Sunday 18 August 2019

Leaving Cert results 2019: How these well-known faces took the alternative path to success

Destiny's children: taking the scenic route to success... As students weigh up their options following the release of the Leaving Cert results, Arlene Harris talks to famous faces who took an alternative path to their careers

Miriam O’Callaghan studied law before landing a job in
television
Miriam O’Callaghan studied law before landing a job in television

Arlene Harris

Today is D-Day for thousands of teenagers around the country who will be receiving their Leaving Cert results. Some will be delighted with their achievements and will wait with bated breath for college offers to come out, while others may not have received the results they were hoping for and are now feeling anxious about what the future holds.

The majority of students will enter some form of third level education (just over 44,000 did so last year), cementing Ireland's position as the EU country with the highest proportion of school leavers going on to higher education.

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But not everyone will go down the same route: many will find themselves opting for their second or third college choices, while some will choose to go straight into the workforce.

There is no one-size-fits-all course and these days, there are more options than ever, with many changing their minds several times over the coming years.

Broadcaster Miriam O'Callaghan is a case in point. Having achieved great exam results, she chose to study law, but her hugely successful media career is far removed from the legal world.

"I was only 16 doing my Leaving Cert and ended up getting six Bs," she says. "I remember being on holiday in Dingle when the results came through and hadn't a clue what I wanted to do. So my dad went through the list of options and I crossed off the things I didn't like - there was no rhyme or reason to it and I eventually decided on law, which should give hope to anyone who isn't sure of what career path to take."

She qualified as a solicitor at the age of 23 and worked in this role for a while before moving to the UK, where she had a complete career change and got a job as a researcher on Eamonn Andrew's TV programme This Is Your Life.

"After that job, I progressed on to different roles in TV to end up where I am today," she recalls. "My career is totally different to what I had started out studying, but my law degree has been very useful in many of the programmes I have worked on over the years."

Rob Heffernan left school in fifth year to work in construction
Rob Heffernan left school in fifth year to work in construction

Author Claudia Carroll can relate to this as she also ended up in an entirely different career.

"I had always wanted to study drama, but my parents were adamant that I should have a solid qualification, so when the Leaving Cert results came out, I astonished myself and everyone else by doing much better than expected," she says. "But I must have been the only person in the country to be disappointed with doing well as it meant I had to study commerce in UCD.

"I absolutely hated the course and while I studied hard and got a good degree, it reinforced my resolve to never again be stuck doing something I was unhappy with. So after I graduated with honours, I did some fringe theatre and got a job teaching drama.

"The money wasn't great and I struggled for a few years, but when I was 25, I went for an audition with RTE for a children's TV programme and got the part. It was fantastic because all of a sudden, I had a proper job with a good salary - I was finally where I wanted to be."

Claudia is not alone as Patricia Tiernan, career coach with leapcoaching.ie, says while some students have a clear focus of what they want to do with their lives, many others are unsure, so they should just pick a course they might enjoy.

"If you are one of those lucky ones who know with all your heart what you want to do, but didn't get the points, then consider repeating and working really hard to get it next year," she advises.

"But for those who are not 100pc sure, consider the fact that 46pc of Ireland's graduates are in jobs unrelated to their qualification, so pick a course you feel you could enjoy studying, as your initial qualification may not matter as much as you think."

Radio presenter Ciara Kelly took some time to find her niche, having first applied to study law, then transferring to commerce before changing her mind again and studying medicine. She then went on to qualify and work for several years as a doctor before reinventing herself once again as a journalist and broadcaster.

"I did very well in my Leaving Cert and surprised quite a few people as I was a bit of a devil," she admits. "But I was so young and hadn't a clue what I wanted to do, which meant I ended up changing lots of times. I don't think this is a problem as choosing a career straight out of school can be very difficult - students need to realise that life isn't a race or a competition and they will all get there in the end."

John Creedon, broadcaster and presenter of Creedon's Atlas of Ireland, agrees and says that while he did "better than expected" in his Leaving Cert, his career path wasn't a straight line.

"I got six honours and was delighted with myself, but I hate the hype every year about the results and actually ask people not to ring in with requests for students as not everyone will be happy with what they get today," he says.

"I believe it all evens out in the end and there will be lots of turns before everyone ends up where they are meant to be."

And of course, studying might not be for everyone, so if heading to college isn't on your agenda, there are other options, as former Olympian Rob Heffernan can attest.

"My family was in the building trade, so I opted out in fifth year to work with my dad," he says. "I was always into sport and it wasn't long before I was told that I could get an athletic scholarship to the US, but because I didn't have my Leaving Cert, I wouldn't be considered. So I went back to school. I didn't do great in the exams, but I had the piece of paper.

"All I needed was a purpose to get the exam done and then I decided not to go to America, but instead did a PLC course in sports injury. I really enjoyed this as I could relate to it. I don't mind studying if there's a context to it, but I never liked reading pages just to learn something off for no reason."

The race walker dedicated the next part of his career to sport, but when he hung up his walking shoes, he got a job with Bank of Ireland and went to college to study finance.

"I'm proof that there's more than one way to get somewhere," he says. "People put savage pressure on themselves to follow the path they think they should, but years later, many change and do something else entirely. I believe that if you really want something, you will get there in the end - the kids getting results today are young and have their whole lives in front of them, so they shouldn't worry too much."

Patricia Tiernan agrees and says whatever path you choose, it doesn't have to be a lifelong decision.

"If you are unsure of what you want to do, focus on the immediate future by asking yourself would you enjoy studying the course material and is there any potential job or post-grad related to the course that you think you may like," she advises.

"And if you don't want to go to college, follow your gut - you can always return to education at a later stage if you want to."

Irish Independent

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