CAO advice for parents: Connect with your children and talk to them about their passions, not their points
The Leaving Cert year is well under way but the next important hurdle for your son or daughter is their CAO application. There will, of course, be some students who are clear about their CAO choices and even their future careers. But for many students, certainty doesn't come so neatly packaged. As a parent, it is important to understand that indecision around courses or careers is to be expected.
The next few weeks and months are not about reminding your son or daughter to "get that CAO form sorted". Rather, your focus should be on helping them to step into the CAO decision-making process and encouraging them to take ownership of their choices.
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In the future world of work, people will change jobs on average of 12 times during their careers. So begin by reassuring your son or daughter that their CAO decisions are about the next few years - not their entire future.
Think of your role in terms of creating the opportunities to talk to them about their options and, equally as important, their individual preferences. Do try to leave your well-intentioned assumptions, expectations and fears at the door and be genuinely open to your son or daughter's motivations.
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This isn't as easy as you might think! But bear in mind that evidence overwhelmingly shows that students perform best in courses to which they are suited. So tap into their passions, not their projected points count. You can do this by getting them to talk about what they like (and don't like) about things such as their Leaving Cert subjects, their TY experiences and extra-curricular interests.
Don't forget to ask them why they think they do well in a particular subject or activity. This will support them in reflecting meaningfully on their natural strengths and will direct your son or daughter towards courses that best fit their talents and interests.
As a parent, you may feel that you need to have the answers to all of your son or daughter's career questions. But, actually, at this juncture in your child's life, your role is to help them to shift up a gear and take ownership of their choices. Once they have identified a broad area (or areas) of interest, encourage them to research the available courses in the online student prospectuses.
It's really important that they set aside time to look beyond the course title and entry requirements. Get them to drill down into the course content and structure. Your open questions about, eg, laboratory work, lecture contact hours, independent project work, Erasmus semesters and the opportunity to undertake a work placement, may prompt further practical thinking. Remember that this is a process and it won't happen in a single sitting. But be confident that these small talks add up. Your son or daughter will need to register their CAO application by February 1, but they will have plenty of time to revise their choices right up until July 1 (with the exception of restricted courses). Far from being a final point of decision, this is just the beginning of opportunity and discovery for them. You are their greatest advocate. Connect with them on their CAO journey and show them that you believe in them.
Patrice Twomey, Director, Cooperative Education & Careers Division, University of Limerick
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