Going to college 2019: The importance of research and putting courses in right order
The main CAO deadline is less than four weeks away and, while some students may feel it has snuck up on them, there is still plenty of time to consider the options and to make informed decisions.
Remember, it is not about finding the perfect course. The goal should be to find the best course for the individual student, of which there are probably many, if students and parents - who can play a supportive role in this process - can keep an open mind.
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The CAO form is very straightforward. Indeed, the most difficult part of completing this form is deciding the courses for which to apply and in what order to list them.
The CAO allows applicants to list up to 20 courses on the form - 10 at Level 8 (honours degree) courses and 10 at Level 7/6 (ordinary degree/higher certificate). Applicants may then receive an offer from both lists and can decide in August which one, if any, to accept.
All courses must be listed in order of preference only. This means that by placing a particular course in the number one slot, an applicant is indicating they wish to receive an offer for this course above all others. And so on, down the form.
For a full list of 2019 CAO courses, click here
If an applicant does not achieve the minimum points (or does not have the entry requirements, such as a particular subject or grade) for their first choice course, the CAO will continue to work down their order of preferences until they are able to make an offer.
Although it is not necessary to fill all 20 places, applicants should try and enter as many courses as possible. The CAO cannot issue offers for courses that are not listed. However, applicants are under no obligation to accept an offer.
Hopefully, at this point, most applicants will have a number of courses they wish to enter on the CAO form. If a student can say that they would enjoy every course on their CAO form, and they can see how each of these courses support their career goals, then they should be included in their application, even if they do not consider the course to be perfect.
Come August, when the CAO issues Round 1, every course that the applicant has placed below the one for which they have received an offer will be removed from their list. Therefore, once an applicant has received an offer, it is not possible for them to receive a later offer for a course they listed lower down the form.
This is because the CAO asks applicants to complete their list of choices in order of preference and presumes that applicants have done this.
Howver, in some circumstances, an applicant may receive a subsequent offer for a course higher in their order of preference than their first CAO offer. So, an applicant who, for example, receives their second choice may subsequently receive their first choice, but cannot receive a subsequent offer for their third, or lower, choice.
Filling all slots on the CAO form can be a struggle and research is key to getting as close to this goal as possible. Thorough research of course content is also essential given the importance of listing choices in genuine order of preference.
In many cases, the difference between two courses in the same area can be quite subtle, leaving applicants struggling to decide. On the other hand, two courses with the same title can differ greatly from one college to another.
Too often, applicants presume that they understand the content of a particular course from the title and, those who drop out of college in year one, report that they did not understand the content of the course properly.
It is important that young people take the responsibility to research their courses themselves. However, for most, this involves skills that they have not yet fully developed. Young people can find it difficult to navigate college open days, to question academic staff in a meaningful way and to critically evaluate course content. Many will benefit from the support of a parent in this process.
The careersportal.ie 'course finder' and qualifax.ie are excellent starting points for accessing the content of courses. But discussing the content of these courses with parents will really add value and help young people clarify their thoughts.
Having the opportunity to verbalise, without judgement, answers to simple questions such as: "What do I like about this course? Is there anything I don't understand? How does it differ from the other courses I've looked at?" can be very helpful.
At this time of year, some applicants can struggle to make decisions between different specialisations.
If applicants are having major difficulties in such decisions, I recommend they take a little pressure off themselves by considering a more general course.
At times, Leaving Cert students can feel that they must specialise as soon as possible, but general courses provide the opportunity to explore a number of areas that are relevant to an applicant's area of interest, and often allow for specialisation in second or third year, after the student has had the opportunity to experience a number of different subjects.
In in many cases, these broad-entry routes have a lower points cut-off. These courses are well worth consideration and in no way lesser than more specialised options.
Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin