Books on College and Careers

Books on College and Careers for College Awareness Week


(Catherine Ann Cullen)

Choosing a college or apprenticeship, cracking up over a CAO form, careering from one career choice to another – it’s that nervous rite of passage as students from Transition Year to Sixth Year begin planning their post-secondary lives. For parents, teachers and librarians who want to give the right guidance, this can be a challenging time. However, there’s plenty of help at hand, and below you’ll find a selection of books and online resources to get you and yours through the senior secondary cycle, past the Leaving Cert and on to that coveted course or career.

Cracking the College Code: A practical guide to making the most of the first year college experience focuses on giving students and parents the attitude and information to get them over that crucial junior freshman year. Author Catherine O’Connor is an education specialist at Trinity College who has designed undergraduate and masters programmes, so there’s plenty of insider knowledge here, encompassing everything you didn’t realise you didn’t know about that first make-or-break year. Topics range from making good course choices, coping with moving away – or (more challenging for some!) living at home, to what makes a student succeed – or withdraw. This security blanket for ‘freshers’ comes with a website which includes further information, including a series of worthwhile webinars on getting the most out of college. Survival Guide to Life by Marie Duffy and Tricia Purcell is also backed by a website and is free in ebook and paperback form. The chatty style and peer-to-peer advice mean it’s one for students rather than parents. It covers many issues faced by 16-25 year olds: bullying, employment, and sexual and mental health. There is non-judgemental advice on, for example, how to look after a drunk friend or get out of an abusive relationship. The Education section has chapters on exam stress, subject choices and colleges. Information comes bite-sized, with a summary after each chapter. Here’s one that sums up the CAW message: ‘There are loads of options if you want to continue your education after school. You could attend a PLC course, do an apprenticeship or go to college.’

The University of Limerick has produced its own guide for those keen to help their charges over the college hurdles. Aiming Higher: A Guide for Parents and Guardians is written by Patrice Twomey, Director of the Cooperative Education and Careers Division at UL. The guide can be read online or downloaded at, with hard copies in secondary schools countrywide. It has accessible chapters for those unfamiliar with college life, including a ‘Jargon-buster’ with definitions of everything from acronyms like BA to semesters, electives and majors. It also encourages parents to identify the strengths and expectations of students, and gives advice on financing the degree and associated costs such as accommodation.

Dearbhla Kelly’s Career Coach: A Step-by-Step Guide to Help Your Teen Find Their Life’s Purpose is an ‘early start’ book to pick up long before the rush to choose college courses. It’s a holistic handbook for those keen to help teenagers to link their talents and dreams to the world of work. Kelly is a guidance counsellor who starts from the premise of fostering good communication between parents and teenagers. She goes on to explain why, in a world where work is no longer guaranteed for life, teenagers need to learn to become their own leaders and manage their own careers. Kelly includes interviews with people who have followed their dreams into rewarding careers, such as celebrity gardener and broadcaster Diarmuid Gavin and medical officer Dr Ria Mahon, and their thoughtful responses on motivation and achievement will hopefully inspire the next generation.

Flying the Coop, produced annually by Youth Work Ireland in Roscommon/N.E. Galway. It’s a handy booklet for students from all around the country, with tips on everything from finding accommodation, what it costs in all the main college towns, and tenants’ rights, to learning how to budget, staying healthy and safe, and where to find help if you need it. The advice from YWI is to plan early, and give yourself time to familiarise yourself with your new surroundings. There’s a lot crammed onto the 40+ pages here, and the print is small! Get your copy from YWI’s Information Centre, Castle Street Roscommon for 50c plus p&p. Tel: 090 6625395 email: [email protected] , or contact your local Youth Information Centre.

Start Your Career Journey Here! by Brian Mooney takes a broad and bright perspective on college and career planning. Mooney writes about education for the Irish Times and is a Guidance Counsellor in Oatlands College, Dublin, so he is well-versed in the relevant issues. His book looks like a student’s own diary in places, with bite-sized information in a ‘what to do this month’ calendar, as well as comprehensive details of how to secure jobs in health, the defence forces, and many other fields. The book encourages students to look ‘outside the box’ for both courses and careers, and suggests that high-ranking colleges in other EU countries can be competitive on price with their Irish equivalents. Full-colour photographs and bright borders make this a visually attractive read.


Sorted: A Survival Guide for Parents of Students Making a Career Choice by Andrée Harpur and Mary Quirke is written by not one but two career guidance counsellors. The book aims to take the stress and complication out of making decisions about the working life. Again, this is not just a guide to college: it outlines all the options for school-leavers, from higher and further education to studying abroad, apprenticeships and training. It also gives advice on the CAO process and subject choices in school and college, and encourages parents to look at the interests and abilities of their child to find a good career fit. Although parents are the target audience, there is also plenty here for students, teachers and guidance counsellors.

If all of those guides seem too worthy, there’s always The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: College, which will give students a giggle at the less academic side of education. Parents should probably avoid this as it will shatter any misty-eyed notions about college days. Advice runs from how to stay up all night to how to sleep unnoticed in class and pass a test you haven’t studied for. It’s an American book, so parents on this side of the pond can fondly hope that nothing like that happens here…. Perish the thought!

Whether your teenagers or students face straight As or fear dire straits, it’s never too early to reflect on their future choices. Being there to share your experience, and some of these resources, will help to make those choices less intimidating and more enjoyable for them – and you.


Catherine Ann Cullen is the author of three children’s books and three poetry collections. She has an M.Phil in Creative Writing from TCD and a PhD from Middlesex University. She has worked with the Trinity Access Programmes on College Awareness Week and the Bookmarks project.


Aiming Higher: A Guide for Parents and Guardians by Patrice Twomey (University of Limerick, 2105). Online at No ISBN, free, funded by the HEA

Career Coach: A Step-by-Step Guide to Help Your Teen Find Their Life’s Purpose by Dearbhla Kelly (Gill and Macmillan, 2015) ISBN: 9780717168552 €14.99

Cracking the College Code: A practical guide to making the most of the first year college experience by Catherine O’Connor (Fallons, 2013) ISBN: 9781782373575 €12.99

Flying the Coop 2016: A guide to leaving home and going to college by Youth Work Ireland Roscommon/N.E. Galway, 2016 (Irish Youth Work Press, 2016) ISBN: 9781900416948 50c

Sorted: A Survival Guide for Parents of Students Making a Career Choice by Andrée Harpur and Mary Quirke (Orpen Press, 2011) ISBN: 9781842182413 €15 Survival Guide to Life by Marie Duffy and Tricia Purcell (, 2014) ISBN: 9780992852504. Free to read/download online, paperback available free from

Start Your Career Journey Here! by Brian Mooney (The Educational Company of Ireland, 2014). ISBN: 9781845366384 €9.95

Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: College by Joshua Piven, David Borgenicht and Jennifer Worick (Chronicle, 2004) ISBN: 9780811842303 UK9.85


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