The pandemic has seen to it that Higher Options, Ireland’s main information-gathering opportunity for secondary school students, cannot be held in its traditional format this year.
Instead, The Irish Times will bring Ireland’s top universities under the one digital roof. On November 4th and 5th from 1pm to 6pm each day, thousands of registered fifth and sixth year students will log in to a virtual Higher Options portal where they will learn about college courses and chat with lecturers and current students.
They and their parents or guardians will have the opportunity to engage directly and ask questions of the schools and departments from multiple universities in the space of a few hours - no matter whether they are based in Ireland, the UK and from across the EU.
The portal will feature live presentations from academics and Q&A sessions as well as live chats with current students and talks from well-known figures and personalities on numerous topics of interest ranging from how to map a career in Science to what the future of business holds for graduates.
This year's Higher Options guest speakers include Brian Mooney, Eileen Keleghan of the CAO, Damien Dempsey, Aoife Moore, Lorry Kehoe and Anne Kiely.
The Irish Times will also publish a special Open Days/Higher Options supplement on November 3rd (the date of the US election) with information on how to get the most out of virtual open days and what to expect from college next year.
So how do you enrol?
Bookings for attendees and exhibitors are open from now until Monday, 2nd November.
To book a place, go to: higheroptions.vfairs.com
Stands can be booked up until 27th October.
Come with questions
Of course there is so much information now available about colleges and courses that it can sometimes be a challenge to absorb it all.
It is always a worthwhile practice for prospective students to take some time and do some preparatory work in advance of attending Higher Options.
First off, it is worth considering what type of college is best suited for you.
Chat with your career guidance counsellor or send them an email, talk to parents and other third-level students if you can. Research the courses that may be of interest before logging in.
Secondly, write down a list of questions. As a rule of thumb, it is a good idea to ask the same questions during each visit or at each ‘stall’ to get as measured an understanding of each institution as is possible.
You should try to tailor your questions to suit your interests and needs. Ask about the course! What are the academic requirements? Will the course make graduates more employable? What areas are covered in the course and how is it assessed? How will lectures be delivered and does the course feature one-on-one or group supervision?
Thirdly, prospective students should not forget the practical questions - while the answers may not be forthcoming yet thanks to Covid-19, they are worth asking. Ask about the accommodation options: how much does university accommodation cost. In the event of a return to campus this academic year, will college provide flexible options for students who only wish to stay for a couple of days in the event of their lectures being grouped together? How far are rooms from the campus, and how much should students budget for them?
Fourthly, students with particular needs should seek relevant information: for example, are you in any way adversely affected by distance learning, do you have special audio-visual requirements? Do you have the right equipment to work remotely and do you have access to a broadband connection? Again, in the event of a return to campus, is it accessible enough, is it wheelchair-friendly, does the college in question have transition and support programmes in place?