Monday 9 December 2019

Don't make the same mistake I did when choosing your college course

I picked the wrong course in the wrong college. Sixth year was hectic. I could focus only on getting the points and, with some luck, getting into college.

I was excited about the future. Given the stress of the studying, the exams, and then the results, I was sure that whatever lay ahead would be better.

When it came around to filling out my CAO form, I thought I had done adequate research: I attended the open days, I spoke to my guidance counsellor and was confident my chosen degree would steer me in the right direction.

However, I ended up choosing a course that was not for me. The focus at university level was very different than at school. The course was narrow, not allowing for much choice and the class was so big, I felt lost.

Taking the decision to drop out wasn't easy. It was time-consuming, financially draining and emotionally traumatic.

I switched to a different course in a different college and I am delighted that I did. But I still meet students who are, or were, unhappy with the course or college that they chose.

Some students had chosen medicine or law because they had the points, rather than for any love of the subject. Others had made their decisions based on the college, rather than the course. Generally, making the wrong decision came down to one simple factor -- people just weren't, or didn't feel, well informed. Three or more years is a long time to be in a course or college that you don't like.

If you are applying to the CAO, don't underestimate the importance of doing your research. With the right information, it could be the best decision you'll ever make.

Do not base your decision on points, but on genuine preference. Being motivated by the content of your course is crucial.

Make sure you know your module choices, know what the course focuses on, the sort of teaching methods used and the books you will be reading.

Does the course mainly use formal lectures, or smaller tutorial sessions? If you hate exams, look into how courses are assessed. Look out for year-abroad opportunities, if that interests you, or opportunities to participate in a year of industry experience.

Go further than the glossy prospectus magazines and the shiny photos. Go and spend some time at the college. Look at the facilities. Find out if there is a good social life and an active student's union; see if the library is well equipped for your course. The best way to solve most of these questions is to hear from the students living the answers to them every day. If you're interested in a particular course and college, you want to hear from someone who is in that college doing that course right now.

You have until July 1 to change the options on your CAO form. Dropping out of your course is not disastrous, but you will rue the time you waste, knowing that you could have got it right the first time.

Georgie Smithwick is studying Business and French at Trinity College Dublin. She is also managing director of, a developing independent online resource where students review their courses and colleges.

Irish Independent

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