It's fine to have a dream course, but give yourself plenty of choice on your CAO form
Going to College
All sixth year students should now be in the thick of CAO research, at times, an overwhelming task. In my opinion, it is not the students who tell me they do not know what they want to do in college who I am most concerned about at this time of year. It is the student who comes with one perfect course who often causes me the most professional worry.
While it is a wonderful thing to meet a young person who has a passion, and who has identified their direction for future study, students who are overly rigid about their career goals and course choices can find this hampers their research. A student may feel they have found their dream course, but no CAO form should be submitted with just one choice. So, once the dream course is found, it is important to park it and get on with the task of researching. This course should not be allowed to prevent the identification of the other choices that can be listed.
Every CAO form can be submitted with up to 20 courses listed - 10 at Level 8 and another 10 Level 7/6. Applicants should endeavour to enter as many courses on their application as possible. The CAO can only offer places on courses that have been listed on the form. If an applicant receivea an offer they would prefer not to take, they may turn it down.
At this time of year, I advise my students to avoid looking for the perfect course. For many, this does not exist and leads students to focus on the negative aspects rather than the many positives. Instead we strive to find as many 'maybe courses' as possible. It is always easier have 30 'maybe' courses, which can be reduced later, than having too few to consider.
By completing the form in this way, we also minimise the potential disappointment for come August. Yes, an applicant may have a preference for one course and may be disappointed if they do not receive a place for this course, however they can clearly see the positives of each course listed and how it will help them achieve their career goals. There are always many paths to the same destination.
When researching 'maybe' courses applicants may consider the following questions:
l what do I like about this course and college?
l how might this course assist me in achieving my careers goals?
l does this course help me access the degree/master's that I will enjoy and help me achieve my career goals?
l what transferable skills might I develop?
l what other elements, such as sport, scholarships, clubs, might I enjoy at this college?
Once a student comes across a 'maybe' course, they should mark it in the prospectus, print it and keep them all print-outs in one folder. Students can use post-its to jot questions or thoughts on to the course descriptions and keep them for later. There is a lot of reading to do and students are able to make CAO changes until July 2018. It will be important to remember then all the details of the research that is being completed now.
Keeping an open mind and excellent records will result in less stress during this busy time. This will allow applicants to be more decisive as the February 1 deadline approaches.
Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin