After Christmas – and especially in April – the Leaving Cert requirements have a devious habit of invading you, leaving you a little less time to consider courses and career options. It therefore makes sense to use your time wisely: open days are a good opportunity to learn as much as possible about the courses that interest you.
But how do you go about it? Once you’ve identified the courses that grab your attention, open houses are usually structured to allow you to talk to tutors, lecturers, and ideally other students in the course. Here are some of the questions you should be asking yourself – and they are.
1 What do you like?
âI start by sitting down with my students, asking them to review what subjects they are currently studying and what they enjoy most,â says Betty McLaughlin, former president of the Institute of Guidance Counselors and counselor of orientation in Mullingar, Co Westmeath. “If they do six subjects and can choose two that they like, it can give them an idea of ââwhat areas they are interested in or for which they are good at.”
Of course, the subjects that students take in school may not directly correspond to a college course: there is no sociology or psychology in the Leaving Cert program, for example, and although engineering is available as a Leaving Cert subject, a majority of students don’t sit on the subject.
âTake engineering or science as an example,â says McLaughlin. âYou have to be a problem solver, analytical and mathematical. If you do math with honors and are good at it – maybe alongside physics or chemistry – it could be a sign that engineering or science is right for you.
2 What did you do?
In March 2020, schools closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which means students may have missed out on any work experience planned from mid-March. That said, many of them may have had some work experience in the past few months, and it may have given them an indication of what interests them – and are not – interested.
3 What might be right for you?
Psychometric interest tests are not the ultimate solution, but they can give you useful direction to the areas that interest you.
âThere are useful psychometric tests of interest available at Qualifax.frMcLaughlin says. âIt can help you understand if you are more oriented towards practical areas or if you may prefer to work with people. “
You’re not locked into the results of any of these tests: if the results are absolutely contrary to your gut feelings and intuition, they don’t necessarily have to be a deciding factor.
4 What if you are not sure?
A lucky few already know the courses and career areas that interest them most, but many have no idea. This is where general and general courses in areas such as the arts, business, engineering, or science can come in handy, especially if you have already identified the general field of study that might interest you.
And, thankfully, many postgraduate levels offer broad, general pathways to these areas, where students can sample a range of different subjects before deciding what to major in next.
âI often try to steer students into these general entry courses,â says McLaughlin. âThey can get an overview of each module by the end of the first or second year and that makes them better informed about what really interests them. But that said, there are also specialized courses – like politics with philosophy and economics, or genetics, or chemical engineering – that they can access from the first year, and some students will be sure from the start that it is. ‘is the right call for them. “
5 What do the modules look like?
This is perhaps the most important question a future student can ask. Because, of course, the whole subject may seem interesting from afar, but it’s only when you get up close and look at exactly what you’re going to study that you can really tell if you’ll enjoy it.
A module is an autonomous unit of study within a program. The History program at University College Dublin, for example, includes modules on Nazi Germany, Islam, and Christianity in the Middle Ages, or as in UCD’s history course, Living, love and die in 19th century Ireland. At the University of Limerick, the joint course in Biological and Biological Sciences includes, in the first year, modules on General Chemistry, Laboratory Calculations, and Biology for the Biosciences, among others.
âGo through the modules, be aware of what you are going to study and ask: will this turn me on? McLaughlin suggests. “Am I sure I will be successful in this course?” Will it satisfy me?
6 What commitment does it require?
It’s a good idea to know how many hours of âcontact timeâ – the hours you’ll spend in class and tutorials – as well as the suggested time you’ll have to study and work on homework.
âIt’s because you want to know what is expected of you and whether that will give you time to get involved in other aspects of college life, such as clubs and societies,â says McLaughlin.
7 Will I get the points and meet the minimum requirements?
âI always do a point forecast to help students get a feel for what they might be doing on their best day in their top six subjects,â says McLaughlin. “Many students have a good idea of ââwhat they are capable of, and [school exams and mocks] can help them. The Change of Mind CAD system is available until July 1. You have to be realistic about what you’ll get, and while your dream college might be, say, UCD, you might also be able to take the course at another college with fewer points.
While students have traditionally been able to get a rough idea of ââwhat the points might look like for a given course, based on points from previous years, the huge increase in CAD points over the past two years – caused by rating inflation – makes it difficult to know what points will look like in 2022.
McLaughlin, however, says there likely won’t be any accredited notes in 2022 and that points in 2019 may be a better guide to possible CAD points next year. But no one can be completely sure.
8 Is there any work experience?
A growing number of colleges and courses are offering a semester or a year of paid work experience to students – experience that can be of great benefit after graduation. âIt can also help the student enter a business when he’s finished,â says McLaughlin. âThere may also be opportunities to study or work abroad. It is definitely worth finding out about this in relation to the courses that interest you.
9 Why this college?
While course details should be critical to a student’s decision, don’t overlook whether the college – and the city it is in – is the right place for you. Affordable student accommodation is scarce and the Students’ Union Ireland, along with individual faculty and local student unions, have highlighted stories of students commuting for four hours or more each day. For many students, the cost of living away from home is prohibitive and this means that they might want to seek out lessons within a reasonable distance if possible.
10 Why this course?
âSome courses are more or less the same wherever you take them,â says McLaughlin. âNursing is supervised by [the regulatory body] the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland while the Teaching Council defines what teachers need to know. This means that the modules will be broadly similar. With this in mind, the differences may relate to work experience or study abroad.
It could also mean that for some students and their families who are considering their family finances, it makes sense to study at a more local college.
11 What other entry routes exist?
Go beyond level eight courses. Look at what’s available in level seven courses and if you can go from level seven to level eight. Post Leaving Cert (PLC) courses can also provide progression pathways to the third level.
12 Where will this take me?
While employers are increasingly accepting graduates from any discipline, McLaughlin advises students to see where the graduates of the courses are going to work. This may be available online while college admissions or career offices will also have tracked graduates’ destinations.