Take it from me

Making a plan of action for matric year and beyond

By: Batsheva Lea

Sometime during last year, another parent asked me how matric was going and I replied, “I’m finding it very stressful.” She laughed, but the reality is, the whole family does matric and it can be overwhelming. Looking back, there were a few things that we hadn’t thought of, or which we learned along the way, or even found out about just before or after a deadline. With that in mind, I decided to pen this piece to help students and their families prepare for their matric year…and after.

How to approach matric year

Try your best to exercise, eat healthy, and work consistently. If you can see that you need special consideration (extra time, a scribe, etc.), try and apply in Grade 11, as this process also takes time. If you find that certain subjects need extra support, try to find someone who you work well with earlier rather than later, and don’t be afraid to change if the connection is not working as well as you would like. If you have information on a great course or extra lesson programme, let your friends know, they just might be interested and very appreciative. Try to encourage your school to provide a provisional time table in writing of when potential portfolio pieces will be due for each subject, and how much they anticipate they will be worth, so that you can pace yourself, and the teachers can pace the assignments. If you think it will help, consider taking a time management course.

Make a point of getting hold of past papers. The IEB and GDE websites provide the previous 3 years’ exams with memos for free. They provide good summaries, and often teachers may use the same questions for your school exams. The GDE this last year repeated an identical question from the previous year in its nightmare paper 1 Maths exam. If you want to look at some older papers, https://advantagelearn.com has many for free download or you can access them from social media groups.

Be kind to yourself, and, as much as possible, try to enjoy the year. Parents, you are going through this too, so be kind to yourselves too. Just a thought for the parents and grandparents: if your child wants to go into a profession that is not your first choice, like medicine or law, or nature conservation or music, and he is passionate about it, don’t necessarily let your prejudice inhibit his choice. Bear in mind that, these days, many people wind up having to re-invent themselves professionally, and a person can always do a second degree or diploma on-line or through correspondence – even concurrently with his primary degree. And we all know many people with storied academic credentials who have struggled with employment.

What do you wanna do with your life?

A study was published by Harvard Business School which looked at a year of graduates 5 years down the line to see how successful they were. When they qualified, they were asked if they had thought about their goals and if they had written them down. The group that had neither thought about their goals nor written them down had done well, but the group who had thought about their goals had done much better, and the group who had written down their goals was even more successful than those two groups.

With that in mind, what are your goals? And how are you going to achieve them? You need to explore your options. You should try to be as prepared as possible, learning about acceptance criteria and deadlines upfront, applying to more than one place, and working out how you and your family are going to pay for whatever you’re hoping to do. If you are doing a gap year, make sure it’s because you want to, and not because you missed out on other opportunities.

One of the first things to consider is going for career counselling. We went for a handwriting analysis and a formal career guidance assessment. Both were helpful. Bookings were only available a few months after we called, but they had a matric special, so they managed to fit us in mid-June.

Assessments will give you an idea of your strengths and weaknesses, how you think, and what fields might be considerations. It’s not cast in stone. The career counsellor who we saw had information from various institutions, and suggested looking at second-year subjects, as those provided more information than the first-year subjects, and can differ significantly in different institutions. He asked which ones my daughter thought she would find most stimulating, and we took things from there. Bear in mind that potential doesn’t necessarily translate into good enough marks or automatic acceptance.

Some people go for career counselling in Grade 9 for subject choices, and I think it’s quite a good idea. For example, if you want to do Actuarial Science at Wits, you need As for Maths, Science, and English. If you aren’t doing science, then it’s not even an option. There are still many options if you choose to drop to Maths Lit, but many doors also close with that decision – so if you do go that route, make sure you are doing it with knowledge. Criteria change and are fluid; if you choose to do the GED (an alternative to a US high school diploma which provides certification that the test taker has US high school-level academic skills), make sure you know what options are open to you prior to changing over – visit: http://onlineged.co.za/after-the-ged/

Trying things out

Most institutions (private and government) have open days or school/family tours. Try to attend as many as possible. Contact the potential institutions and ask if you can spend time with the faculty. Some places, like UJ, have wonderful apps like https://future.uj.mobi , which offers guidance from Grade 9. Overseas universities like Harvard, Oxford, and Technion have summer holiday programmes starting for learners from 12 or 13 years of age. Some come with funding, so all you have to do is pay to get there, and sometimes even that is included. These events are very worthwhile, as they give you the opportunity to decide if you could see yourself studying that course, living in that city, and studying at that institution; you also get to network. You might go somewhere and realise that it’s not for you, which is also helpful, as it may protect you from starting a course in another city and paying the deposit for the studies, accommodation, etc., and only then realising that the whole thing was a mistake.

Career paths

Speak to as many people as possible about their career paths, bearing in mind your personality and finances. Would you do better studying via correspondence/online or going to classes? Would you be better in a bigger or smaller institution? Ask people how easy they found getting into the field with their degrees or diplomas and how they see their career evolving with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Job-shadow as much as possible; your dream career may not be 100% what you had imagined it to be. Every career comes with its downside, whether it be long hours, short vacations, emotional stress, or low or erratic pay. What would you cope with? If you still have several options, maybe look into what percentage of students graduating from your potential institutions pass the follow up board exams or find jobs easily. How many people stay in the profession and why? There may be more than one way to do what you want. For example, if you are considering beauty therapy, would you be better off doing a three-year diploma or short courses? Also, look at costing. Some places provide bursaries, and scholarships are available in various fields. Check out all of the available options, and apply.


Look at the websites for your potential institutions to learn about application processes and deadlines. Most open up in April. We, being last minute people, left applications too close to the closing date. The websites are often overloaded at that time and sometimes freeze. Many courses close June 30th. Most local places require a copy of your Grade 11 results, certified by the school, so get that now so that you have it ready. Many overseas institutions require a complete transcript (ie. all of your high school reports) to be sent directly by the school; make sure you have copies of our reports in case the school doesn’t, and realise that something that happened in Grade 8 may have relevance. Some courses, like physio and occupational therapy, require a certain amount of hours of job-shadowing in that field; try and get these hours in during the Grade 11 holidays so that it’s one thing less to do.

Additional criteria

Individual faculties have their own admissions criteria, which differ for courses and universities. Check to see if you make the point requirements. If you don’t, either make a plan to try improve, or consider other options. This can be made more difficult by the fact that most people aren’t 100% sure exactly what they want to do. You can always redo subjects the following year if push comes to shove. You may apply and not get provisional acceptance, which may change once your matric results are finalised – your marks may have improved and the people who applied with higher marks and were provisionally accepted for several courses will only be able to do one, opening up the other spaces.

UCT Stellenbosch and the faculty of medicine require that you do national benchmark tests (NBTs) https://www.nbt.ac.za/, which test your abilities in Maths and English. They need to be completed by a certain date. For example, Wits and UCT medical schools need it by August of the year that you apply and will take the mark that you get the first time you do it, which they will keep for three years. This mark counts for a third of your acceptance mark for Wits, and slightly less for UCT.

Ask if your school offers the preparation course, and, if it doesn’t, try to get into another school’s course, being sure to note that many take place on Saturdays. Many places offer follow-up online access, or you can just pay for the online part. We used https://advantagelearn.com. The majority of the test dates are Saturdays, with only limited options for a Friday and Sunday. Try to get a group together to do the test and then ask your school to limit other things going on close to the test, such as assignments and other tests, so that there is some time to focus on it. Because we woke up late, we did not have had a suitable place in Johannesburg to write in time. We then found out that the NBT has an option to arrive as a walk-in, and, if someone doesn’t arrive for the exam, to take that person’s place. It’s obviously much less stressful if you don’t have to go this route.

Studying away from home

If you are thinking of studying away from home – where are you going to stay? Do you know how to do laundry, clean, and cook? Be sure to check out accommodations, as well as application deadlines for residence halls and costing. If you can’t cook, we were given great advice: learn how to make three complete meals before you go. Discuss how and if you and your parents will cope emotionally with the distance and how often you will be able to afford to see each other. How will you cope sharing a room with strangers? Would you be better off staying at home where all you need to focus on is the studying, or will you cope and thrive with all the additional responsibility and potential adversity?

The Israel Centre has information days periodically (next one is in Feb) where there are representatives from many organisations. It’s worthwhile going to get information, and applying to whatever looks like an option; you can always change your mind afterwards, but if you miss the deadline, or aren’t accepted for what you want, it will be more difficult. Some foreign institutions take the South African matric results. If you are considering a US institution, be sure to make contact early and find out. Many US institutions, such as Yeshiva University, have international recruiters who come to South Africa to interview. The US universities are open to providing sports scholarships and financial needs scholarships, so it’s good to know what’s wanted up-front. Some things may not be intuitive – I know someone who was awarded a full sports scholarship by a university, but then still had to apply to that university.

Entrance exams

You can start doing college entrance exams for US institutions, such as the SATs – https://www.collegeboard.org or ACTs – https://www.act.org, from Grade 11. ACTs are offered in Pretoria, and SATs at Wits, with an option for Sundays if you write-in or call to get details and get a letter from your rabbi. Check with the institution as to which they prefer, and if you need to do the essay. For the SATs, there are books to learn from, and online and in-person courses on offer, as well as information from Khan Academy. SATs and ACTs can be done as many times as you want. The US colleges also look for what you have done that makes you stand out, so look into what you can do if this is a consideration. Many offer subsidies for international students, and financial aid (FAFSA) for US students, but they want detailed financials, so make sure you or your parents have up-to-date tax returns. England works through the University and College Admission Service (UCAS). Australia also considers foreign nationals and you can apply for funding.

Seminary and Yeshiva

Know the deadlines for applying to seminaries and yeshivas. The Encounter Programme takes place in December and can be helpful in terms of exploring various options. Speak to people who have gone and potential seminaries or yeshivas to try and find the right one for you. If you are interested, contact potential places early, as there is usually a representative that comes out and interviews. For girls, decide if you would prefer to start in January or September, and, if September, what would you like to do in that in-between time between finishing high school and starting seminary. For programmes starting in January (for the girls), interviews and information events are done May/June, with applications due by June and acceptance notifications taking place shortly afterwards. There is quite a lot of paperwork involved (and an application fee), and you need a doctor’s letter and up-to-date immunisations. Studying abroad is not a cheap option, but MASA is available (application must be approved by early September – often when the people are on vacation, so try and do it before). Seminaries and yeshivas can work out a discount/payment plan after acceptance. If you are accepted, and then decide not to go, let the institution know as soon as you decide, so that they can offer the place to another candidate. Most seminaries and yeshivas have affiliations with US universities, so the first year can count towards college credits for a US degree (this requires a separate application and fee to the US institution that will be issuing the transcript for the credits earned at the seminary/yeshiva). Many seminaries offer a Shana Bet (“second year” programme) which can be just learning or finishing the degree on the seminary campus. Examples of courses offered include teaching and computer science.

Today is where your book begins

This is an exciting but nerve-wracking and potentially overwhelming time in your life. Natasha Bedingfield sums it up beautifully in her song, Unwritten: “Today is where your book begins, the rest is still unwritten.” Be like those Harvard business school graduates and start writing down your goals. Hopefully this article has given you some direction and food for thought and will help you to make the most of everything coming your way, with some insight as to where you are heading. Good luck!

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