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Step by Step: High School as the Training Ground for Better Career Decisions

Increasingly we are finding young people who have been out of school for a year or two, facing real dilemmas about the career / study choices that they have made. These young people are often anxious or demotivated, and lack the ‘up and at ‘em ’ energy with which they first embarked on higher education or the world of work.

While there is a plethora of reasons for young people’s losing heart and losing their way in the career maelstrom, one of the main reasons lies in an initially uninformed choice.

All too often we wait until Grade 11 to start considering career options when the learner is confronted with more career-focused career LO lessons, career evenings, career exhibitions and the need to organize job shadow experience in a field that holds potential career interest. It is also in Grade 11 that learners are most ready to engage in formal individual career assessment. The process of self-understanding, personal and social skills development, some openness as to ‘what’s out there’ and the making of wise interim choices, needs to start the moment they enter high school.

Grade 8

Wonderfully, Grade 8 is a chance to wipe the slate clean and to start afresh.  Many young people consider approaching high school with a new persona and plan to engage more in extra-mural activities, be more confident or assertive and be better behaved to ensure better relationships with authority figures.

Grade 8 is a chance for learners to decide who they want to be and to choose friends who will support them and their personal development.

Grade 8 learners are not ready to choose subjects and in all probability not ready to choose their career.  They need to remain open to experience and to learn by watching and listening.

Grade 8s may benefit from consulting a psychologist for assistance with handling aspects of adjustments such as inter-personal relationships, intra-personal issues, bullying, study skills and time management, as these issues if left unaddressed, may impact a learner throughout their high school years.

Grade 9

Interestingly, Grade 9 can be a turbulent year for learners as they begin the transition to the next high school phase (FET Phase). They often lack maturity and self-discipline to stay focused. Around mid-way through the year they are required to choose their matric subjects. They need to engage with a range of subjects in order to explore the subjects that are likely to provide them with the greatest satisfaction. On occasion, a learner’s immaturity leads to choosing a subject because they like the teacher!

So what are the questions that need to be answered when selecting subjects:

  1. What subjects keep as many doors open as possible?
  2. Can I keep at least one science (physical science and / or life science)?
  3. What subject do I want to do because I just love it? (Note: not every subject has to count towards a career)
  4. What subject am I good at that is likely to raise my overall aggregate?

Generally we suggest that a learner continues with core Mathematics if they are coping with maths in Grade 9. It can be re-evaluated at a later stage.

Physical Sciences: With the best intentions in the world, many parents insist that their teenagers do physical science for matric, because it opens so many doors. However, if they are already struggling with it in Grade 9, taking Physical Sciences can be counter-productive, as it often results in their matric aggregate being too low to gain entrance for either a science or non-science related course at a university or university of technology.

Our advice is that when a learner is unsure of a subject choice, continue with the subject for Grade 10 and then re-evaluate it and make changes for Grade 11.

Lynn offers a subject choice assessment package, which helps learners and their parents to negotiate the factors that need to be addressed in order to make wise and informed subject choices (

Grade 10

Grade 10 is in interesting year.  Many learners report ‘falling off the wagon’ academically in Grade 10. Some learners never recover in time to achieve the Grade 11 results that are required for entry into the tertiary institution of their choice.  Somehow being neither the juniors nor the seniors at school tends to lull Grade 10s into a state of complacency where there is no sense of urgency.   However it is hard to move from a lethargic attitude of doing ‘just enough to get by’ in Grade 10 to the academic rigors and importance of achieving strong year-end results needed by the end of Grade 11.

Grade 10 is a great time for learners to find their identities, to extend themselves and to develop new skills, without the academic pressure of Grade 11.  If a learner wants to be on a student council, running a society or in a specific sports team in matric, the process has to start in Grade 10.  Nobody is impressed by a candidate who only emerges from the woodwork in Grade 11!

Grade 11

Crunch time!

The transition from Grade 10 to Grade 11 is very demanding.  There is the pressure of the awareness that achieving one’s career dreams can be severely affected by an adverse Grade 11 result.  Learners who have not yet developed a good work ethic, study methods and time management skills, have to increase their pace dramatically or be left behind.  The pressure of deadlines increases along with the complexity of the learning material.  Coupled with psycho-social factors, learners are also competing for leadership roles, organisation of the matric dance and engaging tentatively in exploring study and career options through work shadow experiences and attending career exhibitions.

Lynn offers a Career Development Assessment to learners in Grade 11 (optimally it can be done from mid Grade 11 as well as in matric).  This assessment involves developing a 360 degree picture of the learner (personality, aptitude, values, and interests) through a combination of psychometric testing and an in-depth career interview.  The written report and feedback session portrays a holistic picture of the learner and offers insights into the sort of career the picture indicates. Information is also provided regarding study courses and educational institutions.

So Grade 11s, our message to you is that while you cannot apply for a study course when in your Grade 11 year, you can:

  • Work very hard to ensure that you achieve the required results at the end of Grade 11
  • Develop the sort of work ethic and time management skills that will enable you to cope in matric
  • Start evaluating your extra-mural, social media usage and social calendar. Some culling might be required at this stage.  Decide which activities you want to pursue in your matric year and which will simply put too much strain on your time.
  • If you plan to take a gap year, devise a workable plan. Apply for “stooging” or exchange programs, get your SA passport and apply for an ancestral visa (if applicable), look into volunteering opportunities, start training to work on yachts. Make sure the friends who say they will join you are totally committed and you are not dumped at the last minute.
  • Investigate bursaries and finance now.  In most cases, you will need to apply early in your Grade 12 year.
  • If you feel that you might be moving towards a study course that will require a portfolio (e.g. architecture, visual arts, design), start thinking about it now.  Matric is too busy for you to only start the process in Grade 12.
  • If you start a vacation job like waitering in your end-of-year holidays, be careful of becoming so committed to the idea of earning your own money that you decide to continue with it at weekends during your matric year.  Many matriculants who have done this, have ended the year with extra money for Plett Rage but with a matric result that opens no doors!

Grade 12

This should be a totally awesome year!

Although you will work fiendishly hard all the time, the friendships with fellow-learners and staff will reach a depth that will sustain you through your matric year and in the years that follow.

Through handling pressure, learning to prioritise, public speaking, taking on leadership roles, engaging in future planning, the execution of these plans and applying to high education institutions, together with the tensions that these activities often bring, can only help a learner to develop their life skills. Learners are encouraged to do as much of the application process as possible, so that they engage with the requirements, content of the various courses and develop an insight into the institutions. Many universities expect the learners themselves to phone with questions rather than leaving it to their parents.

If they plan to attend a university, it is important that learners remember they need to book and complete the National Benchmark Tests ( This may also be required by some of the other educational institutions.   We usually recommend that it is done mid-year, although some learners choose to write it earlier in the year to enable them to rewrite if necessary. Some but not all universities will consider a second attempt and may take the better result of the two.

Important Points to Consider:

If you need funding via a bursary, NSFAS or bank loan, make enquiries in the first term.

Check the closing dates for applications.

Do not presume or listen to other learners… check!

Some courses need additional features like a motivational letter or portfolio, so start the process in the March/April holidays.

Do not apply to only one place or for only one course. Always have a good Plan B in place.

If learners are unsure whether they want to study or want to take a gap year, apply anyway.  This will provide a backup if the gap year plans do not come to fruition.  It will also give an indication of whether the learner would have gained a place or not.  If the learner decides to defer their application and take a gap year, they need to notify the educational institution.  A university that has offered a learner a place will not roll over an offer to the next year. Some universities will require a new application, while others are willing to include the application in the batch for the following year.  But there in no guarantee that an offer will be made again if the entry criteria have risen or there is a particularly strong cohort of applicants.

If the matric learner is battling to make plans and decisions regarding their future and they have not engaged in any formal career assessment, it can still be done but as early in the year as possible.  Bookings can be made on this website or