Friday 30 September 2016

Pressing pause on my CAO offer made all the difference to my university experience

Lorraine Courtney

Published 23/08/2016 | 02:30

A 2014 study from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) found that almost half of young people regret the pathways they take after leaving school.
A 2014 study from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) found that almost half of young people regret the pathways they take after leaving school.

Hopefully you received an offer you can't refuse yesterday but you don't need to go to college straight away.

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You can do basically anything else instead, and in a year, college will still be there to go to, or not. There are no solid statistics on how many students defer their course but 432 applicants indicated to the CAO that they would be taking up a 2015 place that was deferred the previous year.

When students are sitting down to put together their CAO list, chances are the only things they'll have to go on are a few days of work experience in transition year and what they've seen on television. One in six students does not progress past first year of a higher education course here in Ireland, but people dropping out of college isn't even the biggest problem.

It's probably even more problematic when people stay in courses they hate, wasting their talents and their time. For every student wasted studying accounting, there could be a brilliant social worker or hairdresser.

A 2014 study from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) found that almost half of young people regret the pathways they take after leaving school. The study found only 53pc of those questioned three to four years after they left school said they would follow the same path again. Common reasons for their regret were their courses being different from what they had expected and realising that they did not want to find a job in their area of study.

In my final year, I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life but I knew what I was supposed to do next: I filled in my CAO and received an offer. Then, I panicked. A lot. I ended up deferring an engineering course but the following year reapplied for a course in English literature. Without that year out, I would be the proverbial square peg now.

Gap years were once the preserve of dropouts but were rebranded when Prince William spent a year volunteering in Belize in 2000. This year, Malia Obama is taking a gap.

Past research suggests that students who take a gap year before university get better results when they eventually get there and Harvard recommends its students take a year out to "travel, pursue a special project or activity, work or spend time in another meaningful way".

Author of 'There Is Life After College', Jeffrey Sellingo, told 'The New York Times', "Students bring up the feeling of doing so much in high school that they go to college burnt out already. They do the gap year to replenish their energy and head to college with a more specific goal in mind."

I spent my gap year first babysitting, then working in telesales and then finally teaching English in a Finnish village. You don't need to travel across the world to spend a year bungee jumping and drinking local hooch though. If it's a stretching, eye-opening experience you're after, you might well be better off getting a job. Working here in Ireland can be very useful, plus you can build up savings to fund the crazy college living costs.

Jumping into the world of work will give you a different slant on what motivates and inspires you. If you're thinking about studying veterinary science, arrange to help out at a veterinary practice for a year to prove you like it.

Even if you end up working in a fast-food outlet or supermarket, grafting on zero-hours contracts in dreary surroundings - you'll be learning how to hold down a job, get real-world perspective and treat other people with respect. You'll be more employable in the long run.

Shifting the focus from Leaving Cert exams to the entire world is a whopping change. Pressing pause on my offer made all the difference to me, in choosing the right course and having a great university experience in the end.

Irish Independent

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