Friday 24 October 2014

At third level, many routes to the same destination

Third level education is like a set of inter-connected ladders against a wall, says Dr John McGinnity

Dr John McGinnity

Published 18/08/2014 | 06:00

John McGinnity

In the words of U2, after today's CAO Round One offers thousands of CAO applicants, who haven't got their first preference, might be forgiven for thinking that they 'still haven't found what they are looking for'.

On the face of it this might sound as if the allocation process which the CAO works on to bring aspiring third level students and higher education institutions together results in an unsatisfactory miss-match. This could not be further from the truth.

Taken to its natural conclusion, we must remember that applicants are advised to list their courses in their genuine order of preference. The counsel they receive is to 'set points aside' and place their courses in order.

Many students then place their 'dream' course at the top, through to more realistic courses in the middle to their 'banker' courses at the bottom of their list of choices.

It is inevitable that many students will be offered one of their lower 'realistic' choices and perhaps not their number one.

The higher education institutions do not, in any way, differentiate incoming students based on the preference they had declared for their course. There is absolutely no difference made between students who accepted a first preference from those who enrol as their 10th preference.

Academic departments receive online class listings of the students who have registered, irrespective of preference, and from the first day all students are treated the same, from first to tenth preference.

We must remember that there are many ways to qualify to be whatever it is one might wish to be. Often the points for a particular course might be very high and an applicant, who hasn't achieved the necessary grades, gets a lower preference.

Third level education is like a set of inter-connected ladders against a wall - one might not lead you to the top, but by taking perhaps two or three together you inevitably will be able to reach your career goal. These may be a PLC at Level 5, or courses at Level 6 or 7.

Students may be disappointed if they didn't get perhaps the specialist area they intended. But, this is often possible after first year if one has achieved sufficient results to apply for entry to that subject area in second year in that college or to apply to transfer to another college for advanced entry.

For example a niche area in science or humanities, whereby students who prove that they can attain good results may have the option of specialising from second year, based on their first year results.

In other cases many career areas can be accessed via a graduate conversion course after an initial undergraduate degree. Cases in point are computer science, accountancy, Law, Medicine and teaching whereby students can apply and gain admission to an area which they may have missed in the CAO allocation of places, but to which they can return to as a postgraduate student in later years having attained a good degree.

Best wishes with all your decisions as you embark on an exciting and fulfilling college experience!

Irish Independent

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