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Here is a Miscellany of Ideas

and Information to

Help you make Good Decisions





Sections below include ~

Things You Need to Know about College Open Days

College Open Days: Should you Bring the Parents?

Tips for Surviving Your First Year in College / University 

 Study: Staying on Top of the Exam Workload

~ Study tips from college students

   Settling in to your New Study Life

  What are Soft Skills? and Why do they Matter for Graduates and Businesses alike?



This is a companion piece to my Article

Student! Help's Here



Iseult C O'Brien

Montessori Teacher & Supervisor | Volunteer Tutor





Things you Need to Know about College Open Days


Preparation can help you take full advantage of open day opportunities.


Research should begin as early as Transition Year.  While in TY and fifth year, students should attend college summer schools and a variety of open days to experience college life.

Sixth year students need to be more selective in the open days they attend at this stage, they need to be focused on colleges of interest.


Before an Open Day

  • Go online to and or to your own national website to check out when each third level institution holds its open days. 
  • Thoroughly explore each college’s website.  Yes, its academic programmes are central, and the purpose for its existence, but lectures are just a fraction of the activities.  The college you choose for the next few years will have a huge influence on the type of person you become.  Its clubs, societies, student services, outreach programmes, Erasmus opportunities (for a year studying abroad within the EU) and opportunities in the college city or town will be as important in shaping you as your lectures or subjects.
  • Go onto each college website and read up on courses that interest you, read each college prospectus to find out course content and requirements, facilities, clubs, societies, accommodation available and transport links.  
  • Ensure you are studying the required subjects to the appropriate level to be eligible for a place on courses that interest you.
  • Look up a campus map and take a picture of it on your phone - much easier than a paper map.
  • For some students who are brought by a school it may create in them an interest in third level education and show them what’s available - especially for students where there may not be a history of third level education in the family.
  • Take a note of everything you want to see on the day so you are not wandering aimlessly.  Campuses can be very big and it can be easy to get lost and miss your selections.
  • Course points move up and down as demand fluctuates.  Don’t ignore a course or open day because you don’t expect to get enough points.  You may do far better than you think.  Thousands of students make this mistake every year.  The most disappointed students every August, when they receive their Leaving Cert results and CAO offers, are those who realise they could have had their dream course but did not put it at the top of their course choices.
  • In the week before an open day, jot down some questions.  Put notes on your phone of what you definitely want to see - including talks, stands for particular courses, and club or society events.  This will clarify what you hope to get out of the day and can be used as a template for future open days. 


At an Open Day

  • Arrive as early as possible to avoid getting caught up in the crowds.
  • Engage with existing students if they are on campus. Colleges that are comfortable allowing you to meet current students usually provide a high quality of service.   Colleges who hold open days when no students are present thus ensuring that visitors have little access to engage with them may give you cause to question why?
  • When you arrive, you will probably have a formal introduction and get a campus map and a schedule of lectures or talks.  Before you leave this session see if the programme covers your questions.  If it doesn’t, ask the presenter where you should go to get the extra information you need.
  •  As you move from presentation to presentation, reflect on what it would feel like to live and study in this place.  Do you feel good about the environment?  Do you feel at ease?  Don’t dismiss your gut feeling: it is almost always right.  Make notes as you go, record them on your mobile / cell, if that suits you best.
  • For many students, the size of the college or class group matters.  You may seek a big campus full of bustle and excitement, with thousands of students in each year, or you might find such an environment intimidating and prefer a more intimate college, where smaller groups of students get to know each other quickly.
  • Many students have found large colleges intensely lonely.  Everyone else seems to be having a great time, and making friends easily, while they struggle to find even one good friend.  Many colleges are aware of these difficulties and work to help students find their feet in first year.  
  • Ask about the support services for new students.  The answer is often a good guide to the quality of the overall package.


After an Open Day

  • When you get home after an open day sit down within a few hours and write out, in the quiet of your room, your reflections on the day.  You will be amazed at the things that strike you.  
  • Rank each experience 1-5 or 1-10, sufficient to include all the topics you which to cover.
  • This process will help you to draw together all you have experienced during the visit and give you a rich resource to reread and use as a comparison with other open days when you submit your final list of course choices.


The above is largely based on compilation of articles by Brian Mooney which appeared in The Irish Times and advice from third level students.




College Open Days: Should you Bring the Parents?

Is it a good idea for parents to accompany their children on the day?


Open days are not just a chance for students to explore their college, university or post-Leaving Cert (PLC) course options. These days, parents are just as likely to go along so they can see the lay of the land, and colleges are laying on the red carpet for them. Not all students want to be seen with their parents, of course – and parents should respect their child’s boundaries – but how can a parent make the best of an open day without being in the way?


John Power, outreach officer at Waterford Institute of Technology, organises the Institute’s open days and visits schools to talk to students and parents. “A few years ago, we changed the format of our open days,” he says.

In late November each year, "over 4,500 students will visit the campus in their school groups; it’s an upbeat, fun and interactive day where students can meet support staff, lecturers and current students." Then, later, "we’re expecting about 2,000 people through our doors, and this day is more focused on students who come with their parents." Sometimes, students come on the first day and then come back with their parents the next day.

WIT runs talks for parents on the open day, as most third levels now do. “We spend time talking to parents about the CAO (application)  process, because they don’t always understand it, particularly since it has moved online,” says Power.

“We talk about common-entry courses and how a student can start off with a broad area of study (such as arts, business or science) before specialising down the line. We explain the difference between level six, seven and eight courses and progression routes from PLCs or other college courses, as well as entry requirements for select courses.



"We have a finance team which can talk to them about fees, grants and money matters, which is particularly important for planning as the cost of college and student accommodation has increased. And we advise on how, after open days, a parent can stay connected by talking to the guidance counsellor where possible, as well as teachers and family members.”

"Parents are usually concerned about the job prospects on a given course, but Power emphasises how important it is that people study something that they love and will be interested in. “It’s not always about the degree; transferable skills and work experience – particularly how work ready they are – is what matters to an employer. We have work experience on most of our programmes.”

"Power says that it’s important for parents to have honest expectations about where their adult child will study: is the young person a homebird, or do they want to take off and see the world."

Ciara Fanning, former president of the Irish Second-Level Students Union: "I felt that I would have a clearer head if I went to the open days by myself rather than explain the third-level system to my parents."

“There should be a back-up plan in case things don’t want out as planned. There is a national trend which is seeing more and more students apply for level eight courses, but there are good options at levels six and seven with good progression routes, while PLC courses might be discussed too, especially if the student is not mature enough or ready to attend third level straight out of school.”



Accommodation is another hot topic that needs to be considered. A young person from Donegal might wish to go to Dublin but the very high cost of rent and living could, for some families, make it financially impossible.

“We tell parents that, as early as spring before the Leaving Cert, people are already booking their accommodation,” says Power. “While there is less pressure in Waterford, in most places parents need to have that deposit ready as places can disappear fast.”


Ailbe Murphy, career adviser with and at Jesus and Mary Secondary School in Enniscrone, Co Sligo, says that it’s important to include parents on this journey.

“They can support and advise students along the way, as in many cases it will be them financing it. Parents can help students to compare colleges and similar courses and to be realistic about the costs involved. The more knowledge parents have, the more they are equipped to guide their son/daughter through the process. Parents should show an interest and keep up to date on application deadlines to assist students in their Leaving Certificate year.”


Might 16 to 18-year-old students not be mortified to be seen out and about with their parents?  Ciara Fanning, former president of the Irish Second-Level Students Union (ISSU), didn’t bring her parents to any of the four open days she attended, although many of her friends did.

“I felt that I would have a clearer head if I went by myself rather than explain the third-level system to my parents,” she says. “My friends found it helpful to bring them because it meant they didn’t have to explain everything when they went home.”


Chloe Griffin, then ISSU deputy president, brought her mother to some of the open days. “There’s no embarrassment factor: plenty of people bring the parents,” she says. “You can’t get away from the fact that parents are a big factor in deciding what course to do. People can bring the parents and set ground rules. Mam came to the talks but, at the stands, I asked the questions.”


Power says that there is a risk of hand-holding but that, ultimately, students don’t make the decision alone. “Students tend to separate from their parents on the day and meet up later. The parent often focuses on employability and career while the student might focus on the campus feel and the clubs and societies they can get involved in.”


Andre Blakeney, a past pupil at Jesus and Mary and later a commerce student in UCD, brought his mother to the open day. “One parent is preferred,” he says. “My mother is an academic herself and she knows a lot about courses and how they are taught and examined. She was able to provide useful insight into the value of courses and could see through the marketing speak.”


Lucy Hamilton, another past pupil at Jesus and Mary, studied pharmacy at the University of Brighton. She says that parents should have the option of attending open days. “They bring up practical questions with regards to the logistics of sending a student to college, although I never brought mine to open day – after all, they’re not going to college with us.”


 A Parent’s Checklist


“Ask about work experience, studying abroad opportunities and employability and careers.

“Find out about accommodation options and costs.

“Find out about the modules on the courses and what students can expect to learn; this can be crucial in understanding whether the course is right.

“Attend relevant talks.

“Let your child take the lead.

“Encourage your child to find about clubs and societies, especially ones that might interest them. Students who get involved in college life don’t just improve their employability; they’re also much happier and secure.



“Force your priorities on them. They may be more interested in clubs and societies than courses: this is an important part of any college experience.

“Ignore any extra costs that may come with a course, including with overseas trips or field work.

“Force your decisions on a child. If they don’t want to do medicine, or they’re dead set on history of art, it’s better that they find a course that they will like rather than one they’ll be miserable in and likely drop out of.

“Crowd them out. You’re not there for quality time so let them go off with their friends – or by themselves, if they prefer – and meet up later."


The above is largely based on Peter McGuire's article of 15 October 2019 in The Irish Times.



Tips for Surviving your First Year

Mix of students, copyright 123RF Stock Photo.


Tips for Surviving your First Year in College / University

 First year in third level can be a challenge but there are steps you can take to help ease the transition.


Starting in college or university is like entering a whole new world.  You are independent, but you’re also responsible for yourself.  Food, bills, study, exercise, housework, and making friends are all on you now.   



Ben Doyle (BD) (19) gave his views as he entered his second year of a four-year Corporate Law degree at NUI Galway.

Catherine O’Connor (CO'C) is an education consultant who specialises in student recruitment at Trinity College Dublin, and the author of Cracking the College Code: a Practical Guide to Making the Most of the First-Year College Experience.

Helen Vaughan (HV) is a psychotherapist and the owner of, Maynooth University.



CO'C: My job is to recruit students, so I have to understand their needs.

Some years back, I was looking into how students adjust to college both socially and academically, especially in the first year. So, I met with more than 1,000 parents and students (mainly in focus groups) from a variety of backgrounds.

I found that people didn’t really know how to navigate the college experience.

How will they adjust to managing finances?  Can they cook?  If they’re living at home, how will they get on with their parents or guardians?   Will they make new friends in college, and how will they mind their mental health? Students worry that they won’t make the most of the experience and this can make them anxious.  I wrote the book to help answer some of these questions. 


BD: I’d always wanted to do a commerce degree, but was also interested in the law.  Corporate Law was a good mix for me.  I knew a few people going to NUI Galway, and it was reassuring to have them; the first day in a campus like this is exciting, but it’s also daunting.  You do feel thrown in the deep end – at first. That changes fast. 


HV: The biggest problem I see with my student clients: social anxiety.

Not just among first years, though the first months in college can be really hard.

In school,  you’re looked after, and you’re furious about being constantly hounded to do your homework.

In college, if you don’t do the homework, nobody really cares and suddenly you’ll miss that parent giving out to you. It can be hard to cope with independence when you finally have it, and hard to be responsible for your own work, food, finances, social life and friends.

Suddenly, you have to navigate yourself; the chauffeur is gone.  Some people are very good at it if they’re particularly diligent and self-disciplined, but people can be thrown for all sorts of reasons, often unexpectedly.   I see the ones who know they need help, but I suspect most don’t think or know they need help, and they can find it hard to talk and explain how they feel.



BD: I wasn’t scared, because almost as soon as you’re in the college gate, there’s a really well-thought orientation for new students.   In the first week of college, you’re really busy and there are plenty of events and activities in the first week where you meet new people.  With your classmates, you find out more about your course.

You get involved in societies. And everyone around you wants to meet new people and make new friends.

Clubs and societies make that easier because you’re with people who share your interests.   I joined loads of societies straight away – for the bags of sweets!   I got involved with the debating and law societies.

Social media is great for talking to friends, planning activities and group assignments.  But we weren't wedded to it: most of my interaction was still person-to-person.  I liked hanging out with my friends for an hour or two, having a cup of tea, talking in person.

I don’t think my age group drinks as much as others. But if you are going to have a few drinks during the week, just make sure you can recover for the next day. Especially if you have a 9.00am lecture.

I didn’t join any sports clubs in college, but I kept playing rugby with the under-20s with my local team at home.  We won the league and the cup.   It’s not always that easy to find the time, but I’m glad I kept this big part of my life before college.


CO’C: My research shows that 62 per cent of students worry about fitting in socially.  You will meet people in tutorials and at lectures.  You need to seek out the clubs and societies that interest you.  Try new things and see what you like.

Some students worry about remaining loyal to old friends but you can keep the old ones and make new ones too. 


HV: I talk to people about how to manage their mental health.

Recognise anxiety: heart beating faster, sweaty palms, feeling really tense – once they recognise it they know it is not a heart problem; it is anxiety, and it will pass.  A panic attacks feeds on you fighting it.  Tell yourself it is not pleasant, but it is not dangerous and it will pass.  There are breathing exercises you can do if you feel pressured.  


Most colleges have counselling services but they can be oversubscribed.  You don’t have to be suicidal to call The Samaritans.



HV: Students can be stressed about lectures or walking into the room if they’re late, so they don’t go in the first few weeks and can find it harder to make friends.

Others stress about their course work and why they’re not doing better, but it takes time to adjust to college.   Let go of perfectionism – there comes a point when your work is good enough.

I see students leaving it too late to start projects or get the book before it disappears from the library.  They have to get used to setting their own deadlines without parents breathing down their neck.  You can drink seven nights a week if you like, but you won’t pass.

I found myself on the wrong course. I had to eventually admit that French wasn’t for me, so I transferred to another course in another college and never looked back.  People change their careers a few times in their life and it’s fairly common to change course or do a new one – although, of course, this can be a financial challenge as you have to pay college fees. 


CO’C: If you set out to have discipline in your study from Monday to Wednesday, Thursday can follow the same pattern easy enough.   Attend all lectures and tutorials. 

Take notes, keep them well, and back them up, remembering that technology doesn’t always work.

Read your notes and write down where your gaps are.  Read beyond your own discipline, read everything. 

And remember: no matter how bright you are, you will meet brighter minds.

No matter how motivated you are to study, you can feel lonely in the first term / semester and wonder if you’re in the right course.   I advise students to stick with it as long as they can and give it their best shot.   Find out early on about the academic demands (read the handbook)  and establish what you like about the course.

Don’t cut and run after three weeks; they can be tough anyway and it may be other factors making you question your course choice.    If the student tries hard to develop a strong work ethic and gets those three good days in, they can feel a lot better.

College doesn’t share academic results with parents.  Students also learn quickly that if they don’t attend college it will affect their grades. 


BD: My biggest struggle in first year was the academic adjustment.   For the Leaving Cert (final State Examination in secondary school), core textbooks are your bibles and you have all the resources you need to hand. 

In college, you have to sift through a lot of information and perspectives, come to conclusions and back them up with research and references.  I found my first assignment hard; we had to think creatively and be very open-minded.  I didn’t do great but, assignment by assignment, I learned how to research and write.



CO’C: Financial pressure can lead to dropping out. There needs to be a discussion early on about where the money for college comes from and who is paying.  If the student takes a part-time job, how will that impact on their commitment to study or on their college experience?   They need to budget: write out what the costs are and what the sources of finance are, including bank or credit unions loans, support from family and summer work. is a good resource. 


BD: I’m lucky that I had support from my parents, and I worked part-time to supplement that. I learned through experience how to budget and how much money I needed for groceries, food and books.   Lots of nights out can damage your wallet.    I learnt how to cook: I do a mean beans on toast and chicken curry.

I shared a student apartment in Corrib Village, the on-campus accommodation.  We all cleaned up after ourselves and looked after our own rooms, respecting each other’s space. 


HV: Finding accommodation is a big stress for students: it’s in short supply.  It can be hard to manage your own finances and learn to cook and clean for yourself, but it’s a big kick in the arse to help you grow up.

Self-care is important: eat well, exercise, be among nature when you can, even if it’s just a walk along the canal.    

Keep up the sports you did in school.  Take a few moments now and again to check in with yourself and where you are in this moment, rather than where you were earlier or will be later.   I give clients breathing and meditation exercises.


And finally, I recommend a gratitude journal, where you write down three things every day – it could be a nice lunch, meeting someone you like, or even that it didn’t rain.  It helps the brain appreciate the nice things and worry less.


Support and Help Samaritans: email,

text 087 2609090, or freephone 116123.


Some student unions operate confidential and anonymous listening services.  The biggest of these is NiteLine, run by and for students of several universities, colleges and institutes of technology (Freephone: 1800-793793), Student union welfare officers, college chaplains, counselling services and students’ advisers are all there, while most tutors and lecturers know how to help and support students who are going through a tough time.   





Study: Staying on Top of the Exam Workload

Seems like you're in college a wet weekend and the end of term exams are nearly here? How can freshers keep up with the workload?

We asked some final-year students for advice.


Midterms in college can be a very sudden reminder for students that end of term exams are approaching much faster than you imagined. This applies to first years more than any other year group, as freshers’ fun can spill long past Freshers’ Week, or the odd missed lecture becomes less and less odd.


As workloads mount and the first inklings of worry start to seep in about upcoming exams, we got advice from some final year students about their approach to exams and what to do to get ahead when you’re feeling behind.


Aine O’Connell, English and History, TCD

How do you approach exams?

I do my best to work consistently throughout the year. I study English, so much of our assessment is essay based, which I much prefer. However, my college is the sort of place where exam fever hits hard when term finishes. So for the last three years, despite working fairly consistently, I’ve ended up cramming in April, too. Definitely wouldn’t recommend the latter, as you’ll exhaust yourself.


How did You Feel about your First Year Exams?

First year exams were probably the most stressful period in my life. I thought they were absolutely impossible to study for, largely because college work is so different to school.

There’s no textbook to highlight, only loads of books older than your parents to sift through, which is the worst.  I ended up crying a lot to my parents and getting emergency tutoring from a lecturer friend of the family.  But the most important part is that I did alright - I didn’t fail a thing.  The study period is the worst part and it’s actually easier than you expect when you finally sit down in the common room with the paper.


Have you had any exam horror stories?

When I was in my first year, I got very into competitive studying and would end up spending 13+ hours in the library.  The crowd I hung out with at the time and I all spent our time trying to out-do one another, which was far worse than the exams themselves.


How would you advise first years to manage their workload?

I can only advise arts students, so I’ll recommend doing your assignments earlier than you think is necessary, as it’ll save a load of hassle in the long run. Try not to get involved in EVERYTHING because it’s harder to juggle writing, debating, socialising and college work.  If you’re worried, find out what support your college has to offer - no one likes doing it but it’s really worthwhile.


Do you have any tips for students finding themselves behind?

If you find yourself way behind, don’t be afraid to ask lecturers for extensions - they’re generally sound about it, and this is coming from someone who got eight last year. With an arts subject, it’s better to know the material you have covered well rather than learning new stuff on your own - so if you’ve been to 4 of 10 tutorials, try to focus on the material from those four, rather than the six you missed. Help is there if you need it, and try not to get too stressed because your mental health should always come before your degree.


Michael O’Sullivan, final year medicinal chemistry, UCD

How do you approach exams?

I used to be a ferocious crammer so I would put everything on the long finger until the very last minute and then cram and not sleep properly for exams.  I’ve since learned that’s not the way to do it so I try to keep on top of lecture notes in the meantime, and rather than just looking through them, I tend to write them out and summarise them and at least then you’re taking it in whether you realise it or not.


How did you feel about your first year exams?

First year exams weren’t too bad.  I think people freaked out about them more than they needed to.  They don’t set out to try to make you fail; they’re usually quite fair in the way they set the exams. If you put in a decent amount of work, you’ll get decent grades out of it.


Have you had any exam horror stories?

Not going to half the lectures for a particular module and then realising when it came to two days before the exam that I didn’t know anything.  I had an exam at 6pm the night before and I spent the entire night up studying for this one test.  It was a disaster.


How would you advise first years to manage their workload?

Keep on top of any continuous assessment you’re getting, and do them on time because it’s an easy way of picking up extra marks.  If you have lab classes or seminars, you might not feel like going but they are easy and it takes the pressure off when it comes to final exams.  If you keep on top of them, you shouldn’t find final exams too hard because you’ve covered the material already.  You can still enjoy yourself but you have to balance it.


Do you have any tips for students finding themselves behind?

Go through your lecture notes and make bullet points of the very, very, important points and then you can fluff out the rest.  If you can get down the important points, then at least you’ve written something that’s relevant to the topic and they’ll immediately give you marks for that.  Sometimes it won’t make sense but at least if you have the main bullet points down then they’ll realise you’ve gone over the material and know what they’re asking, and you’re just struggling to make it coherent.


Ciara Ní Ghabhann, final year law in NUIG

How do you approach exams?

I like to tell myself I study all the time, and I kinda do, but realistically, there’s nothing like the pressure of impending exams to make me really focus.  During the semester I try and keep on top of readings and take notes but it’s unfocused and I don’t retain much of it. The notes are incredibly useful at exam time though, and keep me from spending a lot of time finding what it is I need to learn.


How did you feel about your first year exams?

I got all firsts, despite having been fully convinced I had failed all of them.  My biggest problem was that I had never really sat an exam before. I had no real idea how to study, or whether I was studying the right material, or how to actually sit an exam... Luckily I had made friends with people who had already sat the exams I was taking that year, and they were invaluable.


Have you had any exam horror stories?

I’ve been pretty lucky with my own exams so far, but I have seen people burst into tears in exams, and I’ve seen people get up and leave within the first 30 seconds.  I’ve heard of people sleeping through their alarm clock and missing an exam they stayed up all night cramming for... I’ve also heard of people turning up to an exam hall having crammed all night for the wrong exam.


How would you advise first years to manage their workload?

Never panic, or at least, never panic so much it paralyses you, but maybe worry just enough to make you do the work.

I’ve had exams where I’ve lived off coffee and toast, thinking I hadn’t time/energy for anything more and was thoroughly miserable by the end, and didn’t do any better than in the exams where I ate well, took breaks and exercised... If I know I’m spending my Saturday afternoon with friends doing something fun, I’ll work a lot harder during the week to make up for that “lost time” and I’ll be happier while I’m doing it.


Do you have any tips for students finding themselves behind?

Chances are if you’re well behind, your friends are too.  One easy way to reduce the work you need to do is to split it up.  There’s no point in all your friends reading the same article - let one person read each article, take notes, and share them with the group.  That way everyone gets the benefit of the articles or books, and everyone’s workload is reduced.

Your classmates are all in the same boat as you, and are probably all as stressed and worried as you, even if they don’t let on.  Also it’s never too late to start.  The best time may be at the beginning of the semester, but if you’ve missed that boat, it’s better to start today than tomorrow.


Peter Loughman - 1st year graduate entry medicine, UL, having graduated from neuroscience in UCD

How do you approach exams?

My approach is to make notes in the lecture and then go to the library and try to make further notes and then condense those notes into tiny manageable portions that I can remember.  It’s methodical but it takes time. You have to have enough time to do it.

I really got better at studying in the latter half of college.  I crammed a lot in first and second year and found I had a more balanced approach, I ended up feeling better and doing better because of it.  Working works and doing all nighters doesn’t work because sleep consolidates memory.


How did you feel about your first year exams?

I was panicking because I’d never done college exams before, but once you get the first one done, it does fly from there.  You get the first one done and you feel tired, but by the end of the week, you’ve got them all done and you’re like, oh my god, I’ve just sat my first set of college exams and they went fine.


Have you had any exam horror stories?

For one exam in third year, a pharmacology exam, I studied pretty much the entire course and had extensive knowledge on a lot of it, except for four topics, and they were the only topics to come up in the exam.  That was rough.


How would you advise first years to manage their workload?

It’s something I’m struggling with now as a postgrad.  The one thing I would say is don’t sacrifice sleep for work, and if you enjoy something, keep doing it.  If you start putting off everything for study, you’re not going to be performing to your peak. You can’t become a ball of stress over exams, because it’s good to do well but it’s better to not lose your mind.


Do you have any tips for students finding themselves behind?

Review old exam questions and make a little chart of topics covered most often.  If you can answer those topics covered most often, you’re going to do fine.  You mightn’t get an A, but you definitely won’t fail.  Also, go to your lecturers.  Most lecturers are fairly approachable.  That’s one thing I’ve done here: if I’ve had problems, I go to the lecturers and just say ‘Look, I’m finding it difficult. Do you have any advice for me?’




 Settling in to your New Study Life


Planning your Study Regime

Try getting to grips with the new way you'll be studying and working at third level now.  Psychology Prof Aidan P Moran's Managing Your Own Learning at University, A Practical Guide is the best guide I have read on the study and learning needs of third level students. This lively and pithy book shows the many differences between learning and managing exams at second level and what is expected from students at third level. 


The chapter Exams Kill or Exams Skills? gives realistic advice for exam students at any level, covering effective revision, understanding course content, testing oneself in exam conditions, and pre-exam advice. 

ISBN 978-1-900621-58-8.  This book would be helpful to parents, guardians and carers of all teenage students, helping them get an overview of study life.


As you investigate your new environs, finding out where you have to be and when, who are your tutors, classmates and housemates if you have found someplace to live, there are other things to think about in the back of your mind.


Questions that until recently seemed immaterial now need to be answered.  What job should I be thinking (only thinking as yet) going for?   Should I apply for every job going when I qualify or for any job during the long holidays?  Should I accept the first offer even if it is not what I really want?  


There are some steps you can take - even before you take your final exams - to greatly enhance your chances of success.


Will participating in college activities enhance future chances of success?

Yes, if you are able to match them to the requirements of the career you’re aiming for.  Being on any team panel  might not be immediately applicable to life as a software developer, say, but it improves your communication skills with a wide group of new people, giving you more confidence dealing with people you wouldn’t normally deal with.


Get experience in the profession you want to go into.  Do you know anyone who works in your chosen profession?  If so, perhaps ask about the possibility of getting work experience during the long holidays or over weekends?  Instead of going off and enjoying yourself  on a J1, you could sacrifice some of this time to get some practical work experience.


This experience will help you decide if the course you are following is really right for you and if you actually enjoy and are good at the work involved.


It is frequently the case that students are not aware of some of the elements of their prospective studies and find when they get started that they are not able for some of the syllabus or parts of it take a disproportionate amount of time to fulfil.  Whatever the case, you should be investigating to which other course you might transfer.  Talk to your Careers' Guidence personnel as soon as you know you won't be able to perform as well as you'd like on your current course.


There's nothing to be embarrassed about.  Your college / university wants you to be happy and succeed to the top of your bent as much as you do.  They'll want to help you find your niche.


The ideal would be to combine the two - overseas practical work experience (in the field you want to work in) is great.  Employers also do value life experience, so travelling definitely isn’t off the agenda, but try and make it meaningful.


Other activities such as writing for your college newspaper - doing the cinema, football, or music reviews:  being a member of the debating team, and other such societies could certainly enhance your future chances of success, if they relate to the industry you are interested in. 

In any case, practising speaking clearly and cogently and being able to respond on the bounce to an unexpected question will always be of benefit no matter what future you plan for yourself.


If you are not sporty or have mobilities issues which make playing sports in your college / university problematic, you shouldn't exclude yourself from getting involved in the sporting life of your college. 

You might wish to take on the membership secretary position for one of the sports' clubs, or if maths is one of your strengths, you might wish to run the club's finances, including the end of year Financial Report.  In these, or other positions, you would be at the centre of the club enjoying the company, plus learning useful management and personal interaction skills. 

Or, get involved with the Campus Gym as a start-off and find out from there what sports and other physical activities might suit you.  Make sure you investigate all options available.  Physical activity is crucial to your overall physical and mental well-being.


After Graduation

Should you pursue post-graduate qualifications immediately upon graduation?

If it helps you get into your chosen profession and is a requirement for that job, then yes, of course.  However, this may not be practical for you, financially or otherwise.

Work on your CV from early in your third level career – try and pack it with clearly defined achievements and skills that relate to your chosen profession.  See my Article, A Student’s CV.

Work on your interview skills.  There will be interviews to join various societies, have a go at as many as you can.  See my Article, Interviews, Yikes!!!




Why Soft Skills Matter

Winter berries.


What are Soft Skills?


Why do they Matter for Graduates and Businesses alike?


Soft Skills

Soft skills are not easily quantifiable and are rarely taught as part of the curriculum in school or at third level.


The core soft skills which employers look for include:


  • Ability to work in a team
  • Oral and written communication
  • Time management and organisation
  • Creative problem-solving
  • Initiative and enterprise
  • Critical and analytical thinking
  • Ability to apply discipline, knowledge and concepts.


Hard Skills

Usually refers to technical skills that can be formally taught (programming or book-keeping) at college or elsewhere.


Transferable Skills

Skills or abilities that may be used in a variety of roles or occupations.




 Why Soft Skills Matter for Graduates and Businesses alike

 What skills are hiring managers seeking when they are recruiting from the graduate pool?


Soft skills such as communication skills, understanding, initiative and enterprise are capabilities that artificial intelligence will have trouble replicating. 


Why do companies choose one job applicant over another? Ask any number of experienced interviewers that question and you will most likely get a different set of answers from each of them.


For some, the successful candidate will need to be a good fit for the company’s culture while others will demand a skillset that will ultimately help strengthen the firm that hires them.  A few might tell you they want graduates who can solve problems and others will want reliable, self-motivated employees who will understand, meet, and exceed their employer’s expectations.


Whether they mention any, all, or none of the above, what they will rarely say is that the successful candidate should have come top of the class at university or that they will be hired only if they possess a first-class honours degree.


Achieving top marks in a traditional degree course might once have secured students with the university equivalent of a golden ticket that made landing a job after college little more than a formality.  However, when assessing the job readiness of modern-day college graduates, employers are increasingly veering towards those with skills that are rarely taught formally at third-level.


Technical knowledge remains important, of course, but research shows employers now look to so-called “soft skills” such as a candidate’s ability to lead, to problem-solve, to innovate, to build relationships, to adapt rapidly and communicate effectively.  They will often cite these abilities ahead of the “hard skills” traditionally associated with the qualifications achieved at college.


As the advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and automation promise wholesale change across sectors, the changing needs of the workplace are such that far greater emphasis is now placed on an ability to cultivate a workforce with a significant soft skills capability.


‘Effective Communication’

“At graduate level, we’re assessing for potential to develop and progress, so skills, such as effective communication, entrepreneurial actions, organisational and problem-solving skills are key,” says Evanna McGrath, graduate programme manager at Lidl.

“It’s important to recruit graduates with a growth mindset, who are looking for opportunities to develop and learn, and who are adaptable and open to change,” she adds.


In a study across 100 metropolitan areas in the US earlier this year, LinkedIn identified a shortage of 1.4 million people with communications skills compared with a shortage of 472,000 with software development skills.


Soft skills may have traditionally been associated with public-facing jobs but according to US analytics research firm Burning Glass Technologies, more than a quarter of all talent requirements in even the most technical career areas (such as IT, healthcare, and engineering) are now for ‘baseline’ or soft skills.


Mike McDonagh, managing director of Hays Recruitment says graduates who have had the chance to craft some of these skills “add another layer of value to the contribution a graduate can make, even in their early career”.

“Think of a software developer who can talk to a client or colleague and through their communication skills can better understand the brief or specification on an assignment or piece of software they’re being asked to design.  Think of an accountant who is able to communicate difficult decisions in a more empathetic way, a solicitor who can negotiate better and a sales person who is better able to develop rapport with customers early in their career.”


Technical skills can therefore be taught but unless those who possess them also have the ability to communicate effectively, their value will be limited in most company settings.

Indeed, the often unfairly maligned general arts degree often produces exactly the type of candidate that companies now seek to hire.


“We prefer good all-round candidates who have decent grades but also have experience working in a team, an interest in the world around them and good communication skills. We have trainees in the firm who have studied music, literature and even astrophysics, as well as those who have studied law,” says Eimear Power, graduate recruitment manager at Arthur Cox, a large and longstanding firm of solicitors.


Power is not alone in her view that graduates with arts degrees are of value to employers, as they are equipped with transferable skills that can be applied in many settings.


Bank of Ireland’s Naomi Keating: “We recruit graduates from a wide range of academic backgrounds including arts. Graduates of the arts and humanities offer transferable skills that we don’t always see from other disciplines.


‘Alternative perspective’

“In order for the bank to grow, we need grads with diverse backgrounds.  Arts grads tend to possess more creative and critical thought processes and are less prone to tunnel vision than their counterparts from more technical backgrounds.  In particular, we find with arts students that they bring a new level of imagination and an alternative perspective to the way we do business.

“We have a lot of senior executives working in Bank of Ireland who come from an arts background, including our CEO Francesca McDonagh,” she adds.


But how can soft skills be acquired?

Paul Vance, head of resourcing, KPMG in Ireland, says some of these skills will be picked up while students are still in the education system.

“Graduates will have picked up lots of skills by the time they finish college.  Part-time work, travel, extra-curricular activities and college studies all help to develop key skills such as communication, teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, attention to detail and a commitment to continuous improvement.  These traits are highly valuable for employers and graduates who excel in these areas are likely to do well in their careers.”


Depending on the course, and to some degree on the institution, colleges sometimes neglect to place sufficient focus on soft skills as they try to ensure their charges are proficient in matters relating to the more technical side of their course. This can make the hiring process that little bit more difficult for employers.


“Innovative problem-solving can be a difficult skill to find due to the fact that, in college, students are taught to apply theories to static problems or situations in order to come up with a solution,” says Eimear Power of Arthur Cox.

“This structured approach to problem-solving doesn’t necessarily work in the corporate world, where problems and situations can be more complex and dynamic,” she adds.


But how can graduates be encouraged to develop skills they were not taught at college in the first place?  Vance says students should look beyond the classroom to build up those skills that will aid them in later life.

“Travelling overseas develops independence and durability to take on new challenges. Getting involved in community or social-awareness activities are also fundamental attributes that employers highly value. So I think it is about understanding how to make the most of opportunities available outside of the core college learning environment and seeing how this can translate to a CV or interview.”


First-class honours degrees

While it goes without saying that those with first-class honours degrees are more likely to end up in employment than those with lower classifications, in a world where business increasingly operates across international borders, the ability to communicate effectively and problem-solve is highly-rated and sought after in job applicants.


Bank of Ireland’s Naomi Keating says: “For us what will make a candidate stand out during the interview is someone who demonstrates that they are a problem-solver, understand our business and are forward-thinking as to how they could enhance it, are good innovative thinkers and that we actually get an insight into them and their personality during the interview process. All of this will add value to our business. We do expect a minimum grade of a 2.1 from an undergrad or post grad too.”


The importance of developing graduates is not lost on employers and the majority will rotate new hires through different departments as they learn about the business and build key skills.


Keating says: “We don’t expect graduates to join our programme with a full set of workplace skills.  We encourage graduates to step outside of their comfort zone – this will allow them to develop new skills.

“We work with them through each rotation to push themselves into new experiences which helps them grow both personally and professionally,” she adds.


The fourth industrial revolution

While the technical knowledge and competencies traditionally associated with business are easy to come by in qualified graduates and will still be needed to earn a place across the interview table, mastery of “soft skills” is what is likely to sway the employer’s decision to hire.

This is all the more important in a rapidly evolving employment landscape where the rise of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) has been predicted to mark the biggest shift in job transition since the shift from agriculture to manufacturing.

According to a report published in 2016 by the World Economic Forum, 65 per cent of children entering primary school then will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.

Soft skills such as communication skills, understanding, initiative and enterprise are capabilities that artificial intelligence will have trouble replicating.

Anticipating and preparing for the so-called “age of intelligence” will be critical for business and companies as they anticipate and prepare for future skills requirements.




Best of Luck!


If you see any errors, typographical or factual, or if you disagree with any of my ideas, I should be very glad to hear from you.


Please let me know what you think of my ideas ~ if you don't tell me, I won't know if I've gone wrong!


All my Articles originate on my website,"Education Matters".  They are developed, updated, and continually revised.



If I quote a person, group, organisation, or establishment, I do my very best to source the material quoted, and to attribute it properly. If I cannot satisfy myself I have found the author or speaker who voiced a quote, I resist using it, no matter how tasty a bite! If I refer in passing to views expressed by others, I attribute the views even if they have not been given verbatim in the text. 


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