What do I ask at the stands?
The experts say you should ask prepared questions on the courses that interest you
Come prepared to Higher Options by compiling a list of questions to ask at the various stands. Photograph: Alan Betson
We’ve all done it (especially us journalists): meant to ask someone a particular question and completely forgotten to do so.
If you do forget to ask something at Higher Options, or the answer leads to more questions, you can talk to your career guidance teacher, check the website or call the faculty or department in the third-level or college of further education if you have more specific questions.
But when you’re at the stand, what exactly should you be asking?
Ailbe Murphy is career guidance advisor with Studyclix.ie, a popular website that provides notes and study tools for secondary school students, and she is also the guidance counsellor at Jesus and Mary Secondary School in Enniscrone, Co Sligo. There are particular questions that are really worth asking at Higher Options, she advises.
“Ask them prepared questions on the course and the requirements. How many contact hours are there every week? How is the course assessed: is it all exams, or is there continuous assessment? What is the balance between the two? Is there an option to study for a year abroad? Does the course have a work placement? Ask each college the same questions so that you can compare them. Make sure to take notes and get a contact name and an email so you can get in touch for more information.”
College is about so much more than just study, and you may be disappointed if, for instance, you find that there isn’t a college paper, an active students union, a hurling or swimming club, a Harry Potter society, an LGBTI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex plus) society or even an active Irish language organisation. As a general rule, the universities and the larger institutes of technology will have a much bigger selection of clubs and societies to choose from.
Before you go to Higher Options, you could check out the college website and look up the list of active clubs and societies. At UCD, for instance, you’ll find these lists at societies.ucd.ie and ucd.ie/sport/clubs; at UCC, you’ll find these links at societies.ucc.ie and sport.ucc.ie/clubs; at NUI Galway, it’s socs.nuigalway.ie and clubs.nuigalway.ie. Have a look and see what jumps out at you.
Make sure to ask as many questions as possible. Is this club or society active? What sorts of events do they organise? How do I get involved?
The student lifestyle is a huge break from the familiar routine of being woken by your parents for school and having them (and your teachers) breathe down your neck about study: when you get to third-level, you’re on your own and nobody is going to chase you up or punish you if the work isn’t put in. With this in mind, it’s worth asking what student supports are in place. Is there a free college counselling service and what is the average wait time? Is there a students’ union with welfare and education officers? What are the catering facilities on campus like?
Murphy says that students should ask the college representatives what the campus looks like, bearing in mind that CIT and DIT currently have campuses spread across their respective host cities of Cork and Dublin.
You’ll get a much firmer answer to these questions if you follow up with a visit to the college on open day. If you like what you see and the college in question ends up being one of your top choices, it can be worth visiting during term time so you get a real sense of what the campus feels like when it’s packed with students.
College doesn’t pay for itself, with student accommodation, food and books all adding up. If you’re planning on living at home, figure out how you will get to college every day, how long this will take and how much it will cost. Google Maps can be the most efficient way to do this but other students at the stands may also be able to give you information.
Ask about whether any scholarships are available. Go to Susi.ie and find out if you are eligible for a grant. Is there a second-level bookshop? And, perhaps not a deciding factor: is there a basic canteen with kettles and microwaves to reduce your costs?
When is the college open day? “It is important for you to visit the college to get a feel for the place and further research the course and accommodation on offer,” says Murphy. “It gives you a chance to speak with lecturers and students on the course.”
Some courses, such as art, architecture and music have restricted entry and may require you to attend an interview or complete a portfolio, while applicants to medical courses have to complete the HPat.
“What are the required points and there specific subject or grade requirements such as a H2 in higher maths?” says Murphy. “Find out the deadlines and requirements.”