Sunday 21 January 2018

Getting the best out of college open days

Career guidance counsellor Aoife Walsh
Career guidance counsellor Aoife Walsh

Aoife Walsh

The weeks ahead are very busy with open days and similar events that allow CAO applicants to better understand the courses in which they are interested, as well as experiencing the atmosphere of different institutions. Students have the opportunity to speak to lecturers and those already enrolled in the course. In this way, attending open days is an invaluable part of the research process.

Open days can also be extremely overwhelming. Third-level colleges are large, busy places and, without proper planning and preparation, attendance can easily become a negative experience or a missed opportunity. There are a number of easy steps a student can take to get the most out of these opportunities.

Know when they are

If students have not already done so, it is time to research when events of interest are taking place and create a personal calendar. Calendars of events can be found on and, and, perhaps, on the guidance noticeboards in school.

Try not to be restrictive. It can be beneficial to attend as many as possible. This allows students to compare institutions more easily. Many colleges hold their open days on both a Friday and Saturday. When possible, students should attend on Saturdays as it is important to avoid missing classes, especially during Leaving Cert year.

Prepare and research

Before attending, students should take time to go through the college prospectus in some detail and carefully consider the courses in which they are interested, including the pros and cons of each one and the differences between one course and similar courses. It is important for students to make a list of everything they want to find out at the event, including what is involved in any subject with which they are not familiar and how much class contact, practical work or group work is involved.

Plan the day

Before the open day, most institutions post extra information on their website, such as campus maps and lists and timings of talks and tours. Students should plan to allow time to attend the formal talks and tours, as well as time to soak up the college atmosphere. It is also important to visit the non-academic facilities such as halls of residence, gyms, etc.

Reflect, review and compare

Afterwards, students should take time to reflect, and discuss their thoughts and ideas with those closest to them. It is also important to compare what they have learned about one college with what they found at other open days.

Once students have attended a number of open days, they may find it helpful to make an appointment with their guidance counsellor to assist them in clarifying their thoughts and creating an order of preference list for their CAO.

* Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor at Malahide ­Community School, Co Dublin

Important dates


University College Dublin - Food Science & Human Nutrition evening


IT Sligo - open day

National Maritime College of Ireland - open day

Sligo College of Further Education - open day

St Angela's College Sligo - open day

University College Dublin - BA open evening


Coláiste Dhúlaigh College of Further Education - open day

Galway-Mayo IT - open day


Galway-Mayo IT - open day

University of South Wales - open day


Shannon College of Hotel Management - open day


University College Cork - parent information evening

University College Dublin - physics open evening


National Learning Network Roslyn Park College - weekly tour

Question: My guidance counsellor says I should apply for the CAO in November even though it doesn't close until February 1. 

Aoife replies: The CAO opens for application on November 5. Applicants can register any time between that date and February 1. However, an applicant who registers before January 20 will pay a discounted fee. Once registered, applicants can return to enter, as well as alter information until February 1. There is no 'submit' button on the CAO form so it never has to be sent.

Applicants are at no disadvantage if they begin the process earlier. If anything, applicants who register early give themselves time to explore the different sections of the CAO and seek advice if they are not sure of a particular aspect. Also, they are often reassured that the form is a lot easier to complete than one might think.

I would highly recommend applying online, and doing this earlier allows applicants to revisit their order of preference lists. This helps applicants consider why they have chosen this order and if it is right for them.

Irish Independent

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