How to pick the right subjects for your career path
Guidance counsellor Aoife Walsh's top guide to choosing subjects for the senior cycle at school
Published 15/01/2014 | 02:30
Now is the time when third year and Transition Year students are taking important decisions about what subjects to study at senior cycle.
Students need to consider their aptitudes and abilities and use that as a basis for selecting the subjects to which they are best suited.
It is also vital that they take into account future college and career paths and ensure that when it comes to applying for higher education they are not caught out because they did not study a particular subject at Leaving Certificate level.
Here, Aoife Walsh, guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin, offers some key pointers on how to make the best choices.
Q My school offers LCA, LCVP and traditional Leaving Certificate. What are the differences between these three programmes?
A LCA stands for Leaving Certificate Applied. It provides students with a very different way of studying. It contains a large amount of continuous assessment and work experience. Students study traditional subjects such as maths, English and a language but also take a variety of modules which varies depending on the school. LCA classes are generally smaller than traditional Leaving Certificate classes. This option tends to suit students who do not enjoy a very academic environment and enjoy a more practical learning style.
LCVP stands for Leaving Cert Vocational Programme. It offers students who are studying certain combinations of subjects in the traditional Leaving Cert the opportunity to take extra 'Link Modules' in the area of Business and Enterprise. Students can earn up to 70 CAO points for LCVP and the programme is mostly project work with an exam in May. Nearly all colleges recognise LCVP points for entry but students may count only their best six subjects for points.
Q How many subjects do I need to choose?
A The rules in schools vary, but most require students to take seven subjects for the Leaving Certificate. Some students may take fewer, for example, those who are not taking Irish. Other students may choose to take more. There is no specific rule about how many subjects one should take, however students must pass six subjects in the Leaving Certificate in order to be eligible for Level 8 (honours) degrees and the CAO uses a student's best six subjects to determine CAO points.
Q Are there any subjects I must choose?
A Every student must take English, maths and Irish, unless they have an exemption from Irish. Students will normally choose another four subjects.
The subjects offered by schools and the freedom of choice students have can vary depending on resources and timetabling constraints. Some schools offer students a completely free choice while others might ask students to choose between certain groupings.
Most Leaving Certificate subjects can be taken up by students at senior cycle even if they have not studied them before, but there are some that students will find very difficult to take up if they have not studied them previously. If students are considering taking a new subject it is advisable to speak to the subject teacher or a guidance counsellor before making this decision.
Q I would like to take more than seven subjects, is this possible?
A In theory, students may take as many subjects as they wish, but most school timetables can only accommodate seven. However, every year a number of students choose to take eight subjects or, in a very small number of cases, nine.
These extra subjects are usually taken outside school. Students may choose to take a subject that is similar to subjects they are already studying. For example many students who are studying physics and higher level maths may choose also to take applied maths.
Students who speak a language other than English in the home may have the option of taking this language as subject for Leaving Certificate even if it is not taught in their school. Among the languages in which students can sit a Leaving Cert exam are Russian, Romanian and Polish, to name a few.
Q Should I take an extra subject?
A There is certainly no need to take on extra subjects for the Leaving Certificate. There is already a lot of work involved in taking seven subjects and only six are required for the CAO so students are already doing an 'extra' one.
Before deciding to take on an extra subject it is important to consider how much extra work this will involve and if it is really needed. Taking extra subjects for CAO points can be a false economy; if students spread themselves too thinly they could fall by five points in each of their other subjects and negate any gain being made by taking the extra.
Remember, no matter how many subjects a student takes, the CAO will only count the best six.
Q How should I choose my subjects?
A There are number of things students should consider when choosing Leaving Certificate subjects. Firstly, they should think about the subjects they enjoy and why they enjoy them. If students enjoy their subjects they are more likely to study them and get better grades.
Also, if a student enjoys a subject in school it is likely that they will enjoy a college course in a similar area and eventually a job in that field.
If there are subject requirements for a course they will be in an area related to that field of study. Students should also consider what they enjoy doing outside school. Hobbies and interests might give some clues as to what subjects they enjoy.
Secondly, students should consider the subjects where they shine. It may be helpful to discuss this with friends and relatives. Consider Junior Certificate results as well as any aptitude testing done in school. Students currently in Transition Year, should consider what modules you have enjoyed so far.
Finally, consider possible entry requirements for third level. For example, science courses will require students to have taken science at Leaving Certificate, but students who are interested in careers in science are likely to enjoy science and will probably opt for at least one science subject anyway.
Q Do I have to take a language if I want to go to college?
A Some schools require all their Leaving Certificate students to take a language. If students have the option to choose whether or not to take a language, they should consider it seriously as it may determine the choices available to them when it comes to applying for college.
For example, a third European language is a requirement for of a number of departments in the NUI colleges -- University College Cork (UCC), University College Dublin (UCD), NUI Galway and NUI Maynooth. The phrase, third European language, refers to a language other than English and Irish, which, it is presumed, most students already study.
Departments in HUI colleges that require students to have a language include arts/humanities, business and health course such as medicine and dentistry. A third language is not required for engineering or agriculture in these colleges.
Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and the University of Limerick require students to have one language -- either Irish or a modern language, while Dublin City University (DCU) and the institutes of technology require students to pass maths and English or Irish.
Q I do not study Irish. Am I excluded from applying to certain colleges?
A Students who have an exemption from studying Irish in school will be also exempt from this requirement at university.
Students may receive an exemption for Irish if they joined the Irish education system after 5th class in primary school or if they have a certain type of learning difficulty.
Information regarding exemptions will have to be sent to colleges of choice but this will be done in 6th year.
Q If I don't know what I have to study at third-level, what subject should I choose?
A If a student is not sure what to study at third level, they should choose subjects that they are good at and that they like. It is likely that if students like something in second-level school they will like it at third level as well. Students are also likely to do better in the Leaving Certificate in subjects they enjoy , leading to higher points, which will mean more CAO options.
If a student has any ideas about what they might like to study at college, they should look up the requirements for these courses on Qualifax.ie. If students think they would like to study science then it is a good idea to take a science subject at Leaving cert.
Students should also consider keeping on a language to ensure they have the widest possible choice when it comes to filling out the CAO form.
Important Dates: Today Cork IT – CAO Information Session for mature students, Dublin Business School – Open Day DCU – CAO, Mature student and parents eveing IADT Dun Laoghaire – Open Evening Limerick IT Clonmel – CAO Information Evening NUI Maynooth – CAO Information Evening Shannon College of Hotel Management – Open Evening UCAS – Application deadline UCD Engineering – Open Evening January 16 Limerick IT – CAO Information Evening Limerick IT/LSAD – Portfolio Open Day NUI Galway Information Evening (Letterkenny) NUI Maynooth – Information Evening (Athlone) UCC – Information Meeting for Parents January 18 Dundalk IT – Information meeting Irish College of Humanities and Applied Sciences – Open Day Mary Immaculate College – Open Day UCD – Architecture Open Day University of Limerick –Open Day January 19 HPAT Ulster – Late registration closes January 20 CAO – Deadline for reduced fee applications HPAT Ireland – Registration closes.
Points? You do the maths.
A minimum C3 in higher level maths is a basic requirement for many Level 8 (honours) degree programmes. In some cases, the minimum requirement is higher than C3.
In general, higher level maths is a requirement for Level 8 courses in engineering, computer science, actuarial science, financial maths, mathematical science and some science courses.
Currently, students who achieve at least a grade D in higher level maths will have 25 points added to their CAO score, if maths counts as one of their best subjects.
Courses where foundation level maths is acceptable or with no maths requirement include some social studies, humanities, art, film, planning, journalism, media, law and the Garda College .
Measure your aptitude
Many schools use the Differential Aptitude Test (DAT) with students who are choosing subjects for the Leaving Certificate.
The DAT tests measure students' abilities in a number of different areas and the scores can be used to produce a profile showing a pupil's strengths and weaknesses. In contrast, exams measure students' performance.
DAT scores can be useful in helping a student to decide what subjects to pursue. High scores may indicate that a student would enjoy certain subjects for example:
Verbal reasoning: English, Business, History
Numerical Reasoning: Math, Accountancy, Physics
Abstract Reasoning: Physics, Engineering, Math, Chemistry
Perpetual Speed and Accuracy: all subjects.
Space Relations: Art, Design and Communication Graphics, Biology and Geography.
Mechanical Reasoning: Engineering, Technology, Construction
This list is not exhaustive.