Planning on attending an open day? Do your homework first

Open days let you gauge how good a fit your course and college choice will be

Freshers Day at Dublin City University’s campus in Glasnevin, this year. Ireland’s institutions have sprung back to life with freshers and second-year students on campus, for the first time in most cases. Photograph: Derick Hudson/iStock

Freshers Day at Dublin City University’s campus in Glasnevin, this year. Ireland’s institutions have sprung back to life with freshers and second-year students on campus, for the first time in most cases. Photograph: Derick Hudson/iStock


The country’s third-level campuses have been silent for the past 18 months. Small groups of students and staff may have been present for essential laboratory or practical classes but until recent weeks the normal activity associated with college life has been absent.

Now, Ireland’s institutions have sprung back to life with freshers and second-year students on campus, for the first time in most cases.

Unfortunately, as colleges are still exercising a good degree of caution in order to protect staff and students, in-person open days are still some distance off for some institutions.

However, all third-level colleges hope to be able to bring prospective 2022 students on to campus before the end of the academic year, because the opportunity to physically experience the college environment – even if just for a few hours – can kickstart the process of thinking about the importance of maximising your performance in the Leaving Cert, as you consider the next step on your life-long career journey.

It can also bring a greater focus to your interactions with your school guidance counsellor as you work together to identify the most suitable course option to pursue following the completion of your school life in June 2022.

Whether you experience open days virtually or in person, the key to successfully making the transition to higher or further education is to concentrate on the suitability of the curriculum content, college facilities, availability of accommodation, or public transport links rather than the desired occupational area or specific job which they may hope to progress to following graduation.

That task can become the focus of attention in four- or five-years’ time, when college life is coming to an end and the needs of the labour market in 2027/8 have become clear.

Basic research

Whatever the nature of the coming open days, you should undertake some basic research about the colleges you are considering and their course offerings prior to each event. After all, depending on the decision you will make by the close of the CAO course selection process on July 1st, 2022, and the course offer you eventually secure next August, you are committing several years of your life to this next stage of study and learning.

You have probably already read the 2022 CAO Handbook and are exploring all third level and further educational college courses on offer in Ireland

More than 6,000 students attended The Irish Times virtual Higher Options conference earlier this month, where they attended talks from experts in the field of further and higher education and spoke virtually to representatives of many colleges and courses.

Of course Leaving Cert students are not only considering courses offered through the CAO. Thousands choose to study at their local Further Education (FE) college, where they can secure level 5 and 6 QQI awards facilitating entry to employment or into those CAO courses which reserve a percentage of their first-year undergraduate places for FE graduates.

All FE colleges operate their own open days, often holding several such events throughout the academic year.

Several thousand Irish students will apply for courses in Northern Ireland (particularly those living near the Border), Scotland or, in some cases, England, notwithstanding the £9,250 yearly fees.

These applications are made through the UK Universities and Colleges Admissions Service ( Some 2,200 Republic of Ireland applicants made that choice this year, including 850 who went to Northern Ireland.

EU citizens can study in any EU country under the same terms and conditions as in their own country and thousands of Irish students have in the past 10 years chosen to study at one of the more than 1,000 courses taught through English in continental EU universities.

These EU colleges also host virtual and in-person open days which Irish students can attend – low-cost air fares should help minimise the expense involved in attending such events.

You can find out more about these events from the European Universities Central Application Support Service (

Course content

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

In our personal relationships we take time getting to know other people and every aspect of their personality before we commit to them.

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

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

As a guidance counsellor and teacher for more than 40 years, I have dealt with many students whose minds were full of facts and figures about dozens of courses but could not differentiate between them. They were lost in a sea of data, with no guiding compass to make the right choice.

Finest attire

Would you commit yourself to a relationship with someone based on reading a fact sheet about their life so far? On a college open day, you will see the institution put its best foot forward. It is dressed in its finest attire, full of presentations, smiling student ambassadors, friendly lecturers and goodie bags, all designed to present the college in its best light.

It can be hard to see the true nature of college life from such an experience. But you can see through a certain amount of the perfect presentation that every college puts on during open days, to the reality that lies behind.

If you are particularly impressed with a college or course after an open day, observing whatever Covid-19 restrictions are in place at the time, try to go back on an ordinary day and wander around, to see if day-to-day normality gels with its open-day presentation.