In just two days I will be boarding a plane for Ireland, excited to be taking my first trip to the Emerald Isle. I must confess I feel a tad guilty that I, the only member of my family with no trace of Irish ancestry, must leave my husband and daughters behind. However, this is a business trip, not a vacation, and I will get to do one of things I enjoy most about my profession: I will have the opportunity to visit all seven national universities, walk the campuses, see the students, hear from professors and administrators, and learn as much as I can possibly absorb in one week about the Irish higher education system.
I am especially primed for my upcoming trip, not only in anticipation of visiting historic cities and universities and taking in the beautiful surroundings and Gaelic culture. I am thrilled to see firsthand these world-renowned universities which I believe provide a genuinely worthy and interesting alternative for American students. Irish universities offer quality academics and an approach to education that is probably closest to what we have in the U.S. in terms of curriculum, prestige, and career advising and support.
My purpose here is not to exalt the virtues of studying in Ireland (I expect to do that after my trip!), but rather to present some of the reasons why thinking beyond a 180 mile radius exposes families to options they otherwise might not have considered. Granted, spending three or four years studying in another country and living within a foreign culture best serves students open to new experiences and those truly seeking to broaden their horizons. But some of the persuasive reasons for thinking beyond one’s borders may be enough to compel students to consider less conventional choices.
Here is a typical wish list that I often hear from students and families:
- Many academic options
- Access to a city, but also a nice campus
- A mid-size university; not too small
- Lots of clubs and activities
- Career advising
Here is what I do currently know about the Irish higher education system:
- All seven universities are research institutions offering bachelor, graduate and doctoral programs
- The campuses are primarily city-based with easy access to explore the rest of Ireland
- Several are what we consider mid-size universities, with 7,000 to 12,000 undergraduate students
- The Irish system offers both a U.S. type curriculum where students can study liberal arts and sciences, but also a British style curriculum that offers specialization in the first year
- Club and activities abound; the Irish universities provide many of the student life amenities found on U.S. campuses
- The admission process is very much focused on “fit” and employs a holistic review (academics, recommendations, personal statement)
- International students are not left to fend for themselves; they participate in an extensive orientation program and have access to dedicated support for foreign students, both academic and career focused, throughout their years at the university
- A degree from an Irish university is recognized internationally; the seven institutions draw students from all over the world
- The cost of attendance for the highly recognized educational experience is approximately US$36,000 per year, comparable to that of the public universities in the United States; many programs are just three years which provides considerable cost savings over a U.S. degree
- U.S. citizens and residents can use federal student aid (Stafford and PLUS loans) to help finance an education in Ireland; all of the universities also offer some merit aid.
To be fair, the Irish universities are experiencing many of the cost structure issues that also plague U.S. institutions. The Higher Education Authority in Ireland has been very proactive in addressing this and has recently proposed strategic plans to better align missions and eliminate duplication among the universities. Getting a better understanding for the structure of the Irish system going forward is one of my key objectives for this trip.
As always, I welcome your comment. If you have any specific questions you would like me to pursue on this explorative journey, please send them my way!