The pressure put on students today to attend college and complete a degree is colossal. There are more people in university in Ireland today than ever before. In many ways, our society assumes that you will move on to third-level education after secondary school. But there are other routes, and I knew I was never suited to academics.

Finishing your Leaving Certificate, you are inundated with questions about your future. “Where are you going now?” and “what you want to do?” are part of every conversation you have at this stage of life. I set my sights on the University of Limerick, but when I was 5 points off my desired course, I needed to revaluate my prospects.  

There are several fantastic options outside of going to university: online courses, apprenticeships and Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses, for example. The best thing I did was move to London on my own at the age of nineteen to learn life skills and embark on a career path I had not planned. I was determined to leave my comfort zone, challenge myself and gain experience in a new country.

London was a big change from my home on Achill Island. It was hectic, but full of opportunities. There was no time to think as everything happened so quickly there, and if you didn’t work hard, you wouldn’t work at all. Initially, I found work in a bar to get me up and running, before a chance conversation brought me to where I am today. After training with a London GAA club one night, I met an Irishman who mentioned that the SAP recruitment company he managed was hiring. Although I had no experience in recruitment, I persuaded him to let me interview for the position.

Although I had no degree, no recruitment experience and had never sat an interview before, I was offered the job two days later! I was told afterwards that the job offer was as a result of my determination, being personable and respectful during the interview, and possessing a desire to learn. I’m forever grateful that the company decided to take a chance on me. Working in London was a real eye-opener, and one of the most exciting and enjoyable times of my life.

After a year recruiting in London and experiencing the big city life, I decided to return to Ireland. My parents were always encouraging me to come home and try the college route again, so I enrolled in Galway Mayo Institute of Technology. I succumbed to the societal pressure to obtain a college degree when I had been learning valuable skills elsewhere. For some people, they just need those extra few years before they start college, but that wasn’t the case for me, and after a few months I made the decision to take the non-traditional route once again.

Since leaving GMIT I have spent two years recruiting in the medical device industry in Galway. I joined Collins McNicholas in August 2018 and have been working with some of the most recognisable brands in the industry – Boston Scientific, Medtronic, Creganna TE Connectivity and others.

The satisfaction in finding employment for other people is central to the enjoyment I have working here, and although Galway isn’t quite as big as London it is a lot closer to home. I get home to Achill more often too, which my parents are happy about!

There is no doubt that university degrees and the experience of college life is invaluable to some. However, I believe it is important to choose the right path for you. Whether you decide to attend university, complete a PLC or apprenticeship, or begin working after secondary school, there are endless opportunities to explore. I’m glad I tried both routes, because in the end it made me more sure of my decision to follow my own path.



Stephen Kelly

Recruitment Consultant 

Collins McNicholas Recruitment & HR Services Group