Sunday 19 November 2017

The Weekly Read: CAO - three dreaded letters


On top of studying for the mock exams, preparing for the oral and practical exams, the CAO adds yet another stress to the burden carried by Leaving Certificate students.

The huge array of courses available in universities and institutes of technology all over Ireland leads people to believe that there’s a course out there to suit every student. Unfortunately, more often than not the student is unaware as to what that course is.

Students often don’t have the luxury of time to devote to indeptly researching courses and travelling around to colleges. The CAO is often shoved to the back of one’s mind and takes a back seat in one’s list of priorities for much of the year.

If anything the wide range of options available makes choosing the correct course even more difficult. Without actually experiencing the course it can be very difficult to visualise yourself doing it. Every career guidance teachers will present a different opinion with regard to choosing the right course for you. Listen to them.

My golden piece of advice is to talk to someone who is doing or has done the course.

Only they will tell you the absolute truth with regard to what’s involved. They will tell you the good and bad points without sugar-coating. What you will realise from this exercise is that often the reality of a course is quite different to what is described in a prospectus or by a lecturer of the course. If possible talk to numerous people who have experienced both the course and college in question.

Some people advise you to go with the course you absolutely love, to forget about everything else and to put your dream course as number one.

This isn’t a bad piece of advice but sometimes there’s more to picking a course, than just the course content. If you strongly dislike a certain college, or a location, it doesn’t make much sense to include it on your CAO. People will tell you that this is nonsense, that it doesn’t matter where you do a course, but as a student I assure you, it does.

Other’s say to be realistic. It can be difficult to estimate your points several months before you even sit your exams but mocks and class exams give us an indication as to the range of points one may get. While being realistic is important, so is optimism. The first few courses on your CAO shouldn’t be points dependent.

The top choice on my CAO form was the course with the lowest points. But don’t make the mistake of filling in all ten options with courses you may not reach the requirements for. And never ever put down a course just for the sake of it. You should be reasonably happy to do any of the courses on your form. If there are only seven courses on the entire CAO that appeal to you, only put seven options down.

The most important thing to remember is that it is your CAO. It is your Leaving Cert. It is your future. Lots of people from parents and siblings to teachers and friends will have lots to say when it comes to your CAO. But they are not the ones who will be doing the course. The final say has to be yours. In saying that, be open to other opinions which doesn’t compliment yours. Often your family and friends can know you better than you know yourself.

The CAO is a daunting experience and getting the right order can seem almost impossible. It’s completely normal to doubt your decision, many times. Although it may seem like it is the end of the world sometimes, it’s not. For now, you still have the ‘Change of Mind’ option after the Leaving Cert.

Even after that you have the option of deferring or of reapplying to the CAO next year. And if all comes to all, you can drop out before (or although not advisable, after) the October deadline. Some colleges will even allow you to do internal swaps. Everything will work out for everyone, just maybe not at the same rate. And believe me, you still may not be sure about the course you’re doing or the

direction your life is taking half way through the course, or even after graduating. You may be sick of hearing it but while the importance of the CAO cannot be denied, it is not the be all and end all.

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