Many young people, especially the 2008 matrics, lack adequate information on career options, where to study or what financial assistance is available to them.
Over the past few weeks, says the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), it has been inundated with calls from scores of 2008 grade 12s which reflect that many young people have little idea about study options.

"Judging by the number of enquires our office has been receiving from 2008 grade 12s about the past few weeks, it's clear that there's very little planning being done by most pupils about what to do after school. "And these queries are coming through at the very time that the student should be registering, having long ago selected a course of study and applied to an institution for acceptance," said NSFAS spokesperson Bonny Feldman.

In 2008, NSFAS provided funding of R2-billion to about 125 000 students. The scheme was created to assist needy South African students with academic potential to study for the first time at a university or do a national certificate at further education and training colleges. Now the scheme is urging pupils from grade 9 to 12 to apply some time to planning, but most importantly to research career paths and processes involved in applying for course of study at tertiary institutions.

Feldman said where this year's grade 9s were concerned, the focus of their thinking about their future should relate to the subject choice they will have to make during the year.
"Making the right choices is also dependent on having a vision of one's future. To pursue a particular career, one must acquire qualifications and for that one must have a school record that includes certain subjects required for the field of study," she said. Feldman said success in studies seemed to be linked in part to an understanding of what the course of study involved and what career options it may open up.

"It's useful to spend some time identifying your strengths, both in terms of your character and as regards your academic abilities. Investigate what types of careers these strengths are suitable for, and then consider the employability of someone with a qualification in such a field. This sort of approach can help you select something that will be meaningful and can lead to a job and a solid future," she said.

Feldman said deadlines for applications were a crucial part of the whole initiative, as was how much money a prospective student would need to put away for study fees. Feldman stressed the need for young people to focus on areas of the economy where there were severe skills shortages. "This is exactly what NSFAS is there for. We administer loans and bursaries for students who cannot afford the costs of studying themselves. Since we are a government agency, we are not profit-based, which means that the conditions relating to our loans are far less onerous than other types of loans," she said.

Feldman said that while the bulk of NSFAS funding was in the form of loans, it also administered bursary funds for particularly scarce skills, such as teaching, social work, accounting and actuarial science.