Friday 30 September 2016

Going to College: Your guide to navigating the CAO

Patrice Twomey

Published 06/01/2016 | 02:30

Patrice Twomey
Patrice Twomey

The white heat of the Leaving Cert year is not an easy time for students. Nor is it a walk in the park for parents.

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With all the hype about the impending CAO application deadline, you may feel that you need to get your son or daughter to "sit down and get that CAO form sorted once and for all".

But these decisions don't always come neatly packaged. Your son or daughter may be very sure about their CAO choices but many students are unclear about what course or future career they are interested in pursuing even at this stage. Frustrating though it might be, don't view a reluctance to sit down and have "the CAO talk" to mean that your son or daughter couldn't be bothered. Often they may be worried about making the wrong choices, concerned about following their dreams or even anxious about disappointing you.

Begin by debunking the myth that their CAO choice will somehow determine their whole future. In the new world of work, people will change jobs an average of eleven times during their careers.

So, reassure them that this is a decision about the next few years rather than about their entire working life. Think of your role in terms of making the time and creating the opportunities to talk to them about their options. Remember that all of the evidence shows that students perform best in courses to which they are suited.

It is this, more than anything else, that should guide your conversations. Tap into their passions, rather than their expected points count. Help them to focus on what they do well and, more importantly, why they like doing it. This will support them in identifying their natural strengths and will guide them towards courses that best suit their talents and interests.

You may feel that you need to have the answers to your son or daughter's career questions. Actually, asking the right questions is much more important. Once they have identified a broad area of interest, encourage them to research the available courses in that area (most institutions have an on-line prospectus).

Get them to look beyond the course title and to drill down into the course content and structure. Questions about what level of maths, reading, laboratory work or independent project work can prompt further practical thinking.

For many students, the opportunity to do a work placement is an important driver of choice. Discussing these issues should guide your son or daughter towards a more focussed choice. Remember too that research takes time and doesn't happen in one sitting. But be confident that small talks add up. Certainty is for the few and indecision is not a negative. Of course your son or daughter needs to register their application by February 1. However, after that they have plenty of time to revise their choices and they can add to or amend their application right up until July 1 (with the exception of restricted courses).

Encourage them to see the process as a healthy consideration of choice. Far from being a final point of decision, this is just the beginning of opportunity for your son and daughter. Let them know you are on their side.

Patrice Twomey, Director, Cooperative Education & Careers Division, University of Limerick and author of 'Aiming Higher', a guide to the higher education system for parents and guardians.

See today's Irish Independent for your special 20 page guide to going to college

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