Saturday 19 October 2019

Changing my mind

What happens when your first college course isn't what you expected? Three past college students share their experiences with Clodagh Dooley

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"Maths was always one of my favourite subjects in secondary school," says Niamh Burke, from Cork. "This is why I decided to select maths-related courses on my CAO. When the CAO offers were distributed, I got my first choice which was Civil Engineering in University College Cork (UCC). I loved the course for the first few weeks, but I soon started to realise that I would like to do something which would allow me to work with and help people."

Niamh's situation is not unusual. According to a recent Higher Education Authority (HEA) report, it was found that 86pc of 2014/15 first-year undergraduate entrants in publicly funded institutions progress to second year. However, students from standard schools had a non-progression rate of 14pc. Non-progression rates include students who drop out, repeat, change course and defer.

While many students may have a clear idea of which path they want to take and have done research before applying for the CAO, it is not uncommon for students to begin a college course and start questioning if they have made a mistake.

After speaking with college staff and feeling confident with her decision, Niamh withdrew from her course, "Deciding to leave the course was very difficult, but I had to do what I felt was right for me. Before I reapplied for my next course, I started volunteering with Enable Ireland, where I met Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists and Speech and Language Therapists. It was through volunteering that I realised I wanted to go into health side of things.

"I thought about doing medicine but ruled it out because of the higher points. I love English and writing, so I decided to go down the language route. I ended up studying Speech and Language Therapy at UCC and I instantly knew I had made the right decision.

"I loved the course and today, I work in a private clinic in a multidisciplinary team as a Speech and Language Therapist for adults and children. It is such a varied role and is a perfect alternative for anyone considering teaching."

Feeling settled

If it is early enough in the first college year, it may be possible to transfer between courses in the same college, rather than reapplying for the following year. This usually works best if the transfer is between two similar courses, subject or programme areas. This was the case for Caoimhe Kirby, from Tipperary.

"When I was doing my Leaving Certificate, I didn't have any idea what I wanted to study in college. When you are 17 or 18, you don't really know what to do the following week, let alone for your future!" says Caoimhe.

"I loved languages, art and PE in school, but it was my English teacher who encouraged me to do something media-and-communications related, because she knew I had a love for English and writing. I put down Languages, Literature and Film Studies in the University of Limerick (UL) as my first choice on the CAO and I got it.

"While UL was great and I settled in straight away, the course wasn't what I had hoped it would be."

Caoimhe began researching other courses in the Arts department at UL and spoke to university staff about her options. She made the decision to change to Journalism and New Media and says, "it was the best decision I ever made".

Beyond certain dates, however, colleges may not facilitate such a transfer. If you are eligible for a student grant, the decision to transfer may affect your grant entitlements so it is important to check this out with the college.

Change of path

While Caoimhe knew she would work in the media industry after her course, she says she couldn't have predicted ending up with a job within the agriculture sector.

"A role came up close to home, for a marketing and media assistant with an Irish-based company called FRS Network and I applied for it. I went through several interviews, which were quite daunting. I was offered the position and, three years later, I am still here working as FRS Network's Marketing Executive and based in their national office in Tipperary.

"We have over 20 offices throughout Ireland covering different sectors: agriculture, recruitment, training, fencing and Herdwatch. I never expected to be working in agriculture - it wasn't something I was ever interested in! I have learned a lot over the three years and I love how no two days are the same. From article writing and social media management to attending events, I have gained a lot of experience."

Similarly, David Sheils from Offaly was surprised when he found himself doing something different than he had initially planned.

"I chose to study Medical Science in NUI Galway (NUIG) when I was filling out my CAO form, purely because I just wanted to go straight to college as everyone else was moving on. While NUIG was a great college, I didn't have any real interest in the course.

"I stayed there for the year, but finally decided there was no point going any further with the course, as I was just wasting my own time. I left college and started working at home to save some money for whatever was coming next. I play in a band in pubs and other venues part-time, so I thought about becoming a music teacher and decided to start on this path by applying for an Arts course in Maynooth.

"The best thing about an Arts degree is that you can choose different subjects and your options afterwards are very open."

David feels he made the right choice, "I felt I was more ready and mature. The difference could be seen in the amount of work I was doing. When I was in Galway, I logged onto the college's learning system, Moodle, about three times in the year - in Maynooth, I was logging on about three times a day!"

However, during his Arts course, David realised that he would prefer to pursue a career related to geography, which he had been studying, and instead enjoyed playing music as a hobby. In his final year, he considered music and geography teaching, but decided that spending another 2-3 years in college to become a teacher wasn't for him.

"We had to do work placement for six weeks in our final year, so I started working at the Department of Agriculture in Dublin, which I found myself enjoying. I am still here today on a six-month contract. Who knows what will happen next!"

Goals and plans

When you do finally find your passion, it doesn't mean you need to stop there.

"As well as working at FRS Network, I am now back in college part-time, studying at ProFi fitness School Ireland to be a personal trainer, fitness instructor and nutrition advisor," says Caoimhe. "Fitness plays a big role in my life and it is something I have loved since school. College has given me the drive to keep going and, hopefully, in the future I will be able to combine my journalism and media degree with my interest in fitness and health.

"Travelling isn't off the cards either. Studying abroad in Malta as part of the Erasmus programme in my course gave me a taste for travelling, so it is something I hope to do in the future."

David would also like to travel when his six-month contract at the Department of Agriculture finishes, "I am considering travelling to Australia and getting some work there. I would like to see some parts of the world. That is my goal, but time will tell!"

The CAO Change of Mind facility is in place so that you do have time to change your mind before finalising your courses. It is important to really consider what it is you want to do, so that you avoid feeling unhappy with your choice later down the line.

What can you do if you find yourself in the situation where you have started the course you thought you wanted to do, but are now unsure? It is important to speak to the college staff and professionals about your options. As part of your research into the different options, you need to be sure about any financial implications which may be involved. The rules on whether you will get further financial support towards your fees for another course can be complicated, so speak to a student finance adviser at your college. Visit for information.

Irish Independent

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