by Tia

As first years across South Africa start settling into their new life at university or college, dealing with new places, new people and new academic challenges, more than a few will be experiencing the existential dread accompanied by thoughts that perhaps they did not do the right thing in their choice of qualification or institution. This can be a profoundly scary thought for these young people, and a difficult situation to deal with given the amount of time, money and emotional investment that have gone before, an education expert says.

“It cannot be overstated how scary and alone these young people will be feeling at this time, as they ask themselves questions around whether they opted for the wrong field of study, whether they are up to this new level of workload, whether they will be able to deal with the culture shock of their new surroundings, and whether they will ever be able to deal with the increased responsibilities they are now facing,” says  Moloko Chepape, Chief Operations Officer at The Independent Institute of Education’s Rosebank College.

“If you are a first year and you are feeling like this, the good news is that you are not alone. Knowing that – in itself – will already help you focus and work through what needs to happen. The other good news is that there are rational ways in which you can determine where you are at, where you need to go, and what you need to do, if anything. This situation is normal, and you don’t have to rely solely on your gut or let the swirling worries in your head take over,” he says.

Chepape says it is often the case that new students doubting themselves either throw in the towel straight away, which would be a mistake, or stick things out for months or years despite being miserable.

“The key is to objectively identify and assess your concerns, and then make an informed decision about how to proceed,” he says.

The first step towards resolving your concerns, is identifying the root cause of your concern, and defining the problem, says Chepape.

The reasons behind second thoughts about one’s field of study are as diverse as the students themselves. For some, the initial allure of a prestigious career quickly fades in the face of demanding coursework and the pressures of academic performance.

“Others may discover new passions and interests that pull them in different directions, tearing them between the security of their original choice and the uncertainty of a new path. Additionally, the socio-economic landscape of South Africa, with its unique challenges and opportunities, plays a significant role in shaping students’ perspectives and decisions.”

 The key to navigating this maze of doubt lies in acknowledging the validity of these feelings and understanding that they are a natural part of the learning process.

“Once you have given yourself permission to feel what you are feeling, resolve to do your very best while you sort out your situation. Keep attending all classes, doing your best on all tests and assignments, and attending to your other responsibilities. While you may still not like the work, and perhaps not perform as well as you would like, keeping on top of things to the best of your ability will ensure that you don’t compound the challenges facing you, as well as help you feel more empowered.

“Additionally, should you decide to change course, you will at least have something to show for your time at university, and perhaps even have some credits that can be transferred elsewhere.”

While putting one foot in front of the other, the next step towards gaining clarity will be to tap into any resources available at your institution, Chepape says.

“If you are studying at a good institution, they will have support services available both on the academic as well as the mental wellness front. Additionally, they will have career centres or advisory services to support students. By approaching these and outlining your concerns, counsellors will be able to assist you in exploring your feelings, understanding your options, and making informed decisions about the way forward.”

If it is the case that you are studying at a higher education institution or university that does not have such services available, it is worth approaching another, more reputable institution which do have these support services in place, to talk through your situation.

“Speaking to another college doesn’t mean you need to move to them. However they will be able to provide external insights into your situation which may be useful and help to clarify your position,” Chepape says.

So in essence, those finding themselves with cold feet early in their higher education journey, should 1) Keep calm and carry on to the best of their ability while 2) Harnessing all the resources that can help them plot their path forward.

“The academic community is pivotal in supporting students through these periods of doubt and transition. Faculty members, advisors, and mentors can provide invaluable guidance and encouragement, helping students to reflect on their passions, skills, and the impact they wish to make in the world,” says Chepape.

“Having early-stage doubts is not a sign of failure, but rather a call to engage more deeply with our aspirations, our chosen paths, and our choices, and can open the door to a much more successful and fulfilling higher education and career path.”

Related Articles

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!