Discovering the best course option for you

You’ll be spending several years of your life at college. Open days give you a chance to assess how good a fit your choices could be

Make sure you inspect the facilities at your institution of choice. Photograph: iStockphoto.

Make sure you inspect the facilities at your institution of choice. Photograph: iStockphoto.


Prospective third-level or further education students have a busy time ahead of them as they consider what course and campus to opt for before they fill out the 2017 CAO form.

Most are likely to have secured a copy of the CAO handbook in the past few weeks and those that haven’t can get a copy from the Central Applications Office in Galway (

They have until July 1st 2017, a week or so after the Leaving Certificate finishes, to commit to one specific course as their first choice. Over the coming months, colleges will try to attract their custom with open days.

Several thousand Irish students still apply for courses in Northern Ireland (particularly true for those who living near the Border), Scotland (where Irish students pay no fees) and, in some cases, England, notwithstanding the £9,000 (€12,500) plus yearly fees.

Most of these applications are through the UK Universities and Colleges Admissions Service ( Any implications of Brexit will not affect students securing places in 2017 as they will secure the current terms and conditions for the full duration of their course.

A growing number of students will also consider more than 1,000 courses taught through English in EU universities. These tend to be easier to get into because of many of the countries’ low birth rates, which mean they have fewer students of their own.

Cheaper flights mean more Irish students and parents are now attending open days at EU continental universities. You can find out more from the European Universities Central Application Support Service (

Some school-leavers may even consider studying farther afield, such as in the US or Australia.

When exploring your college options, be aware that the content of the course is only a small part of what you will experience when you arrive on registration day. You will be entering a community that will help shape you for the rest of your life.

Selecting a course that will commit you to living your life within that community for at least three years should be considered very carefully.

The only way to evaluate whether a college is right for you is to explore all aspects of campus life as fully as you can on its open day and see whether it feels right. This is more than an intellectual exercise.

It can be hard to see the true nature of a college’s life from a single visit. Try to look behind the gloss that every college invariably presents during open days.

If you are particularly impressed with a college or course after an open day, try going back on an ordinary day and having a wander around, and see if its day-to-day normality gels with its open day presentation.

It is important to try and cut through the presentation that every college puts on during open days, and discover the reality that lies behind it.