Back to college: When are students back and what will classes look like?

Back To College: When Are Students Back And What Will Classes Look Like? Back To College: When Are Students Back And What Will Classes Look Like?
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The summer is well and truly over, and with primary and secondary school students already back to class, next is the turn of college students.

While last year saw the move to remote and hybrid learning, getting students back on campus is the goal for this year.

Here's what the return to classes will look like for college students over the coming weeks..

In-person or online?

Although the threat of Covid has not gone away, the rollout of the vaccine has bolstered plans for the return of face-to-face classes.

During the summer, three third-level groups, (the Irish Universities Association, the Technological Higher Education Association and RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences) joined together to outline their 'Safe Return to Campus', recognising the "overwhelming desire from students for a return to on-campus learning and research activity".

With this, colleges have committed to holding as many classes in-person as possible. For larger classes, such as lectures, colleges have set upper limits on the number of students who can attend, with any class over the limit taking place online instead.

The majority of colleges have said details on whether a class will be online or in-person will be detailed on the student's timetable, or they will be notified by the module leader.

For those who cannot attend classes, such as people who are immuno-compromised, colleges have guidelines in place to ensure such students will no miss out by being unable to attend face-to-face teaching, information of which can be found on the college's website.

Masks, vaccines and testing

As the easing of restrictions continues, the rules regarding face coverings may change and individual colleges may update their guidance on the matter, taking class sizes and social distancing into consideration. However, for now the Safe Return to Campus guidelines state face masks will be required in "indoor on-site shared settings in accordance with prevailing public health regulations and guidance".


To help with this, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris announced free flack masks will be made available to all colleges.

Students who are exempt from wearing face masks on medical grounds will not be required to wear face coverings, and some institutions have indicated students will not be required to wear face masks in lectures where a two-meter social distance is being implemented, so check with the individual college's guidelines before you attend.

Vaccination is not required for students returning to college, but Mr Harris has said he wants to make it as easy as possible for college students to get vaccinated if they have not already done so.

To facilitate this, the HSE is expected to set up pop-up vaccination centres near colleges to encourage students to receive the jab.

In addition, there will be a strong emphasis on testing to avoid large outbreaks among staff and students. Mr Harris said PCR test centres are located close to colleges around the country to ensure people can get tested quickly and easily, while nine institutions will use rapid antigen testing, a number which is due to double.

Isolating and close contacts


The rules surrounding close contacts for students has been a point of confusion for many, but the basics remain the same: if you are displaying symptoms, isolate immediately and arrange a Covid test.

According to the HSE, what you have to do if you are a close contact depends on your vaccination/recovery status, if you are immuno-compromised, or if you are displaying symptoms. More information on what to do if you are a close contact can be found on the HSE website.

Colleges may have their own protocols in place for students forced to isolate, so check the college website to ensure you know what to do if you test positive or are deemed a close contact.

Incoming first years

The delayed release of the Leaving Certificate results mean the CAO round one offers have been pushed back to Tuesday, September 7th.

To ensure incoming first years have adequate time to accept their offers and arrange accommodation if they have not already done so, colleges have pushed back the orientation and start dates for these students.

While most continuing students will return over the next two weeks, September 27th has been set as the start date for first years at most colleges around the country. Again, students should check information provided by their college which will detail the process and dates for orientation, registration and the start of classes.

Back to college dates

Below is a table of the dates given on the website's of individual institutions for the return of students for the autumn semester.

Most of these dates refer to when classes begin, in which case orientation may take place prior to the date stated. Dates may also differ for individual courses/class groups, so students are advised to check their course website or year group/course-specific updates provided by their college.

College: Returning students: New students:
Dublin City University (DCU) September 20th September 27th
Maynooth University September 20th September 27th
Mary Immaculate College September 6th September 27th
Munster Technological University September 20th September 27th
NUI Galway September 6th September 27th
Technological University (TU) Dublin September 20th September 27th
University College Cork (UCC) September 13th September 27th
University College Dublin (UCD) September 13th September 27th
University of Limerick (UL) September 6th September 27th
Athlone Institute of Technology September 6th September 27th
Carlow Institute of Technology September 16th (registration & orientation for third & fourth years) September 20th (registration & orientation for first & second years)
Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology September 20th September 27th
Letterkenny Institute of Technology September 20th September 27th
Limerick Institute of Technology September 13th September 27th
Sligo Institute of Technology September 20th September 22nd & 23rd (induction)
Waterford Institute of Technology September 8th September 15th-17th (orientation)


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