Going to College: Five essential things you should do now for the CAO
1. Register for the CAO. If you haven't already registered for the CAO, do so immediately. Many applicants delay this step as they feel they are not ready to complete the application.
However, no applicant will be at a disadvantage for completing this step early. Applicants can continue to work on their application until the deadline of February. The CAO offers applicants a discounted rate of €30 to register by January 20. The application form is very straightforward and allows applicants to save their work and return at any time. The most difficult part of the CAO process is deciding which courses to apply for and the order in which to place them.
2. Read over course descriptions and CAO student resources
It is likely that applicants have been reading course descriptions and attending open days since September. At this point, it is possible that all that information is starting to merge. Choosing courses is not a light-bulb moment, rather a gradual process. It is prudent to remind yourself of the details of the courses you are considering - this will help with placing them in order of preference at a later date. Applicants should also revisit the student resource section of the CAO website to ensure they have a clear understanding of the CAO process.
3. Check eligibility for HEAR, DARE and SUSI
Applicants may be familiar with these two access schemes and the SUSI grant, but all too often students who should qualify are unaware of their eligibility and don't apply. For example, DARE stands for Disability Access Route to Education, but often students who do not identify as having a disability are covered by this scheme. Double check the criteria, especially the income thresholds for HEAR and SUSI, and indicate your intent to apply on your CAO form where appropriate.
4. Place courses in order of preference
All CAO courses should be listed in order of preference only. In my experience, applicants often have a small number of courses, which will be at the top of their preference list, but after these, things become less clear. It can be helpful to return to the order of preference list a number of times as the process of trying to order courses in itself can force applicants to drill down into the slight differences between courses and colleges. Do this early and revisit often.
5. Make an appointment with your guidance counsellor
This is a very busy time of year in schools. It is likely a large number of sixth-year students will also wish to meet the counsellor before February 1. The counsellor can help in a number of ways: suggesting extra courses based on what you have already found; discussing the pros and cons of your courses; challenging your ideas and helping clarify your order of preference list. Rushed appointments are no help to anyone, so book one early and prepare well for it.
Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin