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Should students chase jobs when applying for college courses?

Betty McLaughlin from the Institute of Guidance Counsellors says that there is more to college than preparing for a job.

Betty McLaughlin

IT IS CLEAR from the CAO offers published yesterday that students are signing up for courses on the understanding that they will secure well-paid jobs after graduation.

Demand for construction, architecture and nursing has increased, and science, business and engineering remain popular choices. CAO points have risen to meet this demand.

This is welcome news for the labour market as the shortage of graduates in these areas has been well signalled throughout the past year by IBEC and employers.

Applications to nursing courses have risen by 9% as the 400 unfilled nursing vacancies last summer encouraged prospective students to consider this career path.

But while it may be great news for these sectors, how beneficial is it for the students themselves?

The most important thing

One of the most difficult decisions facing leaving certificate students every year is what course and college to choose.

Going to college is about much more than just preparing yourself for a career and getting a highly paid job. The three or four years students spend at third level can be life changing. The final year student and graduate is very often a different person to the one who entered college in first year.

With 16% of first year students dropping out of college or not continuing with their first year course into second year, it is so important that students choose a course that will excite them and match their interests and aptitudes. Getting this right is the only recipe for personal fulfilment and success in college and your career thereafter.

The following steps are guidelines for making the final decision on which course to choose.

1: Assess yourself and your interests

The more interested you are in a subject, the more likely you are to study it and achieve a strong result. This is particularly important at college when you are responsible for your own study.

If you are not sure what you want to do, guidance counsellors in school will be able to provide you with access to different interest tests.

Step 2: Investigate different universities and colleges

Many students leave college because they find it difficult to “fit in”.

For some courses there will be only one or two colleges to choose from (e.g. speech therapy, veterinary). However, there are a range of colleges offering similar courses.

The content of courses with the same name can vary significantly between different colleges. It is therefore crucial that you read the prospectus, course brochures and websites to find the course programme that best suits you.

Attending college open days will give you the opportunity to tour the campus, see the facilities and meet the lecturers and students. You can ask questions about the college, investigate the different clubs and societies on offer and ask about the destinations of their graduates.

Step 3: Think about what you hope to gain from going to college

Students often say they attend college to secure a good job. One of the myths behind choosing a particular course is that it locks you into a specific career path. The college course you choose is only one of many factors that will shape your career path.

Although some careers require a particular course, such as medicine, the majority of graduate employers are more interested in the course result and the transferable skills students have gained from that course.

Employers pay a premium to recruit graduates with transferable skills. These skills include teamwork, communication, time management, commercial awareness, planning and organising, problem-solving, leadership and flexibility.

A number of colleges have introduced programmes that accredit extra-curricular activities for students. Others have personal development plans, mentoring systems and internship opportunities in place.

Step 4: Investigate what you will be looking for in a career

What types of careers appeal to you? Research the careers you have an interest in to ensure your career will meet your expectations.

The Grad Ireland website allows you to investigate different career options, entry routes, progression and salaries.

If you are interested in a certain career, do some research to see if a particular course is essential, or will give you an advantage.

Check to see what professional recognition and exemptions you are entitled to by attending courses. For example, if you are going to study accountancy, compare the exemptions you will get from the professional accounting exams from the different colleges.

If you feel you will not achieve the necessary points to get into your chosen field, investigate other ways of getting in after you graduate such as a postgraduate degree or higher diploma.

However, around 60% of graduate opportunities are open to graduates from any field so there is no need to worry if you have not yet decided on a career path. There are numerous examples of science graduates pursuing careers in human resources, social science graduates becoming accountants and IT graduates going on to study medicine.

Ask colleges for information on what past graduates are doing now. Colleges produce a first destination report detailing what graduates are doing 6-9 months after graduation. This will give you an excellent insight into the full range of options graduates pursue.

Step 5: Realistically evaluate your options

Do you love the idea of being an accountant but don’t like business subjects?

Does your desired career path require a postgraduate? If so are you willing to continue studying after your course?

Don’t just dismiss your concerns. A college course will require years of continuous work and if there are barriers to you doing well in that area, you might be better served studying something you like more that will lead to improved results.

After researching you will have a better idea of the careers and courses you are interested in, as well as those you feel are no longer an option.

The problem with choosing a subject based on the likelihood of getting a job it that first, you may lack the commitment to see that degree through to the end and second, no-one can reasonably predict what the job market will look like in five years time, let alone forty.

Students would be better off finding a subject in which they excel and which they enjoy.

Betty Mc Laughlin is the president of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors.

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Betty McLaughlin

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