Higher Options 2020: What you can expect from the virtual experience

We asked Janet Stafford of Higher Options what the expo will look like this year

Students traditionally spend a lot of time researching courses and educational institutions as they reach the end of their secondary school days. This is a key part of making informed decisions about future career choices. However, like almost everything else in society, the coronavirus pandemic has impacted how colleges and universities can now deliver this information to prospective students.

Just as the pandemic prompted a surge in demand by business for tech conferencing tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, the quick shutdown of schools and universities across the country also resulted in a shift to online teaching and remote learning.

One knock-on effect has been that major events in the academic calendar such as Higher Options, Ireland’s main information-gathering opportunity for secondary school students, have also gone online.

We caught up with Janet Stafford, manager of Higher Options, and asked her what students can expect from this year's virtual experience.


What can students expect from Higher Options 2020?

We have aimed at making Higher Options 2020 as like attending the event in any other year as it can be. Students will be able to visit stands and meet representatives from the Irish, UK and EU universities and institutions to pick up information and ask questions about courses and college life. A full programme of career talks will give students the opportunity to find out about different areas of study, what to consider when thinking beyond the Leaving Cert, options for Further Education routes and how to get the best from CAO choices.

Why should I attend when I already know what I want to do?

If you already know what you want to do, that’s great! Many students are still making decisions though and Brian Mooney’s talk on choosing a course and career will be an ideal starting point for them on day one. There will be information available from other bodies such as CAO, SUSI, HEAR and DARE and information on further study options for those looking at that study route.

Why should I attend when I can just contact the university directly?

Higher Options should give the opportunity to speak directly with college and university representatives but also to engage with group chat on stands. You can learn things from the questions other people are asking. One of the great benefits of Higher Options is that it allows you to speak to many different institutions on the one day as they are all gathered together with staff waiting to provide you with information. Each individual student attending the event will get their own personal virtual backpack to fill with brochures and information – you can fill it with information from all the stands there.

Will it give me good idea of what college will be like?

Many stands will involve current or recent students who are very well placed to share information on what the college experience is like. Nobody really knows what college life is like until they are there but an event such as Higher Options, and other virtual open days that are taking place, gives those wishing to go on to further study as much information as possible to help with making good choices. By finding out information and understanding what a course of study entails you’ll have the best chance for a happy and fulfilling college and further study experience.

How do I access Higher Options?

Everyone who buys a ticket will receive an individual password shortly before the event opens. This enables them to have unique access for the two days of the event and to access material on the event site and in their personal backpack for one month afterwards.

Will there be a queuing system in place for each stand?

Stands will have a group chat function where students can submit questions and see everyone else’s answers. There is also the opportunity for individual chats. Like the Higher Options event some of the larger universities will have different stands for different faculties or schools so if you are interested in science in UCD, for instance, you can go to that faculty stand. It should mean less ‘queuing’ to have your question answered. The event will run from 1pm to 6pm each day. That means that you can access it during school hours but also on your phone or tablet later in the afternoon or evening. You might even let your parents go around the stands or ask a question.

Will I be able to ask questions about specific courses?

Yes. The universities, colleges and institutions attending will have staff on their stands who should be able to answer questions about specific courses.

How do I ask a question?

There is a chat function at each stand that enables you to put your question and to see answers displayed.

Will the responses be instant?

It is a little difficult to say. It will depend on the number of questions being asked at a stand at any given time. Higher Options is a very busy event and often it requires some patience when you are waiting to speak with someone on a stand. As we move to a different format for the event there will undoubtedly be busy periods at stands. Your ticket enables you to visit a stand during opening times on any of the two days of the event so you should have no problem putting questions to each of the exhibitors you wish to speak with during that time.

Will it be possible for me to get a prospectus?

Yes. Each attendee will have their own individual virtual backpack for collecting PDF brochures and prospectus material. You can also request to have a copy sent to you if you wish by the exhibitors.

What topics will be covered by the talks?

The talks will cover topics such as CAO, mapping a career with a science degree, options for study in Europe, careers with a law degree, Further Education opportunities and routes, nursing and midwifery, careers in agricultural science and horticulture. A full listing will be available on higheroptions.vfairs.com to enable attendees to plan their activity.

If I miss a talk will it be possible for me to look back on it?

Yes. Ticket holders will be able to access recordings of the talks.

Have you any tips for how I can make the most of Higher Options?

Put in some preparation ahead of the event. Visit the event page and look at the institutions that are attending and Talks timetable. Note down some questions you want to ask. You will be able to dip in and out of the event but make the most of the access you have over the two days to ask any questions you want and to collect the material you want to read back over afterwards.

See higheroptions.vfairs.com or irishtimes.com/higheroptionsfor more info.

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Iriseoir agus Eagarthóir Gaeilge An Irish Times. Éanna Ó Caollaí is The Irish Times' Irish Language Editor, editor of The Irish Times Student Hub, and Education Supplements editor.