3 Difficulties School Leavers May Face When Trying to Apply for Higher Education

  • joub
  • Feb 26, 2024

3 Difficulties School Leavers May Face When Trying to Apply for Higher Education

Challenges Faced by School Leavers in Pursuing Higher Education in South Africa

The transition from high school to higher education marks a pivotal juncture in the lives of young individuals, brimming with aspirations and the pursuit of academic excellence. However, this journey is not without its obstacles. School leavers in South Africa encounter a multitude of difficulties as they embark on the path towards higher learning. This essay delves into three prominent challenges that hinder their progress, offering insights into the systemic issues and proposing actionable solutions to address these barriers.

1. Financial Constraints: The Economic Hurdles to Higher Education

a) The Weight of Socioeconomic Disparities:

  • South Africa’s socioeconomic landscape is characterized by stark inequalities, with a significant portion of the population living in poverty. This disparity extends to educational opportunities, as many students from disadvantaged backgrounds lack the financial means to pursue higher education.
  • The cost of tuition, accommodation, and living expenses associated with tertiary education can be insurmountable for families struggling to make ends meet. As a result, many bright and capable individuals are denied the chance to further their studies due to financial constraints.

b) Inadequate Financial Aid and Scholarships:

  • While financial aid and scholarships exist to assist deserving students, the availability and accessibility of these resources often fall short of the actual need. The stringent criteria and competitive nature of these programs make it challenging for students from marginalized communities to secure the necessary support.
  • The lack of comprehensive financial aid policies and the limited funding allocated to student assistance programs further exacerbate the problem, leaving many aspiring students without the means to bridge the financial gap.
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2. Academic Preparedness: The Gaps in High School Education

a) Uneven Quality of High School Education:

  • The quality of education varies considerably across South African schools, with stark disparities between schools in urban and rural areas, as well as between public and private institutions. This unevenness results in some students graduating from high school with a solid academic foundation, while others struggle to meet the minimum requirements for tertiary education.
  • The lack of adequate resources, qualified teachers, and appropriate infrastructure in many schools further contributes to the disparity in educational outcomes, leaving students ill-prepared for the rigors of higher education.

b) Inadequate Career Guidance and Counseling:

  • School leavers often lack access to comprehensive career guidance and counseling services, which are crucial for making informed decisions about their future education and career paths.
  • The absence of effective guidance systems leaves many students uncertain about their options, leading to poor choices of courses and institutions, which can result in academic difficulties and dropout rates.

3. Psychosocial Challenges: The Emotional and Mental Hurdles

a) Limited Access to Mental Health Support:

  • The transition from high school to higher education can be emotionally and psychologically challenging, as students navigate new social environments, academic pressures, and personal growth.
  • However, access to mental health support services is often limited, particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This lack of support can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, hindering students’ ability to cope with the demands of higher education.
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b) High Dropout Rates and Low Completion Rates:

  • The combination of financial difficulties, academic unpreparedness, and psychosocial challenges contributes to high dropout rates and low completion rates among school leavers pursuing higher education.
  • These challenges often lead to students feeling overwhelmed, discouraged, and unable to persevere through the rigors of tertiary education, resulting in a loss of talent and potential.


The challenges faced by school leavers in South Africa as they seek to access higher education are multifaceted and deeply rooted in systemic issues. The weight of financial constraints, the gaps in academic preparedness, and the psychosocial hurdles present formidable barriers that hinder their progress. Addressing these challenges requires a concerted effort from various stakeholders, including policymakers, educational institutions, and civil society organizations.


To address the challenges faced by school leavers in pursuing higher education, the following recommendations are proposed:

  1. Expand Financial Aid and Scholarship Programs:
    • Increase the availability and accessibility of financial aid and scholarship programs to ensure that all deserving students have the opportunity to pursue higher education, regardless of their socioeconomic background.
    • Review and revise the criteria for financial aid and scholarships to make them more inclusive and equitable, ensuring that students from marginalized communities have a fair chance of receiving support.
  2. Improve the Quality of High School Education:
    • Implement comprehensive reforms to improve the quality of education in all schools, particularly those in disadvantaged communities, to ensure that all students graduate with the necessary academic foundation for higher education.
    • Provide adequate resources, qualified teachers, and appropriate infrastructure to schools, particularly in rural and underserved areas, to create a conducive learning environment.
  3. Strengthen Career Guidance and Counseling Services:
    • Establish comprehensive career guidance and counseling programs in all high schools to provide students with the information, support, and guidance they need to make informed decisions about their future education and career paths.
    • Train and equip career counselors with the necessary skills and resources to effectively support students from diverse backgrounds, addressing their unique needs and aspirations.
  4. Enhance Mental Health Support Services:
    • Increase access to mental health support services for students in higher education institutions, ensuring that they have the resources and support they need to cope with the emotional and psychological challenges they may face.
    • Implement proactive mental health promotion and prevention programs to foster a supportive and nurturing environment for students, reducing the stigma associated with mental health issues.
  5. Foster Collaboration and Partnerships:
    • Encourage collaboration between educational institutions, policymakers, civil society organizations, and the private sector to develop innovative solutions and programs to address the challenges faced by school leavers.
    • Foster partnerships between higher education institutions and employers to create opportunities for internships, apprenticeships, and work-study programs, providing students with practical experience and enhancing their employability.
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By addressing these challenges and implementing effective interventions, South Africa can create a more equitable and accessible higher education system that empowers all school leavers with the knowledge, skills, and opportunities they need to succeed in the 21st-century workforce and contribute meaningfully to society.