Does it really matter where you go to college?

Does it matter where you go to college? I certainly used to think so when I started at DCU studying Communications. It was the only course I put on my CAO and DCU seemed the only way forward.

Two years later, I decided to drop out and find a different career. I then did a science PLC in Dun Laoghaire Further Education Institute before starting Science in Trinity last month.

The differences between all three have become somewhat blurred and I’m less and less convinced that it really matters where you study. As a recycled freshers student, I feel I have some authority to critique these three colleges. I’ve drank their coffees, tested their canteens and braved their toilets. I’ve attended their lectures, enjoyed and endured their modules and if anyone dares explain to me how a library works one more time I’ll hit them with a book. Over the next few paragraphs I’m going to lay out why I’m not convinced it matters where you study in my own biased, Dublin-centric way. 

It certainly used to matter where you went to college. Protestants, for example, went to Trinity and Catholics went to UCD. Thankfully this has since been dropped. Your studies, after all, should not be determined by your faith community and college is all about widening your horizons and embracing differences. However, this means that the social context in which these colleges were established is no longer relevant, diluting the importance of which college you attend. 

DCU stood out for me as it places a higher emphasis on practical learning, and works a lot more through continuous assessment, which I personally find suits my learning style better. At least that’s what I understood from the prospectus. Ironically, my degree’s workload was 90% theory, in an industry (film) which requires a lot of practical experience. Mind you, my course only had 12 hours of classes a week so there wasn’t even much theory being taught. 

This raises a question which should be asked of any college course offered: Does it have enough content to qualify as a Bachelor’s degree? The idea of going to university is so ingrained in Irish society that many industries which would originally have required apprenticeships or traineeships are now being sold as degrees. But not everyone’s learning styles suit college and an apprenticeship should not be taught like a degree. 

According to a 2017 study by the Higher Education Authority, 1 in 6 third level students drop out of their course after their first year. That’s 6,200 a year. It’s hardly surprising: it’s difficult to know what to do at 18. Of course, it’s important to make that change now rather than later, but it is quite a financial setback after paying for a year’s tuition fee. That’s why Post-Leaving Cert courses are so important. I found comfort knowing that if I didn’t enjoy my PLC, it was only six months of my life and cost 300 euro, rather than 3,000 if I had gone straight back to University. They are great way to try out new subjects.  After all, it doesn’t matter where you go to college if you end up dropping out at the end of the year. 

I certainly found the word “prestigious” floats around Trinity a lot. Several lecturers have reminded me that Trinity was here long before the dinosaurs and that it ranks 17th in the world, not that UCD and other colleges are that far off. I’m not convinced that this difference in rank matters too much, particularly as it doesn’t seem to take Trinity’s communication skills into account. 

Trinity is famous for being terrible at communication. They will email you to tell you they will be opening a pothole for half an hour on a Saturday but good luck getting anything important like, I don’t know, a timetable. They’ve also clearly saved a fortune on signposts. It took me a week to find the library toilets, for example. I searched high and low, scaling staircases and searching behind bookcases in vain. Just as I was about to try running into the wall Harry Potter-style, I saw someone materialise out of a nook in the wall. Upon investigation I discovered that Trinity deemed this nook to be the best place for the toilets, at the perfect angle for it to remain hidden for years. 

In terms of beverages, DCU really has the upper hand. Its filled with so many cafes that it’s basically a slice of Paris in Ballymun, although the croissants are slightly more stale. As for canteens, they all seem similar enough that I wouldn’t let it factor your choice of college. 

So there we go, I find Trinity’s signposts and DCU’s abundance of coffee shops to be the major differences between these colleges. They’re small enough differences that I’m clearly grasping at straws. 

In sum, it doesn’t really matter where you go to college, I’m beginning to think they’re all the same. They all admit students based on how well they can regurgitate Leaving Cert Poetry and they seem to be simultaneously doing their best to train their students to industry standard while also scamming as much money as they can off them. I think the subject you study matters more and that’s where PLCs can be so helpful. 

But most industries nowadays want a degree of some form, regardless of where its from. And then there’s the E word, which sends shivers down any graduate’s spine. It doesn’t matter whether you walk out with an under- or post-graduate, whether your four years were spent sweating in the library or they turned into one long night out, the E word will trip you up. I can guarantee that as soon as you head for your first interview it will be put into a sentence which throws all your education down the drain: 

 “Sorry, while we’re really keen to hire undergraduates, you must have 15.25 years of industry experience before we can take you on.” 

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the ultimate reason it does not matter where you go to college. 

Read our interview with the mastermind behind UCD Confessions.

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