Supporting your child’s education choice

What can a parent learn at college open day and what should they look out for

Wat can a parent or guardian learn at college open day and what should they look out for?

Wat can a parent or guardian learn at college open day and what should they look out for?


Open days are no longer just for students: they’re also a chance for parents or guardians to find out more about where their child might be going to third level.

Over the past 18 months, these events have largely, if not exclusively, taken place online, opening up even more opportunities for parents to get involved.

“The increased availability of digital content by all higher education institutions over the last 18 months, in response to the Covid-19 restrictions, means it has never been easier for parents to quickly and efficiently access the relevant information they need to support their son or daughter’s CAO application,” says Sarah Geraghty, director of student recruitment and outreach at NUI Galway. “The virtual experience cannot match the sense of possibility that a student gets from visiting a campus in person, however the online open days do have their benefits, and particularly so for parents.”

Of course, it’s parents and guardians who will be stumping up the cost of overpriced student accommodation and the highest college fees in the European Union, and they want the best for their child, so it’s no surprise that they’d attend these events. But, that said, it is students who will be attending the college and course, so they need to take the lead.

Ground rules

So, what can a parent learn at college open day and what should they look out for? How can they best support their child and not take over the process? And should there be ground rules to avoid any potential conflict?

John McGinnity is the admissions officer and assistant registrar at Maynooth University.

“Every student is unique and so, while some will want their parents sitting further away from them in a lecture theatre, others might be comfortable sitting beside them,” he says. “Others may just want their parents or guardians to drive them to and from the event and pay for lunch. There’s a part in the middle where parents and students will go their own ways.”

For some teenagers, there is nobody more embarrassing in their parents, although that surly teenager can be a stereotyped cliché. But, again, everyone will have different feelings.

“I’d encourage parents or guardians to be alert to what works for their child,” says McGinnity. “If they’re at, say, the psychology stand and the parent is asking all the questions, the student is missing out on a learning opportunity.”

McGinnity advises parents to keep in mind that a lot has changed since they may have been in college themselves. “Today, there are many different pathways to particular careers, and while it might feel like there is only one course in one college to get to a particular career, bear in mind that students can follow broad interests in their undergraduate course and then do a more focused postgraduate. There are great pathways between level six/seven courses and level eight, while the pathways between further and higher education are becoming ever-more accessible.”

Realistically, students can get a better sense of the campus environment when they are physically there, although Covid restrictions mean that this isn’t always possible.

“If there is one thing that a parent can do it is to be the resource that takes them to the various campuses, if possible,” says McGinnity. “There can often be a moment when a student is walking around the campus and they know it is where they want to be.”

Speaking very broadly and generally, research shows that girls may have put a little more thought into their college course choice, having been reflecting on it since transition year. Boys, however, can be a little more inclined to wait until sixth year and leave things until the last minute.

“The decision around the right course, college or pathway is not a moment in time, it is a process over a period of time where a student comes to understand their own innate skills, talents and interests,” says McGinnity. “If you do it over two or three years it’s more of a marathon than a sprint because they’ve had more time to reflect on it.”

The ongoing failure to provide adequate and affordable accommodation for students and the high cost of college can lead to some difficult conversations. For a student who is keen to move away from home for college – whether because they’re itching for independence or because there is a particular course they have in mind – practical, financial considerations may put a halt to their ambitions.

“It should, in the first instance, be a student’s decision as to where to apply for college,” says McGinnity. “There is a likelihood of students on the east coast going to a university on the east coast, within a commutable distance, and the recent budget has changed the adjacent rate for the SUSI grant from 45km to 30km (which means that students living closer to their college will be entitled to a higher grant). It is likely that there will still be a scarcity of accommodation in 2022.”

Events for parents: What’s happening?

A small selection of some parent events:

* On Friday, November 19th, between 5-6pm, Dublin City University is hosting an online event for parents looking at how they should approach their son’s or daughter’s path to third-level education. Topics include the costs involved in attending college, supports available to students, what parents and guardians should look out for any issues that may arise.

* UCC’s Open Day platform has a special booth for parents and guardians, packed with useful material. See for more details. UCC will also be hosting live CAO Q&A sessions on January 19th and May 4th, 2022, and parents and guardians are welcome to attend. UCC has also created a free online course, Nurturing Bright Futures where young adults can reflect on their personality, likes, dislikes and educational preferences. Parents and guardians can help them work through this. The university has created a special parent/guardian booklet, where they have outlined sections in which they can help the young person in their life by checking in on their progress. For a hard copy, email or download the digital version at

* NUI Galway’s undergraduate open day took place on October 2nd, with more than 90 virtual exhibition booths and 75 talks and presentations, says Sarah Geraghty of NUI Galway. “Many of these talks and presentations will be available on demand on the NUI Galway website, affording parents, who are not always available to attend multiple open days due to busy work and family commitments, the opportunity to watch back talks in their own time.” These talks include information on where an NUI Galway degree will take you, student life at NUI Galway and preparing for college in 2022.

Emer Neville: ‘It has to be the student’s decision as to what they study, and it’s important that they do something they want to do, otherwise there’s a chance they will drop out.’
Emer Neville: ‘It has to be the student’s decision as to what they study, and it’s important that they do something they want to do, otherwise there’s a chance they will drop out.’

My experience: Emer Neville, president of the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union

“I went to open days during transition year, when I really began to think of college. Some of these were online and some involved campus visits.

“I’m from Clonmel in Tipperary and, early on, I knew I could not go to Dublin because of the high cost of rent, so I looked at Galway and Cork.

“I was 16 when I went to the open days at UCC, CIT (now Munster Technological Union), NUI Galway and GMIT. The whole family went to these open days, including my twin brother and my sister, who was in sixth year at the time.

“Most of my peers had their parents with them, unless they’d gone to the open day with the school. My parents were there in the background to see the campus, where we might be living and what the facilities were like, but I took the lead when it came to looking into the course details.

“It has to be the student’s decision as to what they study, and it’s important that they do something they want to do, otherwise there’s a chance they will drop out.

“It’s also important to have a look at the city or town that the college is in, not just the campus. UCC is very close to the city centre, which makes it very walkable; UL is further out from the city centre but has lots of facilities on campus.

“While it’s fine to bring the parents, students should take ownership of their education, because by the time they get to college they’ll be an adult and expected to do things without their parents.”