Going to College: CAO changes continue with restructured science programme at Trinity
There have been many changes introduced to the CAO over the last number of years, the new Leaving Cert grading system and points scales being the most notable.
Individual higher education institutions have also been reforming their CAO offerings in order to assist in the effort to remove the heat from the 'points race'.
They have achieved this mainly by dropping many of their specific degree offerings in favour of more general entry courses. An example would be replacing four specific engineering degrees with a general entry degree, which allows students to choose their specialisation in year two or three. The culmination of the various changes certainly seems to have had an impact on points in 2017.
Trinity College Dublin has made some significant changes to their science offerings for CAO 2018.
In previous years, Trinity offered a general science degree, as well as a number of specific entry courses with a small number of places.
The general science degree allowed students to choose a stream upon entry, with specialisation in year three and four. All streams required the same minimum entry requirements and points.
The more specific entry routes, such as Nanoscience: Physics and Chemistry of Advanced Materials, were separate - although students could access these courses through general science if they took the correct combination of subjects - with their own course codes, entry requirements and points. Such routes offered a small number of places, and competition meant that extremely high points were required.
Trinity has now restructured all its science programmes (with the exception of TR031 Maths and TR035 Theoretical Physics) into four separate streams. This will remove the high competition for places on specific science courses, although for those who may be unsure of which direction they want to go, it will require separate applications for each stream in which they think they may be interested, in order of preference.
The four streams are TR060 Biological and Biomedical Science, TR061 Chemical Science, TR062 Geography and Geoscience and TR063 Physical Sciences. At the end of second year, students will specialise within their stream.
The overall number of places available is the same as 2017. Trinity has indicated it will review places available on each stream in future years, if needed.
As a result of these changes, we should no longer see the extremely high points that tight entry routes, such as nanoscience, have required in the past, which should, and will, be welcomed by students.
However, having four separate CAO codes may result in students competing on points for places in the different streams - rather than simply selecting their preferred stream after entry - thus pushing the competition for places back to second-level.
On the other hand, the option to apply for more than one stream does offer a choice, although the many students who take only one science subject in Leaving Cert may not be comfortable applying for a stream with a different science focus. We will have to wait and see how this plays out.
There is no doubt that the new structure will solve the problem of extremely high points for very specialised courses.
Additionally, by the time they make their choices at the end of second year, students are likely to have a clearer understanding of the intricacies of the specialisations and their likely suitability. It is often very difficult for young people to be confident in the choice of such specialised technical areas at such a young age.
Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin