What you want to do goes first – even if it needs fewer points
ENNISCORTHY-BASED career-guidance consultant Seamus Whitney is currently receiving panic-stricken calls from parents worried about their son or daughter's CAO form choices.
The Central Applications Office announces February 1 as the closing date for receipt of applications but that is an artificial deadline according to Seamus, whose busiest time of year is between Christmas and July 1, which is the last day on which changes can be made to a CAO form.
'In 90% of cases, students don't have to meet the February 1 deadline. You can apply up to May 1. It costs a little bit extra but you don't lose out,' he said.
There are some exceptions and these are mostly for performance arts courses which require students to attend auditions, usually held around March.
'If you miss that deadline, you miss out,' he said.
When it comes to filling out a CAO form, Seamus estimates that, in his experience, at least nine out of 10 students don't fully understand how it works. 'They think they can cherry pick courses depending on their points but that's not the case. You only get one offer,' he said.
For that reason, students need to be very discerning about their first choice because if they get the required points, that's the course they will be offered.
'If you really want to do a certain course and it requires 400 points, put that first even if you think you'll get 600 points,' he said.
The mistake that many students make is they put higher-points courses at the top of the list, leaving their preferred choice in third, fourth or fifth place.
'If you understand the CAO form, it can work for you but if you don't, it can be a disaster,' said Seamus, who opened his guidance consultancy 15 years ago.
Failing to fill out the form according to real preferences results in three out of 10 first-year college students either dropping out or failing first year.
This is because they end up on a course that doesn't suit them.
Seamus uses the analogy of a parent asking a child to write a Christmas present wish list, to explain the concept.
'You wouldn't guarantee them everything they asked for but you'd encourage them to put the things they wanted the most at the top of the list and to work back from there.'
The CAO form contains a list of preferences for Level 8 (Degree), Level 7 (Ordinary Degree) and Level 6 (Certificate) courses. Some students lose interest as they move further down the tables and either fill in random courses or leave them blank.
But even when setting your sights on a Level 8 course, it is wise to put some thought into suitable Level 7 and Level 6 course alternatives, in case things don't work out according to plan.
After your initial application, there will be opportunities to change your choices as often as you like for free from May 5. The final date for changing your mind is on July 1, after the Leaving Cert results come out.
Seamus encourages parents to talk to their children about preferences. 'In a high percentage of cases, students are allowed to fill in the form on their own and parents don't know what their choices are until it's too late.'.
Also, too many students are overly influenced by what their friends are doing.
'In some cases, they are more interested in where they are going than what they are doing. I think that's a recipe for disaster,' said Seamus.
There are options on the CAO list that Seamus regards as 'hobby' courses.
Among them, in his view, are subjects like sports science and equestrian science.
'Someone is interested in sport and they think I'll do Sports Science but there is no job at the end of it unless they become a self-employed coach.'
'Focus on something that's going to give you the means to sustain yourself in the world,' said Seamus.
– MARIA PEPPER
New Ross Standard