Preparation is the key to avoid dropping out

Choose carefully as the wrong choice can lead to a U-turn on the journey


Filling out the CAO form can be daunting for students because it feels like they’re choosing what they must do for the rest of their lives. UCC student union president, Eoghan Healy, advises that when choosing a course, it’s more important to choose one you’ll enjoy instead of trying to guess what is the best one for a job.

“You’ll find with the vast majority of college courses that the skills you learn can apply to any profession,” he says. “The CEO of Heineken has a degree in physics, Graham Norton studied Greek and Celtic civilisation and Des Bishop studied history.” UCD also emphasises the importance of picking a degree based on what you like rather than trying to predict what you’ll get based on your points, or what will be the easiest sector to get a job in.

It’s difficult to make these decisions in the middle of your Leaving Certificate year, and plenty of students make it to college before they realise they’ve made the wrong decision.

Progression rates
According to a Higher Education Authority study of progression rates in 2007/2008, an average of nine per cent of students did not progress to second year. This included students who were repeating. Universities reported a dropout rate between approximately one and three per cent in the first semester, with the dropout peak occurring for most colleges around October and November.

While personal and financial reasons play a role and often cannot be helped, most universities cited the wrong degree choice, finding the course too difficult and unrealistic expectations as the main reasons for dropout rates, which they say is often down to a lack of research on the course.

Frank Costello, head of admissions and enrolment planning at DIT, says that 10 per cent of students who drop out picked the wrong course, with another 15 per cent struggling with the workload or the learning style of university life. He says for those who are unsure, there are general programmes, such as common entry science or arts, that let students experience a broader range of subjects before specialising.

Many students choose the degree they think they want without fully researching the course content and the classes involved.

Students can also let CAO points dictate their list, putting the courses that require the highest points at the top. It may not be the one you want but may be the one you get if you do better than you expected in your exams.

Students who made their choices in February may have changed their minds completely about what they want to study.

For some, they are as sure as they were then, which might not be very sure at all. During change of mind, it’s important for all students to re-evaluate their choices and make sure they are the right ones.

Universities caution students to read each of their course descriptions thoroughly and be familiar with the subjects they will have to study. Students can look at college websites or call the college for more information. Finding someone who’s on the course or has been through it can also be helpful. Talk to them about what the course is really like from personal experience and you’re likely to get a better picture.

The University of Limerick also encourages students to look at all courses, even if it’s the same course in two different colleges. Although a particular course may have the same or similar title at two different universities, the content can vary a great deal.

Other things to consider include the costs involved, particularly if a course includes a year abroad and if it has a work placement. Students should rate their courses by preference regardless of points.

However, NUI Maynooth encourages students to consider courses with a specific requirement, such as a C3 in higher level maths, carefully.

If a course has a specific requirement grade, the college advises that this is the minimum grade required and an assumption will be made that the student has the ability to work off this grade on a work schedule that is moving very rapidly, perhaps over a 12-14 week semester.

Trinity College Dublin also warns against feeling the need to use your points. The advice there is that it is difficult to achieve good results if you are not genuinely interested in a course.

NUI Maynooth also urges students not just to understand the subjects on the courses, but the learning styles within the subjects chosen. Are there a lot of interactive seminars or public speaking involved? Is there a lot of reading material? This could influence your choice.

Several universities warn against a panic change of mind on July 1st. Colette O’Beirne, schools liaison officer at DCU, says it’s important not to over-react coming up to the change of mind closing date. Students often panic after the stress of exams and switch their CAO form around because they worry they won’t get the points for their first choice.

NUI Maynooth also echoes caution to avoid a “knee-jerk reaction” following exams. Similarly, John Hannon, head of the career development centre, NUI Galway advises against listening to stories and rumours around this time and that “playing a ‘points game’ is dangerous”.

Take the change of mind period seriously. Use it as a time to evaluate all choices and research each one thoroughly, as well as attending open days and talking to colleges.

However, if students have done the research and are confident in their choices, avoid temptation to change the CAO form for the sake of it.

Caitríona Murphy dropped out of one course to switch to another

“I got my first choice of arts in Maynooth,” says Caitríona Murphy who specialised in English, music and history. She enjoyed the course itself and the material she studied. “I stayed in college for all of the first semester, passed all of my exams so went back for second semester.”

About a month into her second semester, Caitríona dropped out. “I knew I really didn’t enjoy university because I didn’t enjoy going into college,” she says. “I was also extremely unmotivated to go because I felt it was extremely pointless.”

However, Caitríona is not sure anything could have changed her and says it helped her in finding out what she wanted.

“I had a compulsory counselling meeting when I dropped out and the counsellor asked if I was to do it all over again, would I have done anything different. Maybe, if I had known the number of people who don’t enjoy arts I would’ve thought about it more,” she says. “But I kind of needed to actually do one year of the course to find out.”

Caitríona is planning to move to a journalism course in DCU but she feels extra pressure having already dropped out.

“I cannot bear to drop out again, or afford to drop out again, so I need it to go well.”

She says she’s “starting to get excited again but there’s still that nervous feeling.”

Mark Geiran dropped out of college but might consider part-time study later

“My first choice was Computing in Games Development in Dundalk IT,” says Mark Geiran. “ I had a few other computing courses down after that but I got my first choice.”

He was happy in his course initially and did well in his first semester exams. “Then in the second semester things just didn’t seem to click. I failed a few exams and had to repeat the semester a year later.”

After repeating and passing, Mark then got into second year and things were fine until his second semester when he started to struggle again.

“There was a lot of artwork involved that I hadn’t expected and didn’t have an interest in.” Mark’s problems with art meant he had to repeat the semester a year later.

Four years in and Mark went back again. “I just didn’t enjoy it any more. I decided it wasn’t for me and that I didn’t want to keep going with it for the sake of it.”

Since dropping out, Mark has been working full time in a warehouse for the past two years. He says he’d never go back to full-time education after working for so long but is considering part-time courses. “I’ve moved out to my own place so rent alone will keep me working.”

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