How to Apply for University in South Africa

by Staff Reporter
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Do you want to apply to a university in South Africa but are unsure where to start? Have you chosen a subject because you enjoyed it at school or college and now you’re ready to take the next step to attend a university?

Exciting times are ahead! You are among over 45 000 international students and over 700 000 local students who want to enrol at a university in South Africa every year.

University offers the opportunity to delve deeper into an industry you enjoy. Whether you are a school leaver looking to apply for an undergraduate degree or a graduate or professional wanting to pursue a postgraduate degree, attending university can create a great foundation for a career that interests you and lets you take charge of your future.

But how do you apply at a South African university? What essential steps should you take to begin the application process?

Applying to a university is not as difficult as you may think. Though there is no universal application process that you can follow, you only have to focus on a few essential aspects and prepare all the required documents as soon as possible.

If you want to study at a South African university and you have questions about applying, we have put together a step by step guide with all the answers to help you along the way

1. Select a subject you want to study at university

Deciding what you want to study will shape your future career. What are your passions, interests, and current business and technical landscape of programs you would like to pursue? 

If you haven’t decided yet what you would like to study or which career path you’d like to take, or you’re just unsure by all the available options out there, it may be helpful to do an aptitude test or consult a life/career coach. We’ve also compiled this great Guide to Finding a career.

The other most important thing you should consider is whether you meet the minimum admission requirements for the degree or course that you want to study. For example there may be pre-requisite high school subjects for entry into certain courses especially in Science, Health Science, Engineering, and other technical subjects. Each university will have information available on the minimum requirements needed before applying.

Once you’ve decided which subject you want to study and know you meet the requirements, the next step is choosing a university in South Africa.


2. Choose a South African university to apply to

University is a big deal and a significant investment, so you’ll want to make sure you choose the right place and the right course. Your university experience gives you the knowledge, skills, confidence and expertise to help you make your world better.

Do some research on the universities in South Africa based on the subject you have chosen. You can use this list of all the universities in South Africa that we have compiled to start your research. It’s good to read the reviews that students leave, assess the benefits, and collect relevant information before deciding which university you want to apply to in South Africa. You can also investigate studying at universities of technology, Colleges and TVET colleges if your chosen course is not offered at university or is more practical in nature.

3. Research the university entry requirements

Each university has different requirements, so research the exact application requirements of the university you want to apply to and gather a comprehensive list for yourself. You can usually find all the information you need on the university’s website or by getting hold of the admissions department.

If you are going to apply at multiple universities, remember not to get confused between the different processes of each institution – make a list for each one.

You should also take special note of the universities’ application deadlines as it can be difficult and costly to submit a late application.


4. When you should start applying for university in South Africa

The admission application process can take quite a bit of time, so it would be best to start at least one year in advance to collect the necessary information and documentation.

Since the South African academic year runs from January to December, applications for universities in South Africa typically open between April and July. 

Depending on the university and faculty you are applying to, there are different dates for university applications depending on the time of year. There may be different dates for international students and local students. 

Most applications close around August with some staying open through to December or January. You can visit the websites for the universities you are applying to to find out more specific dates, or check out our blog to find out more about specific application closing dates for South African universities.  

Applying in advance is also important when it comes to funding your university studies. If you are wanting to apply for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), bursaries, or scholarships you will likely have to apply at least 6 months before starting your studies and will need to have proof that you have applied to university or been accepted. So starting your university application early is definitely better! 

Do you apply to University in Grade 11?

As a high school student, you can’t send in your final results if you’re still in matric.

Universities normally use Grade 11 marks to grant students provisional acceptance if they meet the requirements based on those marks. Your matric (Grade 12) marks will then be submitted when they are available and will determine your final acceptance. 

Each university has different application dates, and this will determine which marks you can send in. 

Ensure you have your exam results from Grade 11 and your mid-year matric exam marks with you because you may need to submit both sets of results to the university with the application.

5. Documents that are required to apply for universities in South Africa

Most university applications require supporting documents to accompany your application. They usually include:

  • Completed application forms
  • Certified copies of your South African ID or your passport
  • Certified copies of your parents or guardians ID/passport
  • Other supporting documents may consist of your exam results, proof of residence and a recent payslip
  • Certified copies of your exam results from Grade 11 and your mid-year matric exam marks
  • Some universities have an application fee – in this case, proof of payment
  • If you are an international applicant, you’ll also need to apply for a visa

Always make sure that you have copies of these documents and never send the originals!

Forms can be a pain to fill in and are often complicated. Go through the forms slowly and make sure you fill in each part of the form carefully to avoid making mistakes.
Think about filling in your application forms in pencil first before you fill them in with a pen. A black ballpoint pen is usually the most accepted method for filling in forms.

Have valid contact details

When applying to universities, make sure you have a working email address, which anyone can create by registering an email address. You will also need an active cell phone number and a postal address.

6. Where to submit your university application in South Africa

Thanks to ever-growing technology, most universities have an online application process, which allows you to apply and submit all the required documents online through their websites. You’ll also find other helpful information on these websites, like a complete list of requirements depending on your previous studies and citizenship status, more details about the application process, and answers to the most frequently asked questions.
Some universities still require you to post or courier your application to have a physical copy, so be aware of how your application must reach the university.


7. International students

For international applicants, you’ll need to book an appointment with your nearest South African Embassy or Consulate to prove your interest in studying in South Africa. They will help you through the application process and answer any questions you might have for the documents you need to prepare. Generally, the documents required for applying to South African universities include:

  • Citizenship status
  • Completed and signed application forms
  • Proof of payment of the application fee, if applicable
  • High school diploma (if you apply for a Bachelor’s)
  • Bachelor’s or Master’s diploma (if you’re applying for a Master’s or PhD)
  • Academic transcript
  • Passport-size photographs
  • Copy of your passport or identity card
  • Curriculum vitae and motivation letter, if applicable.
  • Health insurance
  • Possible vaccination certificates

8. Apply before the university application deadlines.

Now that you’ve gathered all the required documents, it’s time to submit your application!

Get to know when application dates close. Make sure you find out what the university application dates for 2022 are. Deadlines for university applications differ at the various universities. In some instances, they vary based on the type of degree or area of specialisation.
Thankfully, universities understand this and are pretty clear on what they expect from you.

The best advice to ensure you don’t miss these deadlines is to:

  • Start your application process as early as possible,
  • Always double check your applications for any potential errors or spelling mistakes,
  • Check the official university page’s up-to-date application deadlines, and
  • Track the progress of your application in case you need to resubmit your application.

Make sure you write down all the application dates on your calendar and apply as soon as the application period is open. Doing this will help, especially if you made a mistake or have changed your mind; you’ll still have time to change things around.


Good luck with your application!

Applying to attend University in South Africa isn’t that difficult, especially once you know what you want to study at university and how the process works. If you’re still unsure or have any questions about your application or chosen subjects, don’t hesitate to reach out to an academic advisor. They can help you select a suitable course and put you on the fast track to career success.

Don’t forget to also apply for funding for your university studies at the same time. The funding deadlines are often even earlier than the university application deadlines and if you miss them you may miss out on funding altogether or have to wait a year to re-apply. If you are looking for a way to fund your own studies you can consider a student loan from Fundi. You can choose a loan to cover as much or little of the costs of your studies from student accommodation and tuition to books and more. Whether you are funding your MBA, a short course or your university degree, contact Fundi today!

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