Mid- year examinations are starting to occupy the minds of many students across campuses in South Africa. For those who are not studying this year and others who might be considering other options, now is the time to make big decisions regarding future education and careers.

According to an education expert, mid-year exams are often a wake-up call for students to apply themselves for the rest of the year while for others it will be just reward for hard work.

Dr Felicity Coughlan, Director of the Independent Institute of Education, which is responsible for the academic leadership and governance of education and training on more than 20 registered Higher Education campuses throughout the country, says the mid-year period can also bring the unfortunate realisation of a wrong choice.

“Many students might have now be realising that they made the wrong decisions about their choice of studies – or had these made for them – and know that no matter what effort they put in, the results are going to be disappointing

“The mid-year period is not normally the ideal time to make big decisions. Students should seek support if they are feeling a change is required because not making a decision could be more damaging in the long run. Most institutions have good student support services that can help a student or prospective student, with anything from generic study skills to actual course content.

“Peers or lecturers can play an equally important part in enabling a student to unlock the doors standing between them and mastery of a particular subject or field of study.

“Peer support is often most valuable as it is least threatening for students. But then it is very important for the student to select the right peers,” says Dr Coughlan.

She says students should not wait until the year end but use the mid-year months to seek help and support.

“In the six weeks or so that is left before the mid-year break, students and prospective students need to enlist expert assistance in their education and career choices.

Dr Coughlan says it is not surprising to discover that many students, who are struggling, might be doing courses that do not match their temperament or their aspirations or, perhaps most distressingly, courses they knew they did not want to do but enrolled in under pressure or as a result of limited alternatives.  Under these circumstances failure is far more likely.

“Young people register for courses for many reasons and some of the most problematic and common ones are associated with living out parents or others’ career dreams. Often educators hear, ‘my father wanted me to be a lawyer’ or I am just following the trend because everyone in my school wanted to do engineering. Some are registered for courses they believe to be the only ones open to them”, she explains.

But, she says, all is not lost as these students have various options they should consider including:

• To stick to the course and if successful to make decisions at the end of the year about future plans

• To change track at the institution they are currently studying at – if it is possible – and notch up new semester courses

•To consider making tougher decisions, which might include quitting the course entirely or to change campus and start up somewhere else.

“The various options are not easy decisions. Giving up  is not something anyone really wants to do,  but there are times when making the right decision to start again sets you on a path of success that you would not get from merely hanging in.

“The mid-year crunch time is a great opportunity to reconsider all your options – both for the students who are currently studying and those who did not embark on a course of study at the February intake. Particularly for the latter group a mid-year start at an institution that accepts enrollments will give you an opportunity to gain at least some academic credit in the year and will make the remainder of your qualification less onerous. The reality is that many students who did not start studying in February were undecided or did not get in to their first choice institutions – these students are most likely to benefit from the smaller enrollment groups often found in mid-year intakes.

“If students decide the best option is to stick to the current course at least for the rest of the year they should still make sure that they have a viable “plan B” for 2014. Far too many students find themselves with nowhere to go after failing in their first year.

“Even though no one plans to fail, the old adage of failing to plan really rings true, not only for school leavers. It is essential to plan ahead otherwise you could easily be caught short.

“The path to success is different and unique for each student. For some the best option remains to stay the course and persevere. And for others, the correct and brave choice will be to make the right change for the right reasons and recommit to the right path to success.

“The best course of action is to seek professional educational advice and not try to solve tertiary education and future career options on your own.  Failure and disappointment are scary but their consequences are less dire if they are faced as just another of life’s tough moments and not as defining who one is or will be”