Here's how and where you can complete your postgraduate studies for free

First of all, at least two South African universities offer free master's degree courses, so don't let costs stop you if you are in KwaZulu-Natal.

Then, although the thought of taking on a master's or doctoral degree may be intimidating, many postgraduate courses seem more scary than they actually are.

Let's look at it this way: A master's degree is 180 credits, so we will assume you spend 180 hours working towards it. Then, working while doing your master's is a norm, which means this chunk of time is already accounted for in your workload, so don't let that stress you out too much.

You can either do a coursework or research-based master's degree. A coursework master's consist of modules and contact lectures while a research-based master's is just your dissertation or thesis. You still have lectures, but they are fairly minimal.

Certain courses offer both, while others offer just one of the two. A Master of Business Administration (MBA), for example, can be either coursework or research based.

Free postgrad studies in SA

There are quite a few universities across South Africa that offer a full-time master's course that you do not have to pay for. Yes, free! Well, sort of.

The requirement for full-time study generally is that you work for under a certain amount of hours per week and that you finish your thesis within the stipulated two years.

In KwaZulu-Natal, both of the public universities — Durban University of Technology (DUT) and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), for example — offer a full-time master's free.

How to apply

The workload that you expect may be much more than it actually is, so here's a breakdown of a master's research-based degree in South Africa.

  1. To apply, you have to know what you want to write your thesis on. Then you fill out your proposal, along with other application requirements which vary depending on your course.

  2. After beginning your course, you first work on your proposal with two supervisors: Your main supervisor and a co-supervisor. These two supervisors assist you and go through your work before you submit it.[*]The proposal stage generally involves a presentation before you submit your ideas to the Ethics Board of your institution.[*]Once this is approved, you can start your treatise (master's), or thesis (doctorate) which will consists of several chapters. Your work will contain have an introduction, a review of the literature, methodology, analysis of the results of any findings and then a conclusion and recommendations.[*]You are examined on your thesis only.

Therefore, your postgraduate degree can, at least in theory, be completed in a matter of months rather than a full two years of your time. This does not mean completing a master's degree is necessarily easy, but it can be manageable provided you put in the time.

Think about why you are embarking on postgraduate studies. In South Africa, many students have a fear of being "overqualified". However, if the job market is tight, and it certainly is, then that master's degree may make sense, particularly if you know it will enhance your career prospects.

In certain fields it is essential. For example, if you want to be a university lecturer then the minimum qualification required is a master's degree.

Personal development

Personal development is also a good reason for doing your master's, as you will learn so much as you go through the process.

In South Africa, in particular students of colour, now have more opportunities than generations back, so there's no reason not to take full advantage of the opportunities available.

You become more specialised in your field and it is possible that the thirst for knowledge will never really leave.

You are likely also to gain a sense of personal accomplishment as you build towards becoming the best possible version of yourself.