Making the most of College Open Days – 7,000 students sitting the Leaving Certificate this year may not make it through their first year in College.
Dropping out costs money and is most distressing for students and families alike. These figures don’t take into account those who stay on in the system but are unhappy. As parents we travel that journey with them and I think it is fair to say that we are as happy as the unhappiest child within our households.
All research conducted to date tells us that choosing the wrong course is one of the key reasons why students drop out of college. Here are some tips for students to help them make the most of the College Open Days.
Be your own driver: Open Days are all about you, not your friends, parents or teachers. This is your journey.
Establish your interests: What subjects do you enjoy? These might be in school or outside school. Eliminate what you dislike. Look at the courses around your area of interest. Even if you are sure about what you want to study, you will need to find out more about your course.
Prepare: Develop a list of questions. This list will and should change many times over the coming year.
Research: The Internet is your first port of call. You will be surprised at the level of detail that you will find there. Refine your list of questions following each course search.
Observe: When you get to the Open Day, look around you and listen to others. Be discerning when you attend the various talks. Take notes and refine your questions again.
Ask: You need to get answers to your questions. The stands will have students, lecturers, admission staff and often graduates in attendance. They are there to help you but you must ask. Be selfish in your search for information about your course.
Check out the facilities: Does this college meet your needs? Have you thought about the location, student numbers, course content, teaching methods, academic supports, college services, opportunities abroad, internships, college societies and sports clubs?
Talk: While you are there, seek out as many opinions as you can and draw your own conclusions. You must find students from the course you are interested in. You will need to broaden your network outside of Open Day to find out more about study paths. This could be within your own school, family, friends and community. Look for graduates. They will be more than willing to share their experiences with you.
Invest: You need to invest serious time and effort into this exercise for all your courses of interest and all Open Days you attend. This effort will repay itself in gold.
Visit as many places on the college campus as you can. Get a good feel for the location and its environment. Remember, once you choose, you will be there for three or four years.
Evaluate: Look back on each Open Day experience and what you have gained from it. Refine your set of questions and follow up afterwards. Colleges (and the individual courses) are open to your enquiries all through the year.
Given the competitive nature of college entry, you will need to have a wide range of choices available to you in your area of interest. For all courses you plan to list on your CAO application, ask yourself one question, ‘How would I react if this course was offered to me in August ?’. Your answer speaks for itself.
Catherine O’Connor, Trinity College Dublin, works as an Education Consultant and is Author of ‘Cracking the College Code’, a practical guide to making the most of the first year college experience.