Higher Options: Prepare in advance and use your time wisely

The value of the expo to school-leavers depends entirely on their level of preparation ahead of the RDS event

Some 25,000 students will attend the The Irish Times Higher Options expo at the RDS over the course of the three-day event. Photograph: Alan Betson

Some 25,000 students will attend the The Irish Times Higher Options expo at the RDS over the course of the three-day event. Photograph: Alan Betson


Organised by The Irish Times and the Institute of Guidance Counsellors in September every year, the Higher Options conference, in the RDS, Dublin, is the starting point for many students as they begin to plan the next phase of their educational journey.

It brings together representatives of institutions and organisations offering students information on almost every conceivable educational progression opportunity available.


Its benefit to school-leavers depends entirely on each student’s level of preparation prior to the event.

This preparation will have been ongoing over the previous two years through career exploration activities undertaken in transition year and fifth year. The Institute of Guidance Counsellors provides students attending the event, through their guidance counsellors in schools, a comprehensive preparation document to enable them to plan their engagements throughout the day.

By working through this document, students maximise the benefits of attending the conference. Careful planning and an understanding of what they need to accomplish at Higher Options will hugely enhance the long-term value of attending.

Guidance counsellors provide students with details of various talks at the event, covering every conceivable topic relevant to progression to higher- or further-education. Timetables need to be studied beforehand as decisions will need to be taken on which talks to attend.

Given the hundreds of exhibitors and the thousands of courses and other options on offer, attendees should draw up a list of colleges or other exhibitors they want to talk to. They should also compose a series of written questions they wish to tease out with the representatives on the stands.

Each stand holder will, of course, present the most positive picture possible of the benefits of the various options their organisation offers. All students can do is engage systematically with each one and after returning home sift the information received to enable them to move their career-planning process on to the next stage.

Stand holders will not expect students to make a final decision concerning their future career options based only on attending a talk in the RDS or following a visit to a stand at Higher Options. But, for those who plan their activities in advance, these interactions will help set the agenda for each student in the months and years ahead.


If they have done their homework, many students will have developed very clear course preferences by the time they step into the exhibition centre at Higher Options.

Some might learn they are not likely to secure the high points required for their preferred course or are not taking the subjects necessary to meet the minimum requirements for entry. This is where Higher Options can be of real value.

Rather than feeling downcast and abandoning dreams of their preferred career, they will have the opportunity at Higher Options to visit other stands where they will learn about other options that might enable them to achieve their dream course by another route.

Some 25,000 students will attend the The Irish Times Higher Options expo at the RDS over the course of the 3-day event. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

There are hundreds of high-points CAO programmes across all disciplines which are also accessible through further education (FE) one-year level 5 programmes. Many of these FE colleges have stands at Higher Options. Go and talk to them.

Alternatively, while CAO points requirements are very high for many programmes in Ireland, European universities have a very different system. They simply require two H5s and four passes to gain entry to many courses which require more than 500 points in Ireland. Again, these colleges have stands at the RDS. The courses are taught through English and fees are modest to non-existent.

Open days

Once a student’s interest has been heightened by an interaction at Higher Options, consolidated and strengthened perhaps by a close reading of the literature, the next step should be to plan a visit to the college in question.

No Leaving Cert student should seriously consider making a long-term course/ career decision without visiting the institution in question and soaking in the atmosphere of the place.

Remember, choosing a course commits you to far more than just a set of lectures and exams over several years. Choosing a course or college is like committing to a long-term relationship and it commits you to a lifestyle and a range of social and extra-curricular activities offered by the institution in question.

Every student is different in both personality and interests. Some will revel in the cut-and-thrust of very large colleges, while others may prefer smaller institutions where everyone gets to know each other very quickly. Students who select their course choices based solely on the details of the course itself without considering the context within which it is delivered can often find very quickly that they have made a bad choice.


Having attended Higher Options now for more than 20 years, it has become clear to me that many students attend without having given any serious thought to why they are there.

They drift around the complex for a few hours, become bored and can be seen drifting up Anglesea Road with a plastic bag full of prospectuses, which is sometimes dumped as it becomes too heavy to carry. They will return to their schools the following day having received absolutely no benefit from their attendance at the event.

Before you find yourself in this position, consider the opportunity that you have at Higher Options.

Months of hard work have gone in to bringing together under one roof hundreds of options from the four corners of the world that will be open to you in September 2020.

This has the potential to be the most valuable six hours you will spend this year in exploring your future options.

Use it wisely and build on it in the weeks and months ahead.

Higher Options 2019 will take place at the RDS Simmonscourt, Dublin, on September 18th, 19th and 20th, from 9am-3pm each day