25,000 students set to attend The Irish Times Higher Options expo

Event offer students opportunity to meet representatives from over 160 college, universities and institutes of higher education

The ink might barely be dry on the class of 2017’s Leaving Cert results but for the class of 2018 that key decision on what to do with their lives after completing school is already looming large.

The Irish Times Higher Options 2017, the country’s largest college expo for second-level students, takes place at the RDS Simmonscourt in Dublin on September 13th-15th and offers students a great opportunity to talk to college representatives in order to help them make that choice.

More than 25,000 students are set to attend the event which features more than 160 colleges, universities and institutes of further education from Ireland and across Europe.

As well as Irish higher-education institutions, many of the main UK colleges are attending, including Oxford and Cambridge, along with a range of European colleges in the Netherlands, Poland and Hungary.


Further education colleges will also be on hand to offer advice on alternative career paths to higher education, while there will also be a big focus this year on apprenticeships.

While it might be a welcome break from school, students should go in there with their “game face” on as the post Leaving Cert journey begins here.

The Irish Times Higher Options is a firm fixture in the education calendar and this year’s conference will be the largest ever, with more stands than ever before.


Claire Looby of The Irish Times is the project manager for Higher Options.

One of the key trends this year, is the move towards apprenticeships. The numbers starting apprenticeships plummeted during the recession, falling from about 29,000 to just above 5,700 in 2013.

Under the Government’s national skills strategy, there are plans to make apprenticeships and traineeships an “attractive and respected” option for at least one in five school-leavers. The plan includes broadening the number of apprenticeships beyond traditional areas – such as construction and engineering – and into ones such as medical devices and financial services.

The Government is keen to put more emphasis on apprenticeships – just 2 per cent of Irish school-leavers are pursuing apprenticeships as a route into work compared with 60 per cent in Germany.

“The new thing this year is that apprenticeships are on the rise again – a trend that looks set to stay for a few years – and Solus, ESB Networks and the Construction Federation will be giving even more information on this to students,” says Looby.

Brexit jitters have led to fewer Irish students looking to our nearest neighbours in the UK as Irish students fear being faced with massive student fees hikes when Britain leaves the European Union. The latest figures show the number of students in Ireland applying to study in the UK’s Ucas system has dropped by almost 20 per cent since the Brexit vote, down from 4,750 students last year to 3,900 this year.

Currently any student in the EU can move to study in another country in the European Union and pay the same fees as they would in their home country.

If no agreement is put in place between the EU and the UK, British and Irish students could be faced with paying non-EU student fees when moving to study in Ireland or the UK.

Non-EU or “international student” fees range from € 18,000 to € 23,000 for most courses, and €45,000 to €52,000 for clinical degrees like medicine.

Both Ireland and Britain have agreed that any student who travels between the countries to study this September will pay the current EU fee rates for the duration of their degree.

So what kind of careers do the class of 2018 have their eyes on? In this year’s CAO, nursing, teaching and engineering recorded significant reductions in points, though much of this was linked to lower numbers of applications.

Points have increased across many courses linked to the growing economy such as construction, architecture, law and business.

Architecture, for example, saw one of the sharpest rises, as did other university-level construction courses with increases of between 15 and 30 points. While Arts remains the most popular course in the country, Looby says the rising tide in the economy and focus on apprenticeships means more students are setting their sights on what are viewed as more practical careers.

“STEM careers are still on the rise and the development of talent in these areas is being very actively supported by various agencies. As apprenticeships are being fostered again, it is likely that the technical careers that come out of these will also become more prevalent over the next few years. With the possible increase in construction in Ireland, the trades and related disciplines look likely to benefit, and new jobs could be created,” says Looby.

Looby says other than degrees or course choices, students should consider what clubs and societies colleges have in order to broaden their horizons.

“Employers get a heap of CVs and they could all have 2.1s, so you need to show how you are separate from the pack and how involved in college life you were,” she says.

Looby says while it's a fun day out from school students should come prepared in order to make the most of the day. "Prepare! Check out the map and list of exhibitors at www.irishtimes.com/higher-options. Have a few questions prepared for each college – there's no such thing as a stupid question, so just ask everything. This is an event of sharing information, so the more you ask the more you'll get out of it. And make sure you know the times of the Talks sessions you want to attend – get to the room a few minutes before the session starts so you can get a seat," she says.

And parents and teachers should also come well prepared: “The Irish Guidance Counsellors have provided a preparation worksheet for the day to their members, and this will help both guidance counsellors and students to prepare properly so they all get the most out of their visit,” says Looby.