Why it’s important to explore all your options when finishing school

Going to college is not the only option available after school. Colm thinks it’s important to take the time to see what options suit you best.

Written by Colm Caldwell


The years we spend in school from junior infants to sixth year in secondary school are no doubt necessary and important factors in moulding us as young people. My doubts about formal education begin once people start saying that third level education is ‘necessary’ for everyone. I do not believe a college education to be either negative or positive. A good degree can set someone up very well, offering increased earning power and a foot in the door when it comes to jobs in that specific sector. However, there are a lot of drawbacks to third level education too.

Third level education leads to debt for many people. If your parents or guardian can’t fund your education, you don’t qualify for grants or you have to move county for your education, then college will, at the very least, be a heavy financial burden for three plus years, and at worst leave you with a lot of debt for years to come.

Picking the degree that will play a massive role in the direction your life goes, at the age of 18, is daunting and troublesome. So many people effectively sign their lives away to their course of choice at 18.

I believe the current education system is outdated. The first major problem I see with this is the fact that when this system was devised, people’s life expectancies were much shorter. In Ireland in 1916 the figure was only 53 years old. Today it is 81 years old. As students today, we should realise there is less of a rush to finish our education. 100 years ago, if someone completed a bachelor’s degree and then a masters, it isn’t unreasonable to expect they were over halfway through their life by the time they finished with education.

What I’m trying to get across is that times have changed and perhaps attitudes towards the timeframe for education should change with it. At 17 years old I found myself completely intimidated by the impending CAO preference list, by the life altering choices I was slowly forced into. It would have been reassuring to be told: ‘it’s okay, your results are valid for two years after the leaving cert, take some time away from education and use the time to find out more about what you might want to do’. Or even, to a greater extent told about the options for returning to college as a mature student after the age of 23.

I understand you may give up some earning potential in those years away. However, patience is a virtue. Does it not make sense to wait until a point where you have developed and matured enough to know exactly what you want to do, and then decide? Formal education just never quite seemed to suit me, but all the signs told me that even if it didn’t suit me, I had to suit it.

Trades are an amazing way to gain a real-life skill, and offer many great opportunities. A trade lets you start earning right away, whilst learning the skills that qualify you for working visas to places like Australia and Canada. Tradesmen are always in demand. In fact, most of the western world is experiencing a shortage in them. If travelling the world is on your bucket list, a trade may be the way to go for you.

Ultimately, this year I decided to take a gap year from college, with my return unlikely any time soon. The time away from education has helped me clear my head a tremendous amount and given me time to think about what I want to do with my life. I understand that for many their education and their life are synonymous, and more power to those people. However, for people like myself who feel disillusioned with the current third level offerings, don’t let the pressure of it all dictate your life. Find what suits you best and always keep your options open. We have our whole lives ahead of us. What’s the rush?

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