out there!  Take advantage of it, take advantage of us.


Requirements for Bed Intermediate Phase:

  • A National Senior Certificate with a degree endorsement
  • At least 50% in the language of teaching and learning (your home language)
  • At least 50% in Mathematics, but only if you wish to teach Mathematics, Natural Sciences, Accounting or Agriculture

High School Subjects

  • English, even if you wish to teach in isiXhosa or Afrikaans as most of the modules are only offered in English.
  • Mathematics if you wish to study Mathematics, Natural Sciences, Accounting or Agriculture.
  • Choose subjects that you would want to teach

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Apply to Unisa

You’ll find a breakdown of how to apply to the University of South Africa (Unisa) below.  We’ve got instructions on their online application process Unisa-TVET application process.  Tertiary education is just a few steps away!  Ready, steady, let’s go.