Wednesday 11 December 2019

Trying to find the right college course? How parents can give a helping hand

There are many practical ways to support a student in finding the right course writes Catherine O'Connor

Pic Paul Sharp/SHARPPIX
Pic Paul Sharp/SHARPPIX

Completing the CAO application can be a daunting experience for both parents and students alike, but it doesn't have to be this way. As parents, we must remember that the student is the most important person in all of this discussion. Choosing a good study path requires a lot of time and patience.

Completing the application at this time serves two functions: it completes the registration process and gives students time to focus, knowing that there will be plenty of opportunity to revisit the application in the months ahead.

Choosing the wrong course is one of the major factors which leads to student drop-out at college. Each year, I meet a lot of these students attending colleges nationwide who are disillusioned and find that college just doesn't meet their expectations, leading to unhappiness and a sense of failure. This can be difficult for parents and the family as a whole to deal with.

Here are some handy tips for parents…

Encourage the student to take control and ownership of the search for college courses. They will value the experience more, work harder and get more out of it.

Be upfront about the cost of a third-level education. Students will welcome this. Who is paying for what? While wrong course choice is listed as one of the major factors in the high drop-out rates, having financial worry is also a major factor. Be positive. This is an opportunity to have open-ended discussions exploring life choices.

Pick your moment. Don't leave such an important issue to the last minute to discuss, as this will cause tension and negativity, and students will clam up. Take a practical approach to the registration - it's a fixed date with a fixed price, so get in there. Remember that choices made now can be changed right up to July 1, with the exception of restricted-application courses, which have early assessment procedures (check the relevant prospectus for details).

It's OK to work quietly apart in the search for the right course and college. It doesn't matter who finds the right course - what matters is that it is a good choice. Get out a notebook and jot down any information from your research that you feel might be relevant to help your son or daughter on their journey.

Observe what the student likes to do, the type of discussions they engage in, who they admire and why, what makes them tick. Encourage them to make their own notes. This is an incremental process. It's like a slow-burning candle: there are no instant answers. These notes don't have to be shared but patterns may emerge and may be useful points to raise in future discussions.

Asking the right questions is important. There will be many questions and, as the student matures, these questions will change many times before the final course choices are made at the end of the academic year. It is vital that students list courses in order of genuine interest. They also need to have lots of choice in their area of interest. Every course listed on the application requires the same level of research.

Given the highly competitive nature of the college entry process, students will need to have a wide range of choices available in their area of interest. For each course listed on the CAO application, there is one question that students need to ask themselves: how would I react if this course was offered to me in August 2017? The answer will speak for itself.

Catherine O'Connor, Trinity College Dublin, education consultant and author of Cracking the College Code: A Practical Guide to Making the Most of the First Year College Experience, available at and all good bookshops.

Irish Independent

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