Research is key to finding the right course
Some students are still a bit unsure of their career direction when starting 6th Year. This may be because they don't really know where to start, because they are unsure of themselves or because they feel like they should know their perfect course by now. But, there is no need to have it all figured out by now; choosing a career and a course is a process, and now is the time to work through that process.
Research, research, research
At this stage of the year, it is absolutely fine to not know which courses to place on the CAO form. However it is certainly time to start trying to find them. The most important job a 6th Year student has at the moment is to research, research, research.
Many students say to me that they are not sure what they want to do, or which courses interest them. The best way to get to a point of certainty is to read up on as many courses as possible.
Students should think about what they are reading and ask themselves questions like 'what do I like about this course?' 'Is there any part that I don't like?' 'Is there anything I don't understand?' 'Do I like this more or less than the last course I read?'. Eventually, students will find that a small number of courses begin to stand out for them. These are the courses that are likely to take the top spaces on a student's CAO form.
There can be a temptation to search for the perfect courses. Doing this is more likely to hinder research rather than help it, and for two reasons.
Firstly, there is no such thing as a perfect course - it's likely every course will contain aspects students will enjoy and dislike.
Secondly, this type of thinking will encourage students to find negatives rather than positives when reviewing courses. At this stage, students should aim to find as many 'maybe courses' as possible.
Later, students can attempt to organise all their 'maybe courses' in order of preference. This should enable them to identify their first preference more easily, with courses of less interest eventually dropping off the list.
Remember that applicants may fill up to 20 places on their CAO form so the more courses one can list the better.
Keep track of what you find
This may seem obvious, but I have worked with students who have told me they found their perfect course but can't remember which college it was in or the course name. Once a student comes across a 'maybe' course, it is essential to record it. Most course search websites have a facility to create an account in which students can save their course description. If a student does not want to use this facility it can be just as effective to print out course descriptions and keep them all in the one folder.
Students can use 'post-its' to jot their question or thoughts onto the course descriptions and keep them for later.
Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin
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Q & A
Q: I would like to take Russian for my Leaving Cert as my family are from Russia but Russian is not taught in my school
A: It is possible to take the Leaving Cert exam in subjects that are not taught in your school and, indeed, many students do. Particularly popular subjects include languages such as Russian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish and Romanian. If students are fluent in any of these languages and would like to take them for their Leaving Cert it is possible to do so. Students should speak to the teacher who organises the State exams in their school and declare their wish to have this exam included on their Leaving Cert form (the organising teacher normally circulates these in the spring).
It is essential that you familiarise yourself with past papers as early in the year as possible (these are available for free on examinations.ie) and do not presume that just because this language is spoken at home you will have all knowledge required to pass. Students should prepare and take practice questions before undertaking the exam.