Should I defer going to college this year due to Covid-19 chaos?

Ask Brian: Most lectures will be online and campus may be only partially open

I’m finalising my CAO course choices but strongly thinking of deferring going to college for a year in light of the disruption Covid-19 will have on lectures, clubs and societies and social life in general. Is this a good idea?

Your dilemma is shared by tens of thousands of college applicants this year. The reality of dealing with the Covid-19 fallout is that students may be on campus only for limited periods and will receive most of their lectures online in the coming academic year.

This will be relatively easy to deliver in faculties such as arts, business, law, social science, etc, but more problematic in hands-on disciplines such as engineering, science and medicine where practicals and lab work are core to learning.

College presidents I have spoken to say they hope to deliver tutorials face to face, subject to social distancing rules, though some are also looking at online lab work and practicals in a worst-case scenario.


The questions which this new reality throws at us are many and varied. Some students may ask what’s the point of paying for expensive accommodation if they are going to be on campus only one day a week. Others will question what is the point of going to university if most learning is online and social life is heavily curtailed.

So much learning in college takes place outside lecture halls. For many of us, these formative experiences shaped our future lives.

I met my wife in college while canvassing in the students’ union election. I developed debating and communication skills in student union executive meetings and college societies. All these years on I am still in regular touch with friends I made during those years.

For the 70,000-plus college applicants considering their options for the coming year, the question of whether to proceed into the unknown is a very difficult one.

But there are a few key points worth considering. Firstly, CAO points in highly sought-after courses may be lower if extra places are created to compensate for the lack of international applicants. If many applicants like you ultimately decide to postpone going for a year, they may be lower still.

Secondly, ask yourself what will you do over the next year, if you don’t go to college. Employment prospects will likely be dire, especially for young school leavers, though it’s hard to say for sure. You could consider a further education (FE) course in a local college in your area of interest, to consolidate your knowledge in that discipline, and progress to third level the following year.

There are lots of factors to consider. My advice is to apply for the courses you want, in the order you want them. When you receive your offer in August, you will have a much clearer picture of what college life will look like in 2020. You can then make a well-informed decision.