GOING to college can be a daunting prospect for any student as friends go their separate ways after the Leaving Cert and drift from a taught environment into one driven by self-learning.
In most cases it can spark a voyage of discovery, but for others it can be unnerving and uncomfortable.
For this reason it appears many students choose to study in colleges close to home, where they can tap-in to known support structures and help from family.
Some may be tied to a part-time job or trying to avail of free lodgings at home as the national accommodation crisis looms over many university towns and cities, making finding a place to stay near college increasingly difficult.
Data compiled by the Sunday Independent over the past eight years displays some notable trends, outlining where students prefer to study and their chosen third level institution's proximity to home.
An analysis of this data shows significant numbers of students from Dublin, Cork and Donegal choose to stay in their own counties to study.
Cork Institute of Technology's (CIT) student body has been made up of a higher percentage of students (72pc) from its own county than any other third level organisation over the past eight years.
Almost two thirds (62pc) of University College Cork's (UCC) student population hail from Cork.
Donegal students have demonstrated a longing to stay close to home, with nearly 70pc of Letterkenny IT students coming from the county.
Half of the students in the University of Ulster and Queen's University Belfast who come from the Republic of Ireland have an address in Donegal.
Dublin students have also shown a willingness to stay at home across the past eight years, but are evenly spread around the multiple universities and colleges in the capital.
Their reluctance to travel is demonstrated by the fact that less than 1pc of the students in UCC and CIT came from Dublin. The figure stands at just over 1pc for the number of Dubliners in colleges in Limerick and Galway.
One quarter of students at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art and Design since 2009 have come from the capital.
Further analysis shows institutes of technology are largely filled by students who went to school in the same county or nearby counties.
At Waterford Institute of Technology, 79pc of the students came from schools in Waterford, Tipperary, Wexford, Kilkenny and Cork.
This trend is also seen at the Institute of Technology Tralee, where 78pc of students come from Kerry, Cork or Limerick. At Dundalk Institute of Technology, some 73pc of students came from feeder schools in Louth, Meath and Monaghan.
For some years now, national newspapers have published league tables of schools, ranking them by the percentage of young people who go on to higher education. These league tables have consistently shown that fee-paying schools, gaelscoileanna and all-girls secondary schools 'do better'. But what does this ranking tell us?
The publication of secondary school league tables usually engenders negative commentaries, which take aim at particular types of schools. Gaelscoileanna, fee-paying schools, or schools of a particular denomination are accused of being "private", "elitist" or "selective", and they are pitted against "public" state-funded schools.
Parents are naturally hungry for information about the secondary schools their children may attend. They can read annual school reports, some of which are very good, while some are not. For years, they have been promised a Parent and Student Charter. Education Minister Richard Bruton has finally announced draft legislation which will compel all schools to consult a lot more with parents and to publish more information. This will include details of "extra-curricular activities and school performance".
When you drive up its mile-long entrance avenue hugged by ancient trees rooted between the many streams and lakes on its 500 acres, it's easy to see why Glenstal Abbey in Murroe, Co Limerick, has the best- ranked secondary school in the State.