The Scenic Route: College, and dropping out of it

Dropping out of college is not something to take lightly. It takes a lot of thinking before you can really make the decision, but I can remember the decision as if I had just made it yesterday.

It wasn’t easy at all. At just 18 years of age, the decision to choose your CAO options is a tough enough one, never mind wanting to drop out of your first college course after a couple of months.

Going to college is, of course, a whole different experience from secondary school. Go whenever you want and put in as much effort as you wish, lecturers won’t care. If you fail it’s your problem, not theirs. Of course they are usually quite helpful when you are in trouble, but there’s nothing to force help from them.

Number one on my CAO was Applied Computing in Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), or Computer Programming as it was really known as. Computers and technology are something that were always a strong interest of mine and I took it as soon as it was offered to me when CAO offers were made. At 18 and just out of school, I was absolutely thrilled to get the offer and you take whatever offer you get at that point.

From the time the offer was accepted until the starting point, it was all excitement. But that excitement changed pretty quickly to unhappiness after a few weeks.

I knew I loved computing and I loved the programming side of it, but I was completely lost. Week after week I slowly began to fall further behind. It was a course that you understand from the start, or you start to become very lost. I was the latter. It wasn’t due to lack of effort, having worked with other students who did understand it, I was just never going to grasp it.

It is very tough to know what to do, especially at that age. Deciding to leave the course wasn’t something I considered. The registration fee was about €1,000 at the time and that could be lost. Transferring to a different course at the end of year one is an option most colleges offer so that’s something to look at if unhappy in a course now.

So I made the decision to stick with the course for a further two weeks, a decision that ultimately made no difference to me. I knew I wanted to leave but I had no idea how to.

Thinking back, one thing I think was brilliant about WIT was that before you can leave a course, you had to go and talk to one of the career councillors. It was a strange meeting. They hand you a piece of paper and a pen and tell you to write down why you want to leave.

It makes so much sense when I think about it now. I was made explain my decision in every detail possible; when I was leaving, why I was leaving, what was I going to do afterwards, and was I going to go back to college the following year.

This was the best meeting I could have had. It makes you think about what you really want to do and makes you decide your next step.

Talking to a careen councillor is the easy bit, telling your parents can be the difficult part. €1,000 on registration, money spent on the eight weeks I attended and hundreds spent on books for different modules.

It wasn’t easy and I was pretty much told to stay in my course by my parents, but when you know you don’t want to, there isn’t much that will make you stay in it while being unhappy.

Eventually I was given the ok to leave the course after I had made some sort of plan. I got lucky that I was working part-time and was offered the chance to work full-time from November until the following September when I planned to return to college. I guess it couldn’t have worked out any better.

Working for a year is all grand, it passes the time and you earn a bit of money. But coming to the summer of 2008 I had to make a tough decision, did I stay in Waterford and find a course I wanted to do, or find a journalism course I could do. Journalism was 475 points in DCU so I didn’t even bother applying, 140 points more than I had got in my Leaving Certificate.

Somehow I heard about Ballyfermot College of Further Education and their two-year Print Journalism course. Dublin was a whole new world but I wanted to do journalism and I went for it. I left my job, my home and my girlfriend, and moved to Dublin.

Looking back on the big decision, I knew it was a good one, probably the best decision I’ve made. Sometimes you have to take a chance on a course, and a college, you know very little about. Take a chance that you’ll be okay away from home and take a chance that this is the right course for you.

If Ballyfermot taught me anything, it was about being independent. Two years away from home on that course was terrific, it makes you into a different person.

Another huge decision was what to do after finishing that course. Go home and try getting a job, or continuing in college and doing another course. I had heard about transferring into DCU so I looked at that option, from the educational point of view to the financial.

Getting into the course wasn’t easy. A big application with all module results from my previous course. Then you had to go and do an interview and two written tests. DCU was huge, a continent compared to Ballyfermot, but I loved it from day one.

It’s very hard to tell how an interview goes sometimes, but an email half an hour after the interview unofficially offered me a place in the course. That was task one. Task two was convincing my parents about the course. Another three years in Dublin was going to be expensive, but they believed in me and knew it was what I wanted to do. Final year has now just begun and it feels like it was just yesterday that I started in DCU. It’s been a whirlwind two years that have been the best of my life.

It’s easy to get lost in a big university but you need to keep at it. I did, and I haven’t looked back. Sometimes following through on your dream is the best thing to do; you might just get what you want.

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