How to make the most of college open days
A large number of colleges will hold open days between now and mid-December. Open days are an invaluable opportunity for applicants to get answers to some of their more specific questions and to learn about the culture and atmosphere of a particular institution: applicants can meet students who are already enrolled in the course, as well as lecturers and tutors, and can experience life on campus in a way that goes far beyond the pages of a prospectus.
However, open days are busy events. The size of the campus and the number of people who will be in attendance can be overwhelming. Navigating a large campus and trying to find the correct person to answer your question can also be a challenge, which may result in some students leaving open days knowing little more than they did when they arrived.
Research is a golden rule for completing your CAO form and, equally, applies to attending open days. It may seem obvious, but many students do not do enough research before attending. They may have seen one course in an institution in which they are interested and have only read up on this before deciding to attend. There is nothing wrong with that but, once they have committed to attending, they should make the most of it.
Students should familiarise themselves with a range of courses in that institution (at the very least, carefully reading about the courses within the same department as the course in which they are interested). Next, they should make a list of all the courses in which they are interested, aiming to find as many 'maybe' courses as possible rather than just focusing on their first choice. Students should then jot down a list of questions they would like answered, or things they would like to find out about. This will help them to keep focused and to give purpose to the day.
It is also important to plan the day, starting with taking a good look at the college's website. They will often have a map of the campus, list of talks, and other events available. It is a good idea to print these and bring them along on the day. Students should take note of the time and locations of the different events they would like to attend, and plan their day accordingly. They should ensure there is ample time to get all tasks done: for example, time to walk across campus from one talk to another, or in case there are long queues to speak to a particular person.
Allocating time for lunch, to soak up the atmosphere and to attend non-academic events is also important. Students may find that two courses in different colleges are very similar and it is the non-academic aspects of the college that ultimately influences their final decision.
Students should consider taking public transport, especially if this is how they plan to travel to college. Most institutions have very limited parking but knowing how long the journey may take is an important part of the getting to college puzzle. For young people who travel no further than their local school each morning, the distance to some colleges can seem overwhelming. But, students are often surprised that the journey is not onerous, especially if well planned.
There is a worksheet available on Qualifax.ie that can help with preparation for open days.
Pick the right day
Many institutions hold their open day on Fridays and Saturdays. The decision on which day to attend may be dictated by personal circumstances or distance involved. However, when possible, students should avoid missing school to attend.
Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin
Portfolio information session - NCAD 6pm-9pm Free event which requires registration Everbright.ie
NUI Galway information session - Old Ground Hotel, Ennis, Co Clare
Open day (2 days) - Dundalk Institute of Technology
Open day (2 days) - Tallaght Institute of Technology
Open day - Tralee Institute of Technology
Open Evening - Shannon College of Hotel Management
Open Night Chemistry - University College Dublin
Careers Fair - Institute of Guidance Counsellors Kerry, Malton Hotel Killarney
Q. How do I begin my CAO application?
A. It is very simple to open your CAO application, and you are not required to enter any course just yet. To begin, you will need to go to the CAO website and have a credit or debit card. If you do not have access to a credit or debit card, you can request a bank giro, which will allow you to pay the registration fee with cash in any bank. Your guidance counsellor can help you with this.