I’m on the wrong course, get me out of here!


I’ve just come back from visiting a young man  who has decided, at the end of Week 1,  that he simply cannot return to his course. Whilst for most students the disenchantment period might drag on for a little longer, there are implications for future choices and funding.

Recent reports estimate that up to 80% of students on some college courses in Ireland, are withdrawing from college within the first year, with a general withdrawal rate in first year of 1 in 6 students.   As I pointed out in an earlier post, national and international studies suggest that the principal reasons for dropping-out are:

1. Course choice: inaccurate understanding and awareness of course content in terms of modules, learning outcomes and the curriculum across all three or four years of study.
2. Personal factors: self-awareness, self-management, insufficient competence in study skills, a general lack of preparedness.
3. Financial burden: costs associated with attending college, including the need to seek part-time work, and late payment of student grants.
4. Medical and mental health difficulties: exacerbated by anxiety, self-esteem, a sense of ‘not fitting in’, social isolation, homesickness, and feeling overwhelmed.
5. Family influences.

There is a great deal of work to be done around items 1 and 2, an increasingly impossible task in the light of cuts to career guidance in secondary schools, as highlighted in Lest we forget: Lessons learned in Ireland following Budget 2012.

The seeds of self-awareness, self-determination, and self-advocacy, need to be sown, watered and nurtured by competent gardeners.  Exploring options and choices are physical activities that require the support and engagement of knowledgeable adults.  These things do not happen by chance, and using a transition planning tool such as MyUniPlan, can help to get the ball rolling.

Phew.  Rant over.

So IF you discover that you are on the wrong course, what is to be done?

  1. Transfer to another course within your college.
  2. Transfer to another college, university or Institute of Technology.
  3. Re-apply to the CAO to begin another course in the following year.

BUT it’s important to bear in mind the financial implications… 

In Ireland, students receive ‘free fees’ meaning they pay a ‘contribution’ towards their university education, currently c. €3,000.  The remaining fees (c. €3,000) are paid by the Higher Education Authority.  For this reason, changes you make to your registration status as a student, may incur a financial penalty.  A comprehensive explanation of how fees work for repeating a year in college can be found at Student Finance.

Bottom line: the HEA pays their share of fees in each of the years of your undergraduate degree.  If you withdraw after one year, you are deemed to have used up one year of your ‘free fees’ contribution from the HEA, so if you begin the year again in the same or another institution, you will be liable to pay the ‘student contribution’ PLUS the ‘HEA contribution’, in other words, about €6,000.   So you need to be sure about your decision, and the timing and method of transfer or withdrawal is crucial.

IMPORTANT: Although the HEA will not pay tuition fees if you have to repeat a year (for example, if you failed exams or decide to switch courses), they may do so if you can provide evidence of ‘exceptional circumstances’ such as a certified serious illness, for example, one that might have resulted in a period of hospitalization.  Very stringent regulations on this, check with your college or university.

Transfer to another course within your college.

Most colleges, universities, institutes of technology have explicit regulations about this, and, in general, you must follow the procedures to request a transfer  within the first three weeks of beginning college.  Check the rules in your college.

Transfer to another institution.

If you want to switch to the same or a similar course in another college, university or institute of technology, you must meet the subject entry requirements for the course either through your Leaving Certificate results, or from the study you have completed on your existing course.  You do not get extra points for having been in college already. Students apply to the CAO as usual by 1st February, although there is a special late closing date of 22 July.  Read the CAO handbook, and check the rules in your institution.

Re-apply to the CAO to begin another course in the following year.

In the usual way.  If you applied to DARE the year before and were eligible for a DARE place, you can ‘carry over’ this eligibility for one year.  You still need to follow some of the DARE application procedures through your CAO account.  Follow the instructions carefully.




This can all be avoided with early, staged, person-centred transition planning.


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