Megan Marshal remembers that when she was filling out the CAO form the first time around the pressure was on to aim for a high points course.
So the 19-year-old from Lucan, Co Dublin a former pupil of Maynooth Post-Primary School, decided on the highest points course of all, medicine. It was 2011, when she was doing her Leaving Cert, and she recalls: "It was all about high points courses like law, medicine, physiotherapy and about big name colleges. It was totally the mindset and I was probably in that mindset."
After sitting the HPAT, Megan knew she wouldn't get medicine but stayed focused on that field and – with her 535 points – was offered, and accepted, a place in radiation therapy.
"It wasn't for me, I left after a month and a half," said Megan, who admits that, on reflection, she probably wouldn't have liked medicine either.In her time out, she realised that she hadn't given proper consideration to what she would like to be studying.
Megan also explored law and science, but the turning point came when her boyfriend, Greg Flynn, introduced her to arts in NUI Maynooth (370 points in 2012), which he was studying,
"It sounded interesting and he suggested that I attend some lectures. I ended up falling in love with English."
She had previously thought about arts, and met with a certain resistance. People said: "Why would you do that, you are not using all your points. But that is not what it is about."
Now, the first year English and anthropology student loves what she is doing and cautions against anyone not thinking through their CAO choices.
"People think it is all about getting a high points course, but it is about doing the course you want, about what you want to do for the rest of your life."