‘UCD went out of its way to accommodate and encourage me’

How I got here: Clodagh Dunne started Criminology with Psychology at UCD in September

I didn’t have certificates. I didn’t have much interest in pursuing third-level education when I left school, mainly because I was from a big family and I didn’t think it would be fair on my parents. My dad was working in a factory, and things weren’t great financially.

I left Ireland for a long time. I arrived back in Ireland with two children, and had no Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate, nothing. I worked as a cleaner. I had planned to go back to college, to go back and do something. I came across the UCD Access course.

I am in my early 50s. I am a lone parent with no maintenance, I am on a reduced-rate social welfare payment and I have a part-time cleaning job. But I applied to the UCD Access course and it was an informal interview, and I got the place.

During the Access programme, I had a son in college and have two sons in secondary school. Upon entry to the Access programme, I received a grant towards the cost of the course. I received a PC on loan from the college. I received full access to all the UCD facilities, including health and mental healthcare. I received stationary free from the UCD students’ union service.


I encountered many personal difficulties during the course, and I had to jump out of the course after the first half. UCD went out of its way to accommodate and encourage me to continue and complete the course. I returned the following year for the spring semester.

The course was extremely enjoyable, especially for someone in their 50s who hadn’t been in an academic environment for all those years. It was very engaging and very encouraging.

I’m doing Criminology with Psychology, a new course offered by the [UCD] School of Law. I had originally gone in [as] a social science student, however during the access programme, you’re introduced to social workers and your lecturers will go into the many different fields you can go into.

I got a sense of what would be involved in the social work and it wasn’t that I wasn’t interested any longer, but I think it was the 80 per cent of paper work that made me feel like I wanted to be more active.

I looked at different fields when doing assignments, you’re looking at things that go on in society, different issues and I narrowed mine down to policy changes around education and the criminal justice system.

I was able to see there were other fields I could explore here. You’re offered other modules; you’re offered tastes of other things to try that you wouldn’t normally get to try.

I [started] the undergraduate degree in September. I’m very excited because I’m embarking on an academic area I’m very interested in and one that I would love to work in.

* The Irish Times will publish a special College Choice supplement on 16 January which will include information and advice to students applying for college places in 2024.