Going to college: Do your homework on college courses before attending open days
Researching college choices can, at times, seem like an overwhelming task that is often exacerbated by mountains of homework and study.
It is, however, a necessary task and one that should not be neglected. Students engaging in this process should find attending college open days extremely useful.
However, many young people complain that they did not find the open day very helpful despite the huge effort to which colleges go in order to ensure the best experience possible. With a little probing, I often discover this may be due to lack of preparation on the part of the student.
Campuses are large places; there is always a lot to see and do. If students want to make the most of the opportunity of visiting a campus, a small amount of preparation can result in massive gain.
Begin looking up dates now! Some colleges such as Queen's University, Belfast, have already held open days and others are coming soon.
Colleges can offer as many as 50 or more courses but even if students plan to visit a small college it is essential to complete some research before attending. This may seem basic but, all too often, students underestimate how large and different these institutions are. Additionally, although there are talks etc to attend, it is up to students themselves to find the answers to their particular questions.
So, begin at home. Take out the prospectus or head to the website. Explore the list of courses on offer and read the descriptions. Don't presume to know what a course is from the title and, at least, skim all courses even if the title suggests it may not be for you. Remember the goal is to find as many 'maybe' courses as possible to fill all slots on the CAO form. You can narrow them down later.
Students should go through the course descriptions of those they find appealing in more detail, making a list of questions they would like answered.
Plan your day
Students should use the college website to plan how they might find answers to their questions. The website is likely to include a campus map as well as list of talks and contact points where attendees can go to ask questions. Print this information and bring it along with you. Make the most of your time there and allow for visits to facilities, such as gyms or halls of residence.
Don't forget to plan your journey to and from the college to ensure you maximise your time there. Take time to check out if there are any special shuttle buses.
Many colleges hold open day on Fridays and Saturdays. The decision on whether, and when, to attend may be dictated by personal circumstances, or distance to travel, however, whenever possible, students should avoid missing school.
Without such events, applicants may never have the opportunity to talk to lecturers and students directly. With a little preparation, open days can add essential learning to students' career preparation and are less likely to be an overwhelming experience.
Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin
September 23: Open Day - University of Ulster, Coleraine
September 26: Careers Fair - Cork Institute of Technology
IGC Midwest Careers Fair University of Limerick
September 27: Careers Exhibition - Borrisokane Community College
September 30: Open Day Ulster University - Magee
Q: I am interested in studying medicine and I heard that the UKCAT closes very soon. What is this and does it affect me?
A: The UKCAT is an entrance exam for medicine much like the HPAT. No Irish college requires the UKCAT for entry, however, it is popular with UK colleges including Queen's University, Belfast.
You may need to sit this exam if you plan on applying to UK colleges to study medicine.
It is worth noting that unlike the Irish system where all schools of medicine require students to take the same admissions test for entry (the HPAT), UK colleges choose from a number of tests.
The UKCAT is favoured by a large number of colleges so any applicant who is considering applying to medicine in the UK may need to take this test.
Interested applicants should first check which assessment their course requires. Remember the deadline to apply for medicine in the UK is October 15. Those interested should have a good knowledge of their course preferences at this stage of the year.
The UKCAT test is held all over Ireland but some locations fill up fast, which is why applicants are always advised to register early and to nominate their preferred centre.
Registration has now closed but it is possible to book or rebook your assessment.
There is no curriculum science element to the UKCAT, however, like the HPAT, it may be helpful to practice the test using sample papers before sitting the assessment. The last possible date to take this assessment is October 3 and results will be forwarded to the universities in November.