How to reduce the cost of your education

There are no two ways about it - these days getting a tertiary education is expensive. And we’re not just talking about degrees in medicine or courses at private institutions like AFDA. You could rack up a pretty hefty bill studying almost any subject. But don’t fret, because with some dedication, a little compromise and some out of the box thinking, you can ensure that you get a great education without breaking the bank. Here’s how:


If you are studious and have a good academic track record, definitely take a look at the option of a scholarship or bursary. Keep in mind that having straight A's across the board isn’t always the only prerequisite to be in the running for one though. Thoroughly research the different financial aid options for your intended studies, noting the different criteria for qualification. Factors that may influence your eligibility are things like gender, your chosen field of study, household income and race.

While a prestigious private college may be alluring, it’s an option few can easily afford. Instead of setting your sights on one institution in particular, focus on the field of study. This way you can find an institution that offers the right course for you at a price you can afford. For example, you could look at The University of Johannesburg instead of Wits or UCT, or even consider UNISA which has quality courses for a fraction of the cost of some traditional universities.

While the life of an academic has a certain attraction, only those with serious resources can afford to go from one course to the next. If finances are a factor for you, it would be wise to choose a degree carefully, work hard and make sure you pass in the minimum number of years. Failing a year can be both an emotional and financial setback. You might also want to consider shorter courses in a similar field or explore options where you don’t have to study for too long (some cooking courses, for example, are only a year long).

If you are taking a part-time course or a course that isn’t very demanding of your time, then you could get a job to help you to pay for your studies. This could be anything from temping and tutoring to hostessing and waitressing or waitering. If, however, you don’t feel like you’ll manage to juggle a part-time job with your studies, then you could also consider working during the holidays. Varsity holidays, especially those in December, tend to be long, giving you more than enough time to relax and earn some extra money to put towards your studies.

If finances are a concern, moving to another city might not be an option for you. But that’s not to say that it’s impossible. You might just have to opt for shared housing instead of res. In general, it’s a good idea to see where you can cut down on your living expenses. For example, that room in a house might be cheaper than res in general, but it’s also cheaper because that way you can cook for yourself. On that note, learn to cook meals that can be frozen for later. This one habit can save you both time and money.

Textbooks are expensive, and there’s no point in buying them new unless you need the latest addition. Where you can, try to buy them second hand. The last thing you want to do is buy a set of new books thinking you will be able to sell them when you are done with them, only to find a year later, that they have changed the required textbooks. Get to know a few students a year ahead of you and offer to buy their old books before heading into the next academic year.


If the only way you can pay for your studies is to take a loan – don’t worry, you’re certainly not alone. Just ensure that you get the best possible deal – look at all the different options available and figure out which one is the best overall deal for you. Just be sure to read the fine print well (particularly around the repayment terms and interest rates). To learn more about how to get the best deal on a student loan, read our article on choosing a student loan.


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