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How to Survive and Thrive at College

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Going to college should be one of the most memorable and important experiences of our lives – meeting new friends, visiting new places, a sprinkling of socialising - all underpinned by a desire to achieve a qualification that will give us the best possible start in our careers. So how is it then that so many Irish students are getting it wrong?

A recent Higher Education Authority (HEA) report has found that one in six students drops out of college - that equates to about 7,000 students – who, for one reason or another, decide not to proceed to the second year of their course.

Perhaps it is our second-level, rote system of learning that does not prepare students adequately for the self-directed research methods adopted by third-level? Maybe we are beginning to see the short-sighted cutbacks on school guidance counsellor services taking effect? Whatever the reasons, the consequences of dropping out can be costly and should be avoided.

If, for example, a student qualifies for free fees, but decides their current course is not for them, changing to another programme (most likely starting again in first year) will mean they will be liable to pay tuition fees for that year. Current tuition fees can range from €4,000 - €7,500 per year in most universities and colleges – that is a big price to pay for something that can be so easily avoided.

So what can you do to avoid becoming next year’s statistic..?

Talk to Guidance Counsellors

This might seem obvious, but many students don’t make use of the career guidance services that their school offers. Even with cutbacks, most guidance counsellors are available throughout fourth, fifth and sixth year and significantly, many will make themselves available when the leaving certificate results are out.

There are also many private guidance counsellors who will be able to dedicate more time to help make sure that you choose the right course – it’s their job!

Choose the Course You Want to Do

Many students will feel pressure from parents, siblings and even friends to do a certain course, but remember you are the one who is going to dedicate the next three or four years of your life to it. Be under no illusion, it is a big commitment and it does involve a lot of work. Be sure to examine your skills and choose something that you know you will enjoy and feel you will be good at.

Employment prospects are also an important factor. No one wants to be leaving the student union and joining the dole queue but don’t let that be the only major factor in your decision. In recent years, many students applied for computing courses safe in the knowledge that computing remains one of the more lucrative and employable sectors in Ireland. However, according to the HEA report, computing also had one of the worst drop-out rates – nearly one third of first year students didn’t progress. This could point to students influenced by good job prospects, applying for a technical course without the necessary skills, aptitude or desire to finish.

Factor in Costs

Finances are cited as one of the most common reasons for dropping out. When choosing your course, make sure you factor in costs that will go with attending a certain college – will you have to seek and pay for accommodation, are there other course fees or student contribution charges, and do you actually qualify for that grant? Here's a blog post for if you're worried about college fees. Also depending on what course you choose, you might have extra expenses – a fashion or art course, for example, will see you raiding your piggy bank for materials more often than a student studying business.

Research the College & Course

A surprisingly large amount of students will accept a place on a course in a college they have never even visited. Colleges have a large number of open days throughout the year and it is hugely important that the student (and parents) visits the campus so that they can get a feel for the place and its ethos. A glossy prospectus and wonderful website imagery can’t hide the fact that the Students’ Union is in a shed and the “canteen” is in fact, a chicken fillet roll from the shop across the road.

More importantly, you will also have a chance to talk directly to the course lecturers, college staff and usually past/current students who will tell you really what the course is like – this truly is vital in knowing what you are letting yourself in for. If you need any more convincing about the benefits of attending an open day, then click here.

Remember Your Options

Most students will find themselves being offered at least two choices through the CAO – a level 8 and a level 6/7 option. If your level 8 isn’t truly what you want to do but your level 6/7 is still in that area, then you would be wise choosing your level 6/7 which can often lead onto a full level 8 qualification.

The CAO also reopens in August with its Available Places facility and many courses that you may not have seen or have become available will be advertised on this. Even if you have accepted your place, you can still reapply and your new choice will supersede your accepted place.

Lastly, private colleges offer a huge amount of choice, excellent facilities and teaching, and can actually work out at the same cost per year as going public due to lower fees in recent years and tax relief incentives.

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