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Should your child study at a South African university or apply abroad?

The cost of tertiary education

By Angelique Ruzicka

, |

Should your child study at a South African university or apply abroad?

The cost of tertiary education

By Angelique Ruzicka

, |

3 min read

There are around 12,000 South African students studying abroad and that number is steadily rising. This, says admission consulting company Crimson Education, is despite the complexities of applying abroad.

Rebecca Pretorius, country manager at Crimson Education, runs through the pros and cons of studying in South Africa in South Africa vs. applying to an overseas university.

What do students need to get admitted to a university?

Rebecca Pretorius (RP): Both locally and in the United Kingdom (UK), certain degrees have specific school subject requirements as a prerequisite to entry. However, universities in the United States (US), UK, and other parts of the world, such as Canada and Europe, also have more holistic admission requirements.

While high school results and standardised test scores, such as the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), are weighted, they are not the only component of a student’s application that is considered for US universities. For example, a large part of an application to an American university is based on extracurricular activities, especially those that have depth, show passion, and demonstrate leadership.

Top international universities also require applicants to submit a personal statement that details their interests, passions, experiences and even habits.

Universities in the UK, Europe and other regions require students to cover their academic activities, and achievements within their chosen field of study. At local universities, application essays and personal statements are not typically required, but they are a critical component for international applicants.

What’s the difference in the average cost of universities per year of SA universities vs. overseas ones?

RP: South African fees range from about R50 000 to R90 000 per year.

The US universities have the highest fees, with many institutions – not just the top private institutions – costing upwards of R1 000 000 to R1 200 000 per year, including tuition and boarding/housing. In general, private institutions are more expensive than state ones, with some popular state university’s fees being as low as R600 000, but also as high as R900 000.

The UK is “cheaper” with fees around R500 000 plus, going up to more than R800 000 for tuition only to top universities. You could expect to pay R250 000 per year in addition to tuition fees for living expenses.

A common mistake that South Africans with UK passports make is thinking that having this passport means that they will pay local UK fees of under R200 000. To access local fees in the UK, students need to have three years of residency in the UK, not just a British passport.

How easy is it to get funding?

RP: Another key difference is cost and funding. While opportunities for bursaries, scholarships, and grants are more accessible at local universities, funding for overseas study is limited. In general, South Africans will need to self-fund study abroad. While there are some financial aid opportunities, as well as scholarship awards for outstanding academic students, this isn’t guaranteed and may not cover full tuition, and boarding costs – except in rare cases.

International students will be eligible for financial aid in many US private colleges, while most public and state universities won’t offer financial aid for international students. They may have merit-based scholarships for international students, and this is often automatically considered when a student applies to the college. Those interested can find out more at

Undergraduate scholarships and bursaries for international students studying in the UK are less common, but there are some options. The UCAS website gives guidance on:

Finally, is there a difference between application deadlines?

RP: In addition to the extra time needed for preparing essays and extracurricular profiles, academic terms in the Northern Hemisphere start in September, while Southern Hemisphere universities kick off in February.

Students heading North need to keep a close eye on application deadlines – particularly for early application – to be considered for an offer to study. Applying early can have an impact on admission chances.

Students also need to factor in student visas, which can be applied for once an offer has come in. Some universities in the EU offer a pre-admissions process, allowing prospective students to apply for entry visas beforehand.

Universities abroad are substantially more expensive than local ones. For students with European passports, parts of Europe may be a more affordable option as students can access local fees at select universities.

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