Take some time over Christmas to consider your CAO offers
In my opinion by David Denieffe
Leaving Certificate students all over the country will be looking forward to a well-deserved break after what is the longest term of the school year. But turkey leftovers and tinsel aside, these holidays are also an opportune time to think about career choices and make decisions about courses.
Do your research
By Christmas, Leaving Cert students will have researched certain courses and may have attended one, if not several, open days at various institutes of technology and universities. Come New Year's Day, there's just over four weeks to the CAO closing date of February 1, so the holidays present a great opportunity to research courses of interest and ensure students understand the content and the requirements of courses for which they may be planning to apply.
An essential part of the CAO process is assigning an order of preference on the application form. Applicants must decide which course they would prefer above all others and place this course in the top position on their CAO form.
In preparation for this, Leaving Cert students should spend some time over Christmas asking themselves, "What course do I want to do more than anything else?" Write this down. Follow it with another question, "If I do not get into this course, what would be my next preferred course?" Write this down under your first choice and repeat this process until you have compiled a list of course preferences.
You now have the basis of your CAO list and a set of courses to further investigate. There's a huge variety of third-level courses available, offering a myriad of career opportunities in sectors you may not have considered up to now. So take the time over Christmas to explore the many options available to you.
Students should not be daunted by making an early application to the CAO. Remember, the system is organised to allow all applicants to make as many changes as they like to their form between the time they apply and the closing date of February 1. In fact, the CAO even offers a discounted price of €25 for those who apply before January 20, so there's nothing wrong with beginning your application now, even if you have not fully completed your research.
My advice to students - and parents - is not to get too anxious about one's exact choice of courses at this stage. Remember, you can change your list during the change of mind process between May and July. However, bear in mind certain courses are restricted application so do your research and consult the college's website.
Making a list
It is very important to fill out both Level 8 and Level 7/6 lists on the CAO. Even if you are quite sure of the course and/or level you are aiming for at this stage, it's preferable to give yourself plenty of options. The exercise of filling out Level 8 and level 7/6 lists will equip you with lots of information about the type of course you are looking to study, so you can feel confident you are well informed about your choices. Unlike the Leaving Cert, where a decision to take ordinary or higher level is final, students entering college at Level 6/7 (higher certificate ordinary degree) will very often have the option to progress to a Level 8 (honours degree) course. Higher education will give you much more choice and flexibility in what and indeed, how you study than second-level school so make sure you complete both lists and give yourself the best start to your college career.
Finally, use the holidays to congratulate yourself on your hard work to date. Don't get disheartened, and keep focused. This time next year you could be an undergraduate in your course of choice. Keep that in sight - Merry Christmas!
David Denieffe is the registrar and vice president for Academic Affairs at Institute of Technology Carlow