Sunday, January 17, 2016

Choosing College Courses #350

In the spring of 1978 I filled out a paper CAO application form with my top four choices as follows:

  1. Pharmacy (UCD)
  2. Pharmacy (Trinity)
  3. Science (UCD)
  4. Science (Trinity)

No doubt I added more to this list, but I can't remember what other choices I made. At the time I did not know that Pharmacy in UCD and Trinity was the same thing, UCD did not actually run a Pharmacy course at the time. I had 17 CAO points made up of 3 each for five C honours and 2 for an A in Ordinary Maths. Under the current system this would be somewhere between 350 and 410 points. Somehow 17 points was good enough for Science in Trinity, but not for UCD. With the limited help of a Career Adviser I made up my mind that since I was studying Biology and Chemistry in the Leaving Cert that I wanted to be a Biochemist. I really didn't know what a Biochemist was. I wasn't particularly good at Chemistry - I was good at Biology while History and Geography were my favourite subjects. Looking back I don't think that I was well informed about the choices ahead of me in the CAO process - not like the avalanche of information available to applicants nowadays. BTW - I remember delivering my application by hand to the then CAO office in Clare Street. No Internet thingie in those days!

Meeting Leaving Cert students at an NCI Open Day.
In the past week, Dr Derek O’Byrne (Registrar in Waterford Institute of Technology) wrote an Opinion piece for The Irish Times on High third level drop-out rates are due to disatisfaction with courses not ability (typo in an Irish Times headline!). In this piece he refers to Higher Education Authority research showing that "one in six students dropped out in first year". If this trend is followed we can deduce that approximately one in six CAO applicants this year will also drop out. O'Byrne also refers to work by the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning that "satisfaction levels with chosen courses is a primary cause of student non-progression". Clearly, if a student is not satisfied with his/her course, then maybe it's for the best that they drop out and try something else. Leaving Cert students are under tremendous pressure to pick a course - I'd hate to be in that phase again. Computer Science was not an option in my day, I would almost certainly choose that if I were filling out a CAO form today.

It's difficult to give advice to Leaving Cert students - all are different. They have different abilities, different ambitions, different motivations, different likes/dislikes. Around 60,000 students will be sitting the Leaving Cert this year and us Colleges in September will shoe-horn them into just a few hundred courses. It it any wonder that some will drop out after a year? There's no stigma or shame in dropping out - it is your response to this that counts and what you make of your life afterwards. My advice is simple - go for what you like and what you are good at. Follow your heart, not just your head.

1 comment:

  1. Good post, Eugene. Age or rather maturity is a factor. Because of when her birthday feel, my wife finished the leaving cert and found herself on a degree course at DCU when she was just seventeen. Too young. I finished my A levels and just dropped out of education at 18 and joined the workforce. I went back to get a degree when I was 25, and loved the three years I spent studying, it changed my life. I think it's much more common in the rest of the continent for people to work for a while and then return to study (maybe not quite as late as I did). This would lead to students making better choices, stronger commitments and enjoying better outcomes.