My story: AnnMarie Crudden
Ann Marie Crudden is part of the changing face of third-level education in Ireland.
The 45-year-old mother is one of the growing legion of mature students going to college for the first time, and looking forward to a new career.
While Ann Marie heads to National University of Ireland Maynooth (NUIM), her 19-year-old son Warren is attending Dundalk Institute of Technology. "There is great banter between us with regards to studying," says Ann Marie.
After doing her Leaving Cert in 1983, college wasn't on the cards for Ann Marie. "I came out with a good enough Leaving Cert, but in those days many school-leavers went straight into the workforce."
There was no history of third level in her family. "The opportunities to go to third level were few and far between and I wasn't afforded an opportunity," she says.
Ann Marie, whose eldest son Bryan is 26, married and worked in a series of different jobs over the years, including in factories and restaurants.
Three years ago, with her family pretty well reared, the college dream became reality. "It was something I always wanted to do and I decided 'this is my time'." So Ann Marie embarked on a Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) Level 5 Social Studies course at Drogheda Institute of Further Education (DIFE), the height of her academic ambition at the time.
But after sailing through the year with 10 distinctions, and with the encouragement of her teachers, Ann Marie applied through the CAO and was accepted to NUIM, where she is entering the third year of her degree in Anthropology and Medieval Irish.
"All the time I challenge myself," says Ann Marie, who, as well as studying, has been elected first female president of the mature student organisation in Maynooth.
All going well, next year, Ann Marie hopes to do a postgraduate qualification and take up a career teaching adults. She has already had some practice as, following her outstanding FETAC results, she taught night classes at DIFE. However, she ultimately had to give it up because of her own studies.
"I love the student experience at NUIM," she says. "It caters for mature students extremely well."
This year, almost one in five of the 77,628 CAO applicants were mature students, aged over 23, a figure that has grown rapidly in recent years and is up 17pc on the 2009 figure.