Making your college choices
When applicants begin to work on their CAO it can certainly feel like a very overwhelming task.
Researching and choosing third level courses should involve deep consideration of what students enjoy and what excites them.
If an applicant selects courses based on passion and aptitude, they will not be disappointed. Too often students focus on points, believing that they should not "waste" points, but this causes unnecessary stress and is not a good basis for selecting the most appropriate course.
Points can change year-on-year and it is impossible to know for certain what the cut off points for a particular course will be in August 2016.
Therefore, students should complete their CAO in order of preference, based on what they feel they would enjoy.
In recent years, there has been a trend to common entry courses in, say, science and engineering. The benefit of these is that students can do a broad programme for a year or two and then specialise.
All applicants should also carefully consider what options are available to them at Level 7 and Level 6 even if their preference is to complete a Level 8 course. The preference list for Level 7 and Level 6 courses is completely separate to the preference list for Level 8 courses. This means that applicants can list these courses without jeopardising their Level 8 options. An applicant may then receive two offers in August, one from their Level 8 list and one from their Level 7/6 list.
The majority of Level 7 and Level 6 courses include the option of 'add-on' years. This allows students to enter a particular area of study, which will have lower entry requirements and lower points than if they entered at Level 8 but achieve a Level 8 in that field in the same amount of time. Courses with 'add-on' years options are clearly identified in the qualification column of the CAO handbook.
There is a lot of focus on science. technology engineering and maths (STEM) careers and there is certainly much demand for graduates with such skills, and a lot of pressure on school-leavers to pursue study in these disciplines.
However, there is no need for applicants to feel they must force themselves into purely technical or solely creative courses.
Employers, including technology giants such as Google, are consistently reporting that they need graduates who have ability, skills and knowledge in both areas.
Whether an applicant sees themselves as more science or arts/humanities orientated, some of the most exciting offerings at present allow students to crossover between disciplines.
Applicants who are set on an arts degree might consider one that has some offering in computer science or digital media and applicants focused on engineering might seek out courses that will develop their creativity and design skills.
Whatever applicants choose, they should make sure it is something that they feel excited about. This way they are most likely to succeed and find a career which also excites them.
This year sees much greater flexibility in subject choice at Maynooth University. The Trinity Feasibility study, now in its third year, is part of a commitment from Trinity College Dublin to investigate ways of assessing potential talent without focusing exclusively on CAO points. The initiative allows an alternative access route to three courses, History, Law and Ancient and Medieval History and Culture. There are 10 places in History (TR003), ten places in Law (TR004), and five places in Ancient and Medieval History and Culture (TR028) filled using this route.
If applicants wish to be considered they should list the courses they are interested in on the CAO. Once they have done this, a box will appear asking them if they wish to be considered. Applicants have until February 1 to indicate their interest and until March 1 to complete the supplementary information form.
Applicants will be assessed on how they did in the Leaving Cert compared with others in their school (known as Relative Performance Ranking, or RPR), Leaving Cert results and personal and contextual data.
They will also be required to write a short piece on why they would like to study in this area as well as an essay on a topic of their choice.
There has also been a trend towards five-year degree options, which include a master's qualification. These programmes are becoming the norm in their respective sectors, such as pharmacy and engineering. One positive aspect of taking such a degree is that students are likely to save on the overall cost of a masters as they will be required to pay postgraduate level fees for one year rather than the more common two.
However, students have no option but to complete a master's and will find their degree is of less value if they leave after fours years.
Aoife Walsh, a guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin , writes a Going to College column in the Irish Independent Education page every Wednesday.