Leaving Certificate results are published, and CAO offers are distributed. Students must now decide whether to accept a course that they will study on for the next three or four years.
ost students will be very positive about their course offering; but some will inevitably be disappointed and unsure of the next steps to take.
Firstly, I personally believe a student should not feel under pressure to accept a course just for the sake of going to college. Ideally, when completing the CAO; students should cover all eventualities with their choices; however, frequently they put a lot of thought and research into their first three CAO choices but disregard other lower ranking options.
If a student does not perform as well as he or she anticipated; their fourth or fifth course choice – in which they have no genuine interest – may indeed be the offer they receive.
In this instance, there are other options that should be explored, such as a PLC course; an apprenticeship or traineeship, working or travelling for a year. Once the student ensures they benefit from the year out, they can always re-apply via the CAO the following year.
When a student receives an offer of a course they are really interested in, then starting college is an exciting new chapter in their life. When the college location is confirmed, the next obstacle to overcome is locating suitable accommodation.
For first year students, I recommend dedicated student accommodation blocks; although more expensive, the majority assign all first years together which is an advantage. There is usually 24-hour security onsite, which is reassuring for those moving away from home for the first time – and the parents! There is also maintenance people etc on call if there are issues with electricity, heating, fridges etc.
One fact to check is accommodation companies who advertise “regular” shuttle busses to and from college campuses. One might think regular is on an hourly basis; but some only offer a service at 8am in the morning to the campus and 6pm return in the evenings back to the accommodation – this fact will be written in small print in the terms and conditions section. It may be problematic if there is a significant distance involved and something to be aware of and look out for.
There will certainly be a transition period from secondary school, and some students find it more difficult than others. Students can be very homesick when they initially start college – to the point that they want to drop out. While it is natural for them to miss their families and friends from their locality, when they share accommodation with other first years; they normally quickly start to make new friends and begin to socialise and settle in. Some students can find it especially difficult to adjust, so these students will need more reassurance and support. Both students and parents need to have a positive outlook that they will all adjust given time.
A good tip is to allow students to make contact as often as they wish initially but to gradually aim to reduce the frequency as the weeks progress. It is a major change for some students, and they will need reassurance. Focus on the weekend home visits rather than the five nights away at college.
Trying to fit in is a very real concern for students starting college. Coming from the familiarity of secondary school, when they knew most of the students in the school and the teachers, to suddenly being surrounded by strangers, often away from home, is very unnerving.
Colleges are very aware of this fact and organise induction sessions and social events for new students. Students should be encouraged to attend all these activities as it will expand their social circle. College clubs and societies can be a life saver to help students fit in. Through these, they can meet like-minded students with similar interests and hobbies.
Secondary school students generally have little knowledge of a college’s physical layout. Students are often left wandering around and feel completely overwhelmed by the huge spread of some of the college campuses. They should take a physical trip to visit colleges, prior to the official commencement date. They can get their bearings and travel from their accommodation to the college campus etc.
They can see what bus routes operate between their accommodation and the college, or if they can walk or cycle etc. For the first week in college, in advance of each day, students should check the location of their rooms with their timetable. This will ensure they will know where to go and they will very soon be well able to negotiate the campus confidently.
For many students, it will be the first time they will have to live on a tight budget. Regularly, first years tend to spend all their money at the beginning of the week and are then left broke for the second half! This also means they often cannot afford the bus or train ticket home on a Friday, buying a return ticket at the beginning of the week will avoid this issue.
They need to set aside a certain amount of money per day to survive on and do their best not to overspend.
Once student ID cards are issued by colleges, these can be used to avail of every possible student discount – from grocery shops to bus companies to pharmacies. From a parent’s perspective, an app like Revolute can be downloaded to phones. This will allow instant transfer of money to the student’s account, from as little as €5, which can get a student out of a spot, to hundreds of euros and it is a great reassurance if ever an emergency arises regarding cash!
Many first years also tend to have limited cooking skills and tend to survive on expensive takeaways or a diet of cereals for the week. They should learn how to shop wisely and cook a few nutritious meals before heading off to college. They do not need to prepare gourmet dishes but something simple and quick to prepare with easily accessible ingredients.
Not only will this save them money, but they will also feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally if they are eating well.
Mary Lucey is an Educational Consultant and Founder of Career Ahead. (087)9338941