Advice Column, Education


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As hundreds of thousands of students head back to university throughout South Africa, they enter a world of study that has already changed just from last year and will continue to do so more rapidly than ever before due to technological advancements changing the landscape almost from one day to the next.

This is why these students should, as soon as possible, strategise their career trajectory, taking into account not only their current graduate studies, but also potential post-graduate options, an education expert says.

“Today’s students are developing their skills in the face of an uncertain future, the only certainty being that they will be competing in a very tough job market by the time they graduate. One of the most important reasons for strategising one’s career trajectory from early in your studies, is to reduce uncertainty and stress, by knowing that you have a solid plan in place which will allow you to focus on going above and beyond in your everyday endeavours during your academic journey,” says Peter Kriel, General Manager at The Independent Institute of Education, South Africa’s leading private higher education provider.

“By having a plan in place, you will feel more confident and in control of your future, which will allow you to be resilient if the landscape changes on the way, and allow you to make decisions with greater clarity and purpose, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the many options and uncertainties that will be coming your way,” he says.

Kriel says in coming years, a post-graduate qualification will become a non-negotiable for remaining competitive in the job market, which is why it is important for students to factor that into their academic journey from as early as possible.

“Postgraduate studies are of course a significant investment, so it is, therefore, important to carefully consider your goals and options before pursuing an advanced degree. It’s also important to choose a programme that aligns with your career goals and provides the skills and knowledge you need to advance in your chosen field. It is for this reason that this decision should be top of mind throughout one’s graduate studies, and not be left until the last moment.”

Kriel says making the contemplation of post-graduate studies part of one’s graduate student career has a number of benefits, most notably the fact that time is on one’s side.

“When you start planning your career trajectory early, you have more time to explore different options and make informed decisions. You can take advantage of opportunities as they arise and make adjustments to your plan as needed.”

It also allows a student to continuously align their academic and career goals.

“In other words, you’ll be able to select programmes leading to qualifications, the elective modules within such programmes where applicable and the focus of any research projects in such a way that will best support your career aspirations and build the skills and knowledge you need for your future studies and career.”

Knowing that you’ll be continuing your studies will also allow you to start building your professional network, says Kriel.

“While studying towards your first qualification in university, you will have opportunities to connect with academics, alumni and industry professionals who can help you build your professional network, which will not only be able to support you as you progress to post-graduate study and point you towards new opportunities but who will also later be a valuable support network as you enter the job market.”

With technological advancements and automation changing the nature of work, employers will in future increasingly look for candidates who have advanced skills and knowledge, regardless of their field of study, as no field is exempt from these developments, says Kriel.

“A postgraduate degree not only demonstrates your commitment to professional development and objectively increases your competitiveness and earning potential in the job market, but also proves that you have deepened your understanding in your field of expertise and that you can stay on top of new developments. By starting now, and taking the time to consider your options and make informed decisions, you can set yourself on a path to a successful and fulfilling future from early in your university career.”



FIRST DEGREES AND DIPLOMAS (NQF LEVEL 6 or 7): A first degree or diploma equips you with the toolkit to do certain tasks, and enables you to become competent in delivering on the key outputs in line with these tasks. Some four year professional degrees are on Level 8).

HONOURS DEGREES (NQF 8): When competency has been achieved in terms of the toolkits acquired in the first qualification, an honours degree allows you to level up by learning how to use different tools at once, particularly in relation to one another. This brings a new level of maturity within the field.

POSTGRADUATE DIPLOMAS (NQF 8): An option to expand you knowledge base and specialisation. For example if you have a general business-related undergraduate degree and you would like to gain deeper insight into for example marketing or human resource management – or even beyond that.

MASTER’S DEGREES: A master’s degree develops the art of being able to synthesise and develop independence in a field. Instead of just being able to competently develop an identity for a brand, now you start to be able to stretch a brand’s identity into mergers and acquisitions and product portfolios.

DOCTORATES: Doctorates enable you to contribute to thought leadership and development of the field.

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