Friday 24 May 2019

It's change your mind time on the CAO... but should you?

Each year, about half of applicants take the opportunity to alter their choices. Here, two authoritative voices share their views to help students with the process

The Irish Independent is seeking a Leaving Cert candidate to act as a diarist during the upcoming exams. Interested? Send an email to the Education Editor, Katherine Donnelly, at kdonnelly@independent.ie. (Stock image)
The Irish Independent is seeking a Leaving Cert candidate to act as a diarist during the upcoming exams. Interested? Send an email to the Education Editor, Katherine Donnelly, at kdonnelly@independent.ie. (Stock image)

Jess Lawton and Clive Byrne

Graduate’s View: Jess Lawton

Have you ever been so afraid of failing at something that you just don't try at all? I meet with many athletes who have a fear of failure. In sport, this fear can stop people from taking on challenges or it holds them back during competition so their performance is compromised. They find it difficult to reach their potential because they are too afraid to take chances in fear they might fail at it.

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My role as graduate ambassador at WIT made me question why we change our minds on our CAO, especially closer to the deadline. Last August, following CAO Round 1 offers, I listened to numerous students who had an offer of their first preference on the CAO who really wanted their second preference.

This brought me back to 17-year-old me looking at a blank CAO wondering what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I had 100 ideas going through my head and panicked at the thought of everyone but me knowing what I wanted to do the following September. I remember deciding that psychology was the route I wanted to take. I happily put it as my first option and thought no more about it until the Leaving Cert.

The Leaving Cert hit me with a bang and I dragged myself through it the best way I could. About half way through the exams, 'reality' hit: I panicked and convinced myself that I was being completely unrealistic and there was no way I would get the points required for psychology.

I went home that night and changed my entire CAO. While psychology was what I really wanted to do, I moved it to number two and moved sports science to number one. I had just as much interest in the sporting sector, but my heart wanted psychology. My mind convinced me not to set myself up for failure and be defeated by the system.

Fast forward to August when the CAO offers came out. I got my first preference. But still, I had to check what the points were for psychology. Shock - I had the points required, but I knew there was no going back now. I luckily ended up in the field I really wanted to be in and went on to do a master's in sports and exercise psychology.

Why do we convince ourselves that we want something different at the time of the Leaving Cert? Do we just fear failure? If you're sitting the Leaving Cert, it's likely you are at an age where the fear of failure is heightened.

Fear of failure can cause us to undermine our own efforts and abilities, and this can very well be the case when filling out or amending choices on the CAO. We place so much importance on getting our first preference that we will actually change our order of preference to ensure we get our number one choice, even if that means our number one on our CAO isn't a direct reflection of what we really want.

Here is an approach to consider: if your second preference is good enough to become your first preference because you don't want to 'fail', wouldn't you be just as happy to accept it as your second preference in August if you didn't get your first? Think about my story, and how you would feel if that happened to you.

To stop ourselves from doing this, we really need to understand what 'failure' is. In the case of the Leaving Cert student filling out their CAO, that may mean they stop themselves from putting what they really want as their first choice because they fear they will have to deal with not reaching their goal.

When we fear failure, we actually begin to self-sabotage. This becomes evident when we fail to follow through with the goals. In sport, athletes set goals all the time, such as wanting to win the league, tournament or any other major competition. Other goals athletes set include fitness, making teams and many other areas of performance. How does this apply to CAO? Think back to when you filled out your CAO with no pressure - e.g. before February rather than closer to the July 1 'change of mind' deadline.

Your first choice was probably what you really wanted to do. There was no real pressure back then, it still felt so far away, and while points were at the back of your mind, they didn't have the power to dictate what went down on your CAO. Subconsciously, you set a goal - to achieve the points and entry requirements for your dream course.

The combination in June of the Leaving Cert exams and the July 1 deadline for CAO decisions is stressful. There are some people who can make really good decisions when they are stressed, but there are many of us who make rash decisions that can have long-term effects. Changing your CAO 'order of preference' because of points is one of those.

So do yourself a favour when you're reviewing your CAO list. Give yourself every opportunity. Don't let your perception of 'failure' determine your life or stop you from putting your dream course as number one, regardless of how the exams are going. Talk to someone calm while you are stressed and about to make a rash decision.

Jess Lawton works in Waterford Institute of Technology’s admissions office and was a 2018/2019 graduate ambassador on WIT’s graduate programme. She is a graduate of the MSc in Applied Sports Psychology at WIT and in her spare time works with Cork City as a performance coach.

Principal’s View: Clive Byrne

The Leaving Cert is almost upon us and, for those hoping to go on to higher education, the CAO's change your mind process is open (until July 1). It provides a window of opportunity for students to fully settle on their college choices. At key stages of our lives, we make decisions that impact on the nature of our lives. One such stage is when students are picking a college course. Students are now faced with endless options, all seemingly better than the other.

Do something you enjoy

People who enjoy what they do tend to live happier lives. If students aren't enthralled by what they are studying, a genuine learning experience will start to feel like a chore. They are ultimately responsible for their performance in college, and chances of achieving strong grades are directly proportional to how much the subject interests them.

Students will benefit from interacting with young professionals working in areas of their interests, as it will give them a better picture regarding their options and the various career paths those courses can lead them to. Students must use every source at their disposal, especially guidance counsellors, as they are best positioned to filter out the noise and give them the insight to make a well-suited choice.

Dig deeper

Don't judge the course by its title, dig into the course details while also keeping in mind the minimum entry requirements.

Students must also be practical while looking at prospective colleges and should factor in all the variables that can affect their life at college like transport, accommodation, course work, job security, etc.

While reviews and ratings of courses online are a great help, there is nothing better than a personal visit. Talking to current students and faculty alike will help them better understand the intricacies of the syllabus and visiting the campus will give them an idea of the atmosphere. Failing to research every aspect of the programmes that students plan to list on their CAO application before the change-of-mind deadline can be a grave mistake.

Many students end up dropping out after their first year or they fail their examinations because of partial research. This can be highly damaging to their confidence and can come with grave financial repercussions to both the students and their families.

It is a student's skill and aptitude that determines their learning curve. The employment industry is rapidly changing with a barrage of new technology and unprecedented demands reshaping the nature of work. The labour market is rife with opportunities and by the time students graduate, opportunities will open that they couldn't envisage when they started.

Preparation is the key to any door

The coming months will undoubtedly be stressful and intense for students. Apart from sitting for their Leaving Cert, students will be engaging with colleges to figure out the next steps of their journey towards higher education.

Colleges will facilitate visits to discuss the programmes they are considering to study. Contacting the course directors of the courses that interest you is another way to glean a deeper understanding of those courses.

Always keep your parents and/or mentors in the loop; having a support system is important you make these important decisions.

Crucially, once your application is complete, leave it aside and wait for the results. Obsessing over the choices once made is not going to alter the reality.

Last month, Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh, released the 'Report of the Independent Review of Career Guidance Tools and Information'. The report examined the guidance systems in place and provided recommendations to better equip the State's education system in order to aid young students to realise their full potential.

The review highlights how excellent career guidance tools can enhance and support students as they take those first steps into the outside world. It also points out how an insight into the labour market trends and opportunities can contribute to young people making better informed choices.

Clive Byrne is the National Director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals.

Irish Independent

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