Continuing challenge of being a first generation college student

AIT student, Jessica O’Brien

AIT student, Jessica O’Brien

AIT student tells of her third level experience

For many first generation college students, the realm of third level can be uniquely challenging, particularly if they don’t have a mentor who can guide them through the complexities of college life. This was the case for Jessica O’Brien, a final year accounting student from Arklow, Co. Wicklow.

While her own road to third level education wasn’t linear, she hopes her story will show other young people that it’s not the road you start on that matters, but your attitude and commitment to bettering yourself and your unwillingness to give up.

Six years after initially enrolling in college, Jessica will soon be graduating, having previously attended two other colleges and undertaken four courses in areas like software and computer games development and office administration. At just 17, she enrolled in a computer games development course in Carlow, but her time there was short-lived and following a bout of health complications, she fell behind on her course work and was forced to drop out.

While in Carlow, Jessica met her now partner whose mother became an incredibly influential figure in her life. She encouraged Jessica to consider undertaking an accounting degree a little further afield. Unfortunately, when Jessica initially applied for Athlone Institute of Technology and several other colleges, she wasn’t accepted.

A chance encounter with a lecturer in Athlone Institute of Technology changed Jessica’s life forever. He explained to her that despite having more than enough points for the accounting degree, she didn’t meet the additional criteria and would never be accepted through the typical admissions process. He recommended that she enrol in the accounting technician course, a level six programme designed to provide an alternative access route into a third level degree.

“Leaving Certificate is not the be all and end all, so I enrolled in a two-year Accounting Technician programme which I successfully completed before advancing into the second year of the Bachelor of Arts (Hons ) in Accounting. Accounting is a challenging field, but the lecturers here are extremely supportive and helpful. They’re on the journey with the students which makes it hard not to feel encouraged,” Jessica remarked.

Jessica’s father runs an extremely successful taxi business while her mother minds children.

“My parents came of age at a time when most jobs didn’t require a degree, now you practically need a postgraduate qualification to compete in the jobs market,” she explained.

While Jessica’s parents were incredibly supportive of her educational aspirations, having not been through the process themselves, they advised Jessica to speak to a guidance counsellor to see what her options were and to help her apply for funding mechanisms like SUSI.

“I had so many questions about where to go and who to talk to about courses and while they couldn’t help me with those things, they tried to facilitate me as best as they could,” Jessica continued.

For Jessica, education is a tool of social mobility, a means of getting to where she needs to go so that she can carve out a better life for herself and her family.

After graduation, Jessica aspires to do a master’s but not yet, she says, she’s going to go and see some of the world first!


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