What do you want to be when you grow up?

Sounds familiar?

What is often a fun question and a game when we are young, becomes such an important focal point in our lives as we grow older. Slowly the happy children’s voices shouting “I want to be a fireman!” and  “I want to be a doctor!” fade away and instead you hear panicked whispers “What should I study?” and “What do I want to do with my life?”. 

While a very normal transition into adulthood, in South Africa we also hear “Will I get a job?” 

This is the reality of our graduates today. It is no longer just a game we play about the ideal job we want one day, it is just as much a consideration of whether we will be able to find a job one day. Even more so, will that job still exist by the time you are finished and ready to enter the job market? We don’t know. This is a defining characteristic of our modern society – it is often not just the future that is unclear, even the present has no certainty. Steady jobs are becoming more and more outdated as automation takes over, and new job opportunities require skillsets that we often don’t fully understand.

This is the reality for our graduates. Yet, we often want them to be independent and grow up, be adults and fend for themselves like we did. If one just looks at home ownership as one benchmark for financial security and stability, it is clear that times have most definitely changed. Not only in South Africa, but worldwide. It is very much a global observation, attributed to increasing house prices as well as increasing student debts with poorer salaries. 

Just look at the decline of homeowner ship from a local news article as well as an international article in the graphs below. 


So what does this mean for our graduates?

It means that you have to be smart about your future. You should always be smart about your future, but it is even more pertinent now to make choices that will benefit you in the future and not hinder your career or personal growth. Gradlinc has some tips and advice on making the right choices for your studies which will ultimately affect your career one day. 


Tips and Tools

So here are a couple of things to think of when you either have to make a choice for study, decide whether you want to continue with what you are already studying, or pivot your career into a new field.

  • Write it down. WHY are you thinking of this degree? Write down the reasons you want to study. Then write down your career expectations from this degree – what do you see yourself doing with this degree in the future?
  • Research and homework will be your best friends. Research the course details and the career possibilities for someone with this degree. 
  • Where can you study? Which institution offers this degree?
  • Find someone with a similar degree and talk to them about their career and their career prospects in the future. You can ask family and friends or teachers and lecturers to connect you with a mentor.
  • Visit your institution’s Career Office to see if they can help you.
  • See a career counsellor or complete an aptitude test. You can often find these at your institutions’s centre for student counselling.
  • Do a self -check and decide what is important for you to get out of your career. Wealth is not the obvious answer for everybody. Some people want financial security and enough time for socialising. Some people would love to travel for their careers.  Others want to innovate or create. Others want recognition, aiming to complete a PhD for instance. But it is important to check that your degree can meet your expectations. Also, think about work-life balance. Would you prefer to be in the office every day or have some flexibility? Does your career outlook allow for what you want?
  • Check the timeline. For example, you might say “I want to be a plastic surgeon one day.” So I will study to become a doctor. But do you know that you have to study for 6 years to become a doctor? Do you know that you have to complete three years of service before you can even apply to specialise as a plastic surgeon? And do you know that it takes an additional 4 years of study? Most specialists like plastic surgeons, orthopaedic surgeons, gynaecologist etc. study for a minimum of 14 years before they are finished. Do you see yourself committing to the timelines for your degree and career prospects? Are you realistic about it?
  • Do job shadowing. You can do this while you study if you feel uncertain about your degree choice. Very often you can change degrees and still retain credits from completed modules. Find a person through your network or the Career Office and get in touch. Ask them if you can spend a couple of hours or days with them.
  • Youtube is an amazing resource where you can find pretty much anything. Chances are you will find videos on “A Day in the life of a …” where employees, corporates, entrepreneurs, and people across various industries share some insights into their daily work routines.


Remember it is never too late to start over. And also remember that a seemingly ‘wrong’ career choice doesn’t have to be your fate for the rest of your life. It also doesn’t mean it was necessarily a mistake. Every encounter you have in life has the opportunity to teach you something. Learn from all your opportunities because it can both help you avoid mistakes in future as well as provide you with a uniqie skillset in your career. Education is never a waste unless you make it one.

Start thinking about your Future today