apply universities South Africa

How to Apply to Universities in South Africa (6 Steps)


Located at the southernmost tip of the African continent, South Africa boasts of historical geographic attractions and multi-faceted culture. Although it remains to be infamous because of its racial past, the country is trying to implement reforms that aim to boost the country’s economy – and reputation.

Helping South Africa in this case are its world-renowned universities, with 11 entering the World University rankings list. If you’re interested in applying to universities in South Africa, then here’s what you need to do:

1. Pick what you want to study in South African Universities

South Africa, which is home to 26 public universities and 42 private institutions, boasts of a 45,000-strong international student population. According to reports, most of these enrollees are taking up Education – as they prepare to be teachers and professors in their home countries (or South Africa even).

The second most popular programs amongst foreigners are Business and Economics, followed by Engineering.

2. Meet the English Requirements for South African Universities

While South Africa recognized 11 official languages, foreign students need not master all of them to study in the country. To apply to universities in South Africa, you will need to have English proficiency.

At the University of Cape Town, for example, international applicants need to show proof of English proficiency that is not more than 2 years old. Options include:

  • TOEFL iBT score of 88 or above, with at least 22 in speaking, 20 in reading, 19 in writing, and 19 in listening
  • IELTS total band of 6.5, with a score of at least 6.0 per component
  • Pearson PTE result of 67 and above, with a score of 59 per academic component
  • National Benchmark Test in the Intermediate Upper Range (score of at least 3 years old is still considered valid)

An exemption is given to applicants who:

  • Use English as their first/home language
  • Have passed English from an institution that uses English as a medium of instruction

As for Masters students, certain schools such as the University of Witwatersrand have stricter requirements. Here, applicants should possess an IELTS score of at least 7.0, and a Cambridge Assessment test score of at least 185 points. TOEFL results may be considered as well, granted that the student has a score of at least 600.

Again, an exemption may be granted to applicants who have passed the exam equivalent of English at the Higher Grade or GCSE at the ordinary level.

3. Meet the application requirements for South African Universities

Admission requirements vary according to the university – and the program the applicant wishes to take. Meeting these requirements is a crucial step in applying to universities in South Africa.

Although the basic requirement is a secondary school certificate, at the University of Cape Town, grades help dictate admission to a certain program. Students with an International Baccalaureate need a Grade 6 pass at SL and a Grade 5 pass at HL to enter Engineering, while those applying for Property studies only need a Grade 5 and Grade 4 pass for SL and HL respectively. Additionally, students who wish to take Architecture need to submit a written motivation and a portfolio of creative work as well.

Postgraduate students at the University of Witwatersrand, on the other hand, need to submit several requirements apart from the usual bachelor’s diploma. More importantly, those who wish to take a Masters by Dissertation need to look up an advisor before they can apply.

Like other South African universities, the requirements for Wits Masters students vary according to program. Those who wish to take Engineering will need to submit a proposed curriculum form – apart from the details of his/her potential supervisor.

Applicants at the School of Literature, Language, and Media Studies need to submit an entrance assessment for translation and interpreting.

Business school students have to pass a Management part 3 form, take an admissions test, and submit 3 letters of reference.

The details of referees are also required by the Wits’ School of Science.

4. Make a List of Universities in South Africa to Apply to based on subject and reputation

As mentioned, there are 11 world-renowned universities in South Africa. According to the World Rankings, here are the best universities in South Africa to apply to:

  • University of Cape Town (UCT), rank 155
  • University of Witwatersrand, rank 201-250
  • Stellenbosch University, rank 250-300
  • University of KwaZulu-Natal, rank 351-400
  • Durban University of Technology, rank 401-500
  • North-West University, rank 501-600
  • The University of Johannesburg, University of Pretoria, and University of Western Cape, rank 601-800
  • The University of South Africa and Tshwane University of Technology, rank 1000+

While you may want to study at the University of Cape Town – as it is South Africa’s best university in terms of Business & Economics, Health, Computer Science, Education, Life Science, Psychology, and Social Science, you may need to consider other institutions if you’d like to major in another program.

For example, if you want to study Arts & Humanities, then the University of Witwatersrand is a better choice since it ranks better (126-150) than UCT (201-250). The Universities of Johannesburg and Pretoria are the next best options, outnumbering higher-ranked Stellenbosch and the KwaZulu-Natal.

For law studies, the University of Pretoria fares better – followed by UCT, Wits, and the University of Johannesburg.

Should you wish to study the Physical Sciences, you should opt for Tshwane since it is considered better than UCT, North-West, and Stellenbosch.

As for Engineering, the tenth-ranked University of South Africa proves to be the better choice amongst other more reputable institutions. UCT is actually fourth in this list, trailing the Tshwane and North-West Universities.

In essence, make sure to check your school’s ranking for your desired program before you file your application. That way, you get to study at the institution that offers the best education for your degree.

5. If finances are important, look for affordable universities in South Africa

Studying in South Africa can cost you as much as $5,000 a year. Although this range is cheaper than most countries, finances can be an issue for most applicants. After all, students need to shoulder their cost of living as well, which can range anywhere from $425 to $900 a month.

If you’re one of the people who have limited finances, you can always apply for cheaper South African universities. The list includes:

  • The University of Venda – as low as $1,500 a year
  • The University of Western Cape – as low as $1,750 a year
  • Nelson Mandela University – as low as $1,900 a year
  • The University of Witwatersrand – as low as $2,100 a year
  • Durban University of Technology – as low as $2,500 a year
  • Stellenbosch University – as low as $3,500 a year

These schools also offer scholarship programs, which will be discussed in detail below.

6. Then, look for scholarships in those universities

In case you managed to gain admission to an expensive university, you need not throw away this opportunity as you can always apply for a scholarship program. At UCT for example, international undergraduate students may get a bursary worth ZAR 25,000 or $1,660. Masters students are given a higher bursary at ZAR 30,000 or $1,992.

At Wits University, undergraduate students may qualify for any of the following:

  • University Entrance Scholarships worth as much as ZAR 42,000 or $2,788
  • Vice-Chancellor Scholarships worth as much as ZAR 50,000 or $3,320
  • Sports Scholarships
  • National Olympiad Winners’ Scholarship

Apart from institutional scholarships, students may apply for bursaries that are funded by organizations and private persons as well.

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