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Nailing the CAO choices as change-of-mind deadline looms

Prospective third-level students should choose courses in subjects that excite them and consider all their educational options, writes founder of guidance service Career Ahead Mary Lucey


Mary Lucey of Career Ahead

Mary Lucey of Career Ahead

Leaving Cert results from Mercy Mounthawk Tralee Co Kerry. Mary O’Connell , Michael O’Gara and Maria Dwyer from Tralee with their Leaving Cert results. Photo By Domnick Walsh © Eye Focus LTD Tralee Co Kerry Ireland Mobile Phone : 00 353 87 26 72 033 Land Line : 00 353 66 71 22 981 E/Mail : Web Site : ALL IMAGES ARE COVERED BY COPYRIGHT ©

Leaving Cert results from Mercy Mounthawk Tralee Co Kerry. Mary O’Connell , Michael O’Gara and Maria Dwyer from Tralee with their Leaving Cert results. Photo By Domnick Walsh © Eye Focus LTD Tralee Co Kerry Ireland Mobile Phone : 00 353 87 26 72 033 Land Line : 00 353 66 71 22 981 E/Mail : Web Site : ALL IMAGES ARE COVERED BY COPYRIGHT ©


Mary Lucey of Career Ahead


Thousands of Leaving Cert students and their parents are stressing over what final choices should be made prior to the CAO change of mind closing date on July 1.

Below are some of the main points to consider before submitting final course choices. This advice is based on feedback from college students who dropped out of their college course over the past year.

1. Don’t base course choices on anticipated points.

Students should not base course choices on anticipated exams results. They should base choices on what they love to do. It sounds remarkably simple, but if a student selects a course based on a subject/topic/hobby they love and plays to their strength, ie History, Music, Social Media, Maths etc, this means, in college, they will really engage with the course material and find it very stimulating.

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They will be eager to get involved in course related extracurricular activities and networking events, which play an enormous part in progressing to employment/further studies when college is over. It is all the additional add-on extras a graduate accumulates that will differentiate them after their studies.

2. Base choices on subjects not teachers.

Sometimes, in Secondary School, a student is assigned a very engaging teacher for a particular subject. The teacher ensures classes are interesting, stimulating, and positive. At times, a student selects a CAO course based on this positive association with the teacher, rather than their genuine interest in the subject area. They need to consider if they would still have an interest and love for the subject if they did not admire or have a good relationship with the subject teacher.

3. Look beyond a course title.

College course titles can be misleading. Do not assume it will do as it says on the tin. At times, colleges use course titles that attract students, so it is vital to delve into the focus and content of the course to ensure you have a good understanding of what is involved. An example of this is when some science courses were re-branded as forensics/crime scene investigation courses. The number of applicants increased despite the course content remaining very similar.

4. Look at all the course details.

When a course is narrowed-down, it is vital to ensure as much information and insight as possible is gathered – both positive and negative. Go through each module for each semester, and each year. Check out if there is a work placement element. Check out if students can study abroad. Feel free to contact colleges with queries.

5. 20 CAO choices.

There are 10 level 8 CAO choices and 10 Level 6/7 choices – as many as possible should be completed to cover every eventuality. While a student will have preferred options; nobody can predict the future; so, a plan B, C, D strategy should be incorporated when finalising the CAO application form. However, students should not list any course just for the sake of completing the application form. No course should be listed that they would not be interested in, and happy and willing to accept, if offered.

6. Level 6/7 Options.

Students often only concentrate on completing the level 8 honours degree course choice options, yet by doing so they are not maximising their options. It is important to realise a level 7 ordinary degree can lead to a level 8 honours degree, with lower CAO entry points. Similarly, in the Technological University sector – it may be possible to commence with a Higher Certificate Level 6 course – which may have lower entry points again.

7. Do not allow others to influence course choices.

Friends, family, etc, may have the best intentions, but the student needs to take responsibility and research and select the course they want to study. Time and time again, parents and friends over-influence students’ choices.

8. Select a course that will be rewarding

Students should not select courses because of anticipated status and/or salary levels. Nothing makes a student more miserable than being on a course they do not like and in a lot of cases, they drop out or when they qualify, they retrain or move into another career they are passionate about.

9. Students should look at all college options

An honours degree is a level 8 degree, whether obtained from a University, a Technological University or through an apprenticeship. At times, students base their decisions on the perceived status of a college rather than the suitability of a course. Students should also consider the array of apprenticeships available that equate to a level 6, level 7, or level 8 degree.

10. Do not allow location to determine course choice.

Some students have a destination in mind and irrespective of the course suitability. It is better to select related courses across several colleges, rather than various courses in one college.

11. Will the student be employable?

On completion of the course, the student needs to consider whether they will be employable, or will further studies be required? This is highly relevant when budgeting for college courses. Will four years turn to six years to facilitate the student securing a paid position? Some college courses have a definite career path attached, ie. primary teaching, nursing, graphic designer etc, while others offer a more general qualification and specialisms may need to be developed through further studies.

12. What is the budget?

Students need to be realistic when making their choices and tailor their course location to suit their own and their family’s budget. In addition to college fees, accommodation, travel, food, etc must all be considered. If students are working part-time to support themselves, location of college may be highly relevant to ensure they can continue in their work position. It is unfair to put enormous pressure and stress on families for the sake of a student wanting to live away from home. The number of children in the family must also be taken into consideration and how they will all be supported from an educational viewpoint.

13. Include a local college in your choices.

No one can predict the future. Some students cannot settle away from home, or some family members get ill, and a student may want to be closer to home, for example. It may be possible to negotiate a change of course (if a student has sufficient points and there are places available) to a local college, after the first semester or the first year for example, if listed on the CAO form. Please note, this is completely based on individual college’s policies and procedures.

14. Cannot decide on a course?

Students should not feel under pressure to go to college. They should not feel that they are going to be the odd one out and just select an unsuitable course for the sake of going to college. The long-term cost and personal implications are too great. They should look at the wonderful options in FET (PLC), apprenticeships, or work for a year until they are in a better position to make decisions. When the student is ready to progress to further studies – they can then do so.

Mary Lucey may be contacted at 0879338941