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(... and don't worry if your first choice is a nightmare)

There's a palpable feeling of relief this week in Ireland. In households all over the country, teenagers are celebrating. The exams are finally over.

Before they switch off completely, though, students should take a few minutes to check that CAO Third Level admissions form. Do they still want to be a dentist or does the idea of a lifetime drilling teeth fill them with horror?

If you're not too happy with the choices you made, or if the exams didn't go as well as planned and you know you won't make the grade, it's not too late to change your mind. You have until tomorrow to fill in that CAO Change Of Mind form. By the cut-off time of 5.15pm, approximately 25,000 students will have changed their mind, according to Joseph O'Grady in the CAO office, and they will record about 40,000 changes.

The internet has made the process a lot easier. The huge majority of these indecisive teenagers - 80% to 90% - record these changes online at www.cao.ie.

"We usually experience high levels of change-of-mind activity in late May and early June before the exams start and again in late June as the closing date approaches," says O'Grady. "We issue a revised statement to each applicant showing their new choices. They can confirm that their changes have been recorded by using the View Application facility on the website."

Eleanor Petrie, chairwoman of the National Parents' Council, Post Primary, says many students choose careers to please their parents. "We notice that on the helpline when the results come out," she says. "People ring us saying 'I've got my first choice. I've got medicine but I don't want to do it.'

"Parents say 'You have the ability, why not do it?' It's difficult to tell your parents that, actually, what you'd like to do is, say, landscape design."

Teachers often push students to take degrees because it looks good, Petrie believes. Yet there are good courses out there, like post-Leaving Certificate courses, that might better suit less-ambitious teens.

Greg Dalton, a job coach at Q1etc, often sees clients who are unhappy with their career choices. As he points out, if you hate your college course and decide to change, your parents will end up forking out fees for that year.

In 2002-3, an average 16.8% of students dropped out of their university courses and a staggering 35% dropped out of Institutes of Technology.

"Do want you want to do. Don't do what your friends are doing or what your parents suggest," says Dalton. "Do whatever you feel is going to make you happy and motivated, something that will lead to a career where you want to go to work every morning.

"If you're not sure what you want, you should do as general a degree as possible, like an Arts degree. Or do a basic business degree for a year in a DIT to get some grounding. Spend time working to gain experience or go off for a year and experience the world. Put your education on hold."

Philip Leonard, 31, hadn't a clue what he wanted to do when he left school at 17.

"I did History in Trinity to buy myself more time," he says. "But at the end of that I still didn't know what I wanted to do. I ended up in IT in sales, but it was more by chance than design."

Philip spent nine successful years in IT but he was under enormous stress.

"Nine-to-five is a misnomer these days," he says. "It was eight-to-eight. And I wasn't in control. You'd put a package together for a customer. They'd be happy, then after-sales would let you down."

Last year, Philip started asking himself what he really wanted out of life. Married to Ros, with a son Robert, now 2, he wanted more flexibility. And he's had a lifetime's passion for photography.

"Eighteen months ago I started doing some freelance portrait work, then I chucked in the job and set up Leonard Photography in Blackrock. I love it. It's flexible. I can choose the hours I want to work and it's hugely varied.

"I was worried that I'd end up in my studio all the time taking pictures of screaming babies - and the family portrait and wedding business is going well. What has surprised me is that the commercial side has just grown and grown. It's fantastic.

"I work with some PR agencies and have done a lot of architectural and industrial product photography. It's challenging and creative. The utter variety has surprised me."

Final date for filing a CAO Change of Mind form is 5.15pm tomorrow.