Ask Brian: My daughter is just 17. Should she defer going to college for a year?

Some younger students may not be ready for the demands of third-level

Question: My daughter is sitting the Leaving in June and hopes to study social science in university. She's quite young – only 17 – and her guidance counsellor has suggested holding off going to college and doing a PLC course first. What do you think? Answer: Prior to the widespread take-up of transition year, the majority of first year undergraduate students were under 18. Today, only a quarter are 17 when they enter college, half are 18 and remainder are 19 or older.

I would not be concerned about your daughter’s age on entering college, but I would take on board her guidance counsellor’s concerns around her preparedness for the challenges of third level.

Many students who achieve excellent grades in school can struggle when confronted by the challenges of self-directed learning which college life demands. Success at third level demands a different skill-set to the more teacher-directed learning which our second level system fosters.

The shortage of places in most third level courses compared to the numbers of students who meet the minimum entry requirements has shaped how teachers teach for two generations now.


How we teach at second level may succeed in getting students the grades they require to get over the line into their preferred courses – but in the process, it may also leave them unprepared for the academic challenges of third level.

Self-management skills

A good guidance counsellor will recognise a student who may currently lack the self-management skills to thrive at third level and might suggest taking a further education course as a way of learning a new skill-set.

Further education colleges offer excellent social care programmes which would prepare your daughter for her social science degree choices in college.

More importantly, your daughter would have far more freedom to manage her own learning than she now does in our overprotective second level system. Although students’ daily attendance is monitored, there are no calls home to parents or parent teacher meetings for that matter.

Every month or so the course director of each further education programme should give the student feedback on their progress to date, and if their attendance slips a little, a letter requesting that they attend a meeting to review their progress to date is sent to the student them self. For students who may have a bit of growing up to do, this can be an excellent bridge between the worlds of second and third level.

Research by colleges themselves have shown that the drop-out rate from students who enter third level from this route is lower than from secondary school.

In fact, many students who secure their college place through the reserved places put aside for further education students do better long-term than those on higher points who entered the course directly from school.

Some parents may be reluctant to approve considering the option of further education because of the false perception that such a choice is an indicator of students’ failure in achieving their Leaving Cert goals. Nothing could be further from the truth.