This article will help you decide what to study, and at which university. We provide practical tips on how to compare universities, how to prepare for open days and who to talk to at these events.
When choosing a course, it is important that you are interested in the subject. Although not vital, it also helps to think of what career or further study you intend to pursue in order to give you the best possible chance of success in that area.
Courses are taught via a variety of different methods including lectures, tutorials, and practical sessions. Your course may include placement and field trips which will take place off campus in a wide variety of locations.
Most courses are assessed by a variety of methods which could include exams, written work, presentations, projects and practical assessments. It is likely that your course will include some group work. Don’t rule out a course just because there are methods of assessment you don’t think you will be comfortable with – there is lots of support available for students to develop their skills.
You will usually study several different modules (which add up to 60 credits every academic year). Modules can be thought of as subtopics of your overall course. Some of these you will be able to choose and some will be compulsory. Your understanding of the module content will assessed in different ways.
By passing your modules you will collect credits which will enable you to progress on your course. It is common that all students enjoy and excel in some areas above others, however each module is as important as another and all will contribute to your progression.
How could this affect me?
Choosing the right course for you is the most important choice you make when deciding whether or not to go to on to third level study. Being informed about the content of the course, how it is taught and the methods of assessment may help you to decide which course is right for you.
And if you do start a course and you find it is not the one for you, there are options to change or start an alternative course. Please note in UCC there are strict timeframes in place for this – find out more here: can I change my modules after I register?
Once you have decided on a course of study, you then have the often tricky task of finding a suitable university at which to study it! There are many factors to take into account when deciding on a university; probably the first question you need to ask yourself is, ‘Do I want to live away from home?’ This is a major consideration for any student, and autistic students can find it particularly challenging. We have put together some advice on choosing where to live.
Take up opportunities to visit the different universities, look around the campuses, visit the accommodation, and try and speak to the tutors… really try and get a feel for what life there would be like.
What to do next?
Spend some time reading more about the courses you are interested in.
It is really important that you find out more about the university and the course, how it is taught and assessed before deciding if it is for you.
Find out what is important to you
If you are visiting several different universities, it can become confusing, and easy to lose track of what was on offer at each; take a camera and note pad, and jot down important details. Some students have found it useful to have a spreadsheet to compare the facilities and courses on offer; you may want to consider things like:
- distance to travel between accommodation and campus
- charges and costs (Student Contribution Charges and any other costs you would be expected to pay for equipment, field trips etc.)
- cost of accommodation and living expenses
- how many hours contact time you will have a week
- autism awareness of tutors
- autism support offered by the Disability Support Services team
- how inclusive the course material is, i.e. does it cater for a variety of student preferences?
- what are the supports and reasonable accommodations that can be offered?
- library facilities
- availability of quiet study areas
- extracurricular activities – are there clubs or societies you would be interested in joining?
Each student will have their own priorities when it comes to what is important for them!
Understand the entire course structure
Autistic students have told us that they often struggle with understanding how the different modules or units in a course relate to each other, and why they are all required. When you go to an open day, ask the relevant course leader to explain this. Often the names of modules within a course do not reveal much about the content – again ask the course leader or module tutor to give you more information.
In UCC, the Book of Modules has useful information about the purpose of a module, what you are expected to learn and how you will be assessed.
Speak to students
Colleges usually hold Open Days and often there will be current students there. Have a chat with them if possible, to get their first-hand impressions of how it is to study there. Our advice is to be open about your autism, and explain what you like, what you don’t like, and what you’re good at.
It is also helpful to contact the Disability Support Services team before visiting, to arrange for an appointment with them on the day, so that they can explain their support policies. They may also be able to provide you with particular support for the open day, should you require it. They may even be able to arrange for you to meet another autistic student who can tell you about his/her personal experiences.
Use our Best Practice Guides to prepare
We have put together a set of Best Practice Guides for academics and disability staff to help them support autistic students better. They are full of practical tips and you can use these guides as references when talking to professionals – to find out what the university already does in terms of support, and what they could do better in the future. You can download the guides at www.autism-uni.org/bestpractice.
Questions to think about
Some points to consider when choosing where and what to study:
- What are you interested in? Is this an area of study that can lead to a career at the end of the course?
- Do you want to live at home and commute to the university?
- Would you be happy living independently away from home?
- Are you aware of the workload that is required for your course? (Remember that much of your time will be spent in independent study.)
- How is the course assessed?
- Does the course require you to make additional purchases of equipment? (Some courses require the purchase of high spec computer equipment, for example, which can prove to be very expensive if you are not prepared for it!)
- Have you researched what support the university can offer autistic students?
- What is the social life like? Not all students enjoy the livelier aspects of university life! Check with the Students’ Union to see what events are being held (often they provide quieter spaces or sensory friendly events) and also see what the UCC Clubs and Societies are on offer.)
Additional information and links
- Download the Autism&Uni Best Practice Guides to help you prepare for an open day.
- Find out more about the courses offered at UCC