8 Top Universities in South Africa for International Students

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Which universities in South Africa are the best for international students? 

Gone are the days when study abroad programs meant sticking to the West. Nowadays, you can revolutionize your education just about anywhere in the world. That’s why South Africa study abroad programs are one of the newest, but hottest ways to do international study. 

For starters, South Africa is the economic hub of the African continent. Students will have all sorts of exciting social and academic opportunities just outside their dorm. Plus, South African institutions consistently make up the majority of all those “best universities in Africa” lists. South African universities rankings run the show! So, you can be sure of a top tier education while studying in South Africa.

Man standing on cliff in Cape Town, South Africa

Yeah, you may want to send your mom a postcard. Or maybe 20?😍

Now, you may have heard through the grapevine that crime in South Africa is #onthenext. Yes, crime is prevalent. Why? Well, crime, poverty, and other socioeconomic issues are the residual effects of apartheid. Still, these are not reasons to avoid South Africa study abroad programs. International students will definitely need to be aware of crime hot spots. However, in South Africa, street smarts and common sense will go a long way.

Simply put, life in South Africa isn’t perfect (where is?). Yet, it’s a still a big dog in the world of study abroad. Universities in South Africa for international students continue to produce loads of notable alums—Africa’s shining stars. Why not join the ranks of Africa’s best and brightest? So grab your favorite sharpie. Then put a big ‘ole star next to South Africa on your study abroad list. Here’s why you definitely want to head there for your studies.

Why study at universities in South Africa?

South Africa study abroad programs are all that and a bag of chips (no really, you’ll be eating a lot of chips in SA!). So why are universities in South Africa for international students such a great deal? 

South African universities are melting pots.

Hey, the more diverse a college campus is the more good times to be had! Universities in South Africa for international students are known for attracting and enrolling students from all over the globe. Get ready for epic parties, stimulating convos, super cool new friends, and loads of opportunities for exploring different cultures.

Now is a great time to be a student in Mzanzi.

Okay, South Africa definitely has its hands full of social challenges. Still, the nation has made significant strides in the 27 years since the end of apartheid. In light of the recent #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall campaigns, local universities are working to be more inclusive than before. South Africa is also the economic giant of Africa; so basically, what goes down in South Africa has a huge impact on the rest of the continent. And bra, the South African entertainment scene is bursting at the seams (how do tickets to AFROPUNK Joburg or Cape Town Jazz fest sound?)! There’s a lot popping off in South Africa—24/7/365! 

SA offers the majority of the best education in Africa.

Studying abroad in Africa is already a brilliant idea. So picking up credits at the continent’s best ranked institutions will be nothing short of epic. Don’t believe us? Hit up up Google and search for the top universities in Africa for international students (we’ll wait). You’ll see that South African universities rankings reign supreme. If you’re looking to enhance your education, South Africa is one of the best places to do it. So, research those study in South Africa scholarships thoroughly—this is an excellent investment.

Your consciousness will be elevated.

Foreign students will find the contrasts between wealthy and poor South Africans to be pretty mind blowing. One minute you could be driving through Cape Town’s exclusive suburb of Clifton. And before you know it, you’ll be passing through a local township. As an international student in South Africa, your awareness of privilege will probably skyrocket. You’ll also be privy to the strength and perseverance of impoverished South Africans pushing, despite it all. It’s a mentality that will teach you about your own strength and help you grow exponentially.

[Use MyGoAbroad to stack programs in South Africa against one another]

South African phrase Dont be Kak, be lekker posted on board

In the almighty words of South Africans—Don’t be 💩…. be great!

The top list for 2018-2019

So, now you’ve got the 411 on why studying abroad in South Africa is life. Yebooo! Let’s dig into the top universities for international students.

1. University of Cape Town 

Study abroad in Cape Town means panoramic views for the gawds. That’s only a small part of why the University of Cape Town is a frontrunner in South Africa education. It’s got a top-notch rep for the strongest collegiac system in Africa. And, school admin are actively working to make UCT a more demographically inclusive institution. Not only that, the university sits at the foot of Cape Town’s Table Mountain. It’s why UCT is frequently called one of the world’s most beautiful college campuses! Also, as a student, you’ll be walking in the footsteps of plenty of notable alumni. Like Mark Shuttleworth (aka the Afronaut)—the first African to go into outer space!

Pros: Cape Town is endless entertainment, culture tours, adventure travel, delicious local cuisine... There is a lot of stuff to get into on the streets (and shores) of Cape Town. From the world-renowned beaches to the hipster vibe and art galleries of Woodstock, student life in Cape Town will never be a snore.

Cons: With all the cool things Cape Town offers, students might find it hard to stay focused! You’ll have to carefully balance work and play so that you don’t flunk out!

Recommended study abroad program at University of Cape Town:

2. Stellenbosch University

With about 30,000 students from over 100 countries, Stellenbosch University is another key player in the South African university scene. Planning for a career working to improve medical access for the underprivileged? Then you’ll feel right at home at Stellenbosch; the university is pioneering tuberculosis research. Stellenbosch has ten “faculties” (the South African term for schools). You can study anything from African studies and the arts to political science and theology. On top of it’s strong educational foundation, the university is located in Stellenbosch town—a community known for its sprawling hills of Western Cape winelands. *clank clank* And whenever you’re ready for some city livin’, you’ll be just 30 miles outside of Cape Town. Never too far from all the action! 

Pros: Your fam and friends will likely be making a trip down to visit you and your world renowned stunning college campus! 

Cons: South Africa produces one billion litres of wine each year, and most of it comes from Stellenbosch. With so much bubbly in the area, the temptation to get tipsy will be ever-present. Moderation is key!

Recommended study abroad programs at Stellenbosch University:

Three children holding a digital camera taking a picture

Oh the people you’ll meet. Need we say more? 📸

3. University of Kwazulu-Natal

Looking for a two for one college package? Do your study abroad at the University of Kwazulu-Natal and snag this deal! Back in 2004, the school was formed as a merger between two South African universities. Kwazulu-Natal definitely meets its goal of being a “premier university of African scholarship.” For one, the university is home to the Africa Health Research Institute—a national leader in HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis research.

Pros: Students with a passion for African water resource development will find themselves right at home. That’s because the University of Kwazulu-Natal is the only school in the country offering accredited agricultural (bioresources) engineering degrees.

Cons: You'll be living in Durban, the same town as the Gateway Shopping Centre—the biggest mall in Africa! Be careful about spending all your coins at spots like the mall’s IMAX theater or its Tony Hawk designed skate park.

Recommended study abroad program at University of Kwazulu-Natal:

4. University of Witwatersrand

Fossil buffs listen up! Study at the University of Witwatersrand and you’ll have access to the largest collection of fossil and flora in the southern hemisphere. However, the University of Witwatersrand is known for more than it’s global paleontology leadership. With over 3000 courses and 100 student clubs, just about every international student can study their passion. The school sits smack dab in the middle of Joburg. And it manages social projects aimed at improving the livelihoods of its surrounding communities. 

Pros: U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Witwatersrand as the second best university in the whole of Africa! Whoop, whoop! Wits University tuition fees are well worth the price.

Cons: Have an irrational fear of things that go bump in the night? Keep an eye out for the ghost of the 3.7 million year old human skeleton sitting in the school’s fossil vault!

Recommended study abroad programs at Wits University:

5. University of Pretoria, South Africa

Ready to experience the winds of change sweeping across South Africa? Feel it up close and personal at the University of Pretoria. Once an all white Afrikaner institution, “Tukkies” now boasts a diverse multicultural student body. Expect lectures to be a combo of traditional and online learning. And with majors crossing economics, education, veterinary health and more, international students will have plenty to pick from. After class, catching the breeze down Church Street is a must—it’s the longest urban street in Africa!

Pros: The University of Pretoria has a top of the line business school. And get this, the school was the first non-American university to offer MBAs.

Cons: Pretoria is known for its gorgeous spring bloom of jacaranda trees. However, allergy sufferers beware! The lavender flowered trees are known for causing some serious hay fever!

Recommended study abroad programs at University of Pretoria:

Baby elephant with trunk in the air

Trunks in the air—now wave them like you just don’t care! Embrace your inner elephant on this life journey. 🐘

6. University of Johannesburg 

You know it's gonna be a LIT academic year when your college is named after the biggest city in South Africa! With over seven faculties, the University of Johannesburg is surrounded by tons of resources due to its location in the business center of South Africa. Are you looking to have a meaningful study abroad experience? Eighty-six percent of the university student body is from previously disadvantaged backgrounds. That means you’ll be learning at an institution directly impacting local youth and the future of the nation. And when final exams are driving you insane and you need your spirit lifted, the UJ choir will not disappoint!

Pros: Last year, UJ recorded its highest number of grads. With news like that, you know studying abroad at this university is a fantastic choice.

Cons: Don’t forget that crime in Joburg remains an issue. So, take a look through the campus Personal Safety Guide and get familiar with safety tips. 

Recommended study abroad program at University of Johannesburg:

7. Rhodes University, South Africa

Thinkin’ small south town South African living is more your speed? Then you might want to take your international studies to Rhodes University. This school is nestled in Grahamstown, a small city in the Eastern Cape province. Rhodes is revered for it’s small-sized classes, making for a super cozy campus life. Plus, it means you’ll have easy access to bug your profs during office hours! Rhodes is also known for having some of the highest pass rates in South Africa. 

In 2015, the #RhodesMustFall campaign swept over Rhodes, as students protested for “decolonisation” of education in South Africa. The movement spread to several other private universities in South Africa, resulting in the lowering of tuition at some colleges. At Rhodes, the protests led to the removal of the statue of European colonialist, Cecil Rhodes. 

Pros: As a Rhodes student, you’ll be around all the exciting annual city events that Grahamstown hosts. So mark the June National Arts Festival on your calendar—it’s the largest arts festival on the entire continent! And if you’re an X-Files nut, be sure to attend SciFest Africa, another must-do yearly event in Grahamstown.

Cons: It might take a while for students from big cities to get used to Grahamstown’s slower pace. Not to worry! Just pack a duffel back and catch a bus to the nearby airports. You’ll only be a quick flight away from Cape Town or Johannesburg for weekend excursions! 

Recommended study abroad programs at Rhodes University:

8. University of the Western Cape

Throw your hands in the air and say it like you just don’t care: I am UWC! Social activists will fall in love with the University of Western Cape’s history of fighting for liberation. This school was a major player in anti-apartheid student activism in 1970s South Africa. Today, the legacy lives on, as UWC continues with its goals of dismantling racial inequality and bettering the lives of marginalized peoples. So, you’ll be walking in the footsteps of some pretty badass UWC alumni. The university offers a broad range of majors to pick from complete with a dynamic international network of partners. Enjoy hanging out in campus libraries? The UWC main library has over 400,000 books and a subscription to over 1,200 print and online pubs.

Pros: With half of the academic staff holding PhDs, you’ll be getting a crème de la crème education.

Cons: That balmy Capetonian life can be almost too relaxing. So manage your time at the beach with your time in the books.

Recommended study abroad programs at University of Western Cape:

Red sunset in Cape Town, South Africa

At the end of the day, the beautiful South African sunsets will make everything 100x better. 🌇

Next steps to attend a college in South Africa

Now that you’re the GOAT on all things study abroad South Africa, here’s what you should focus on next. 

  1. Look at a list of universities in South Africa to get a feel for the local scene. Then get in touch with one of our online advisors. Tell them your passions about what to study in South Africa. They’ll give you even more direction and match you up with the best universities in South Africa for international students. 
  2. Choose from the best study abroad programs in South Africa. Pay attention to past participants’ reviews, program/university reputation, location, and your ease of getting credits. Some schools or providers may even provide contact info for student ambassadors or past international students if you want the REAL dirt.
  3. Find out the cost of your study abroad program. Time to sit down with your financial aid and academic advisors. You will need to get all the deets on fees and credit transfers. And don’t forget to ask about financial aid, if you think you’ll need more funds. So, if Wits is your number one choice, ask about Wits university tuition fees. You can also hit up the web and research study in South Africa scholarships. Find out more study abroad funding tips.
  4. Pack your bags and head down south! Think about starting your own South Africa study abroad blog to share your tales.

Who knew finding universities in South Africa for international students was such a piece of cake?

That’s right. Going to college in South Africa is far from the mind-boggling task you once thought it was. Universities in South Africa for international students are ready and waiting to welcome you to SA. From the dynamic cultural scene to the breathtaking landscapes, this is an opportunity you can’t pass up. So what are you waiting for? Send in those South African universities application forms and get to packin’. Don’t forget to take some padkos (South African slang for “road food”) for the flight. You’re heading to the Rainbow Nation.

Browse other study abroad programs in South Africa now

Topic:  Top Picks