Saturday 31 January 2015

Aptitude and passion are key to selecting the right course for you

Making that big third-level decision

Dr Tom Collins

Published 06/01/2014 | 02:30

Busy students on the Baking and Pastry Arts Management course (DT418) at Dublin Institute of Technology, Cathal Brugha Street. The Level 7 course is currently awaiting validation as a Level 8, honours degree programme, which will involve an add-on year. Among the first years on the course are Alison Loftus, a former pupil of St Wolstan’s College, Celbridge, Co Kildare and Jamie Lawlor, a former pupil of Hartstown Community School, Co Dublin, who feature on the front cover. PHOTO: MARK CONDREN
Tom Collins

It tends to be at transitional moments in people's lives that the rest of the world rushes forward with advice as to how to handle the new situation.

This advice is usually unsolicited and, depending on the source, frequently unwelcome. Polonius isn't so much hated as derided by those generations of Leaving Cert students who have studied Hamlet and endured his catalogue of advice to his son Laertes as the latter left for France.

There are those who have been so deeply scarred by this experience that they see Polonius's somewhat undignified death as just reward for his pomposity.

And so it is with some reluctance that I enter into your moment of transition as you plan your route out of second level and into third.

As with Laertes, this is your trip to France. Bearing these risks in mind it feels safer to share with you a view and an experience of the world of higher education, but to refrain from advising as to how you might navigate that world.

The most common, but not the only, route to higher education is via the Leaving Cert.

Fewer and fewer students look to the Leaving Cert to do anything for them in the world of employment. The great majority of those of you who sit this year's Leaving Cert will go on to higher education.

Once there you will cease to study most of the subjects you are currently pursuing and forget much of what you are currently desperately trying to commit to memory.

So, while at third level you will still be studying and doing exams, the similarity with second level largely ends there.

Currently, you are in a class which rarely exceeds thirty students; your friends are local, if not from the same town probably from the same county; your teachers know your name and possibly also know any brothers or sisters who might have predated you in the school; your teachers probably also know your parents and you know they can be summoned at any time; your teachers are concerned that you do the best you can in your exams and chase you relentlessly on that project.

You are probably studying six or seven subjects, some of which you like but then there are others of which you plan a bonfire of the textbooks on the evening you finish your exams in June.

This time next year as you settle into your new college you may well be in a class numbering hundreds. Your friends will be drawn from all over Ireland and even from around the world.

You may well be living away from home for the first time. And while you will not be free of pressure, it will be self-imposed, as external oversight on your study habits will have come to an end.

In many ways, unless you are entering as a mature student, starting third level is where you enter adult society, i.e. you are free to make decisions but then must assume the responsibility of living with the consequences of those decisions.

Whether through school or work, you probably already know the kind of things you are good at and the kind of things you are interested in. If you can merge those two considerations -- aptitude and passion -- in your choice of course and college, most other things will follow naturally -- even parental approval!

  • Dr Tom Collins was recently appointed chairperson of the Governing Body of the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT). Dr Collins has vast experience in the education sector having previously served as president Dundalk Institute of Technology as well as interim President of NUI Maynooth. He is also currently serving as chairperson of the Institute of Technology (IT) Blanchardstown. He is a former chairman of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA)

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