- 11 Sep 20
As students around the country flock to their computers today to find out their CAO offers, it’s important to keep everything in perspective, and recognise that there are many routes to a happy and successful life. Across the day, we’re sharing some words of wisdom from students who have been through the process – and lived to tell the tale.
Back in sixth year, I remember reading endless columns about the CAO, and they almost always fell into two opposing categories. The first would tell students to be cautious in their choices in the CAO, because the boxes they fill out will make or break the rest of their life. The second would inform students that it doesn’t matter what they put down on their CAO because there is always a backdoor into the career they want.
I would love to pick one of these sides, to tell you that the answer is simple and straightforward.
But that would be irresponsible of me. The reality is that neither of these categories is entirely true. Neither extreme is the reality. The answer lies somewhere in the middle.
When I was a sixth year, I didn’t think I’d go college. For financial and personal reasons, it wasn’t an option at the time. But I had to put down something on my CAO, or career guidance classes would have gotten real awkward, real fast.
I only ever had one course listed on my CAO form. There was only one university that offered a viable scholarship program. There was only one subject I was good at.
So a lack of choice made my decision easy peasy. Weirdly, it made me kind of lucky. Because for me, it didn’t matter. If I didn’t get it, so what? I didn’t need college to read books, or to write columns. No one asks you for a bachelor’s degree to start a novel.
But what if I wanted to be a doctor? What if I got ten points under what was required for Medicine at Trinity, and was stuck with a second choice that I didn’t care about? What if there was no backdoor to my first choice?
What if I have no idea what I want to do at the weekend, let alone for the rest of my life? What if I throw down arts in Maynooth because it seems as reasonable as anything else, and suddenly I’m two years into a sociology and politics degree that I have no interest in?
What if I graduate, and know that there is no way I could be happy doing history for the rest of my life, or mathematics, or pharmaceutical science? What if the things I want in life are not the things I wanted when I was still legally a child?
The reality is that the CAO system is flawed because you should not have to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life when your adult life has barely begun.
But the thing that no one will talk to you about during sixth year, the most important thing no will address, is this: that university is not the only route to being happy.
My best friend spent three years studying Sociology and Psychology. Within the first six months of graduating, he realised he wanted to be a baker. He is now happier doing that then he ever was at university.
Life is strange and complicated and unpredictable. You might not get your first choice. On the other hand, maybe you will – and you won’t like it. I like my degree, but maybe I would have been just as happy if I hadn’t gone to university.
I will not patronise you by saying that the CAO does not matter or dramatize it by saying it’s the most important thing in the world. For many, this decision will be confusing and scary – and it’s not fair that you have to make it. Unfortunately, it’s the way the system is.
But the deeper truth is that no matter what happens, your life will not be ruined. It takes a lot more to pull that one off! University is not the be-all and end-all, and it does not automatically equate to happiness.
Don’t like your degree? Made the wrong choice? It’s three, four years of your life. You have much more than that left!
Don’t know what you want to do with your life? That’s okay too: you have about eighty years to figure that out. There’s a whole big, bad world out there to explore, and it does not begin and end at college.
My advice? Don’t let a flawed system put a deadline on your happiness. You are worth more than that. Breathe in, breathe out. You are going to be okay. Pinky swear.
• Rose Keating is a two-time winner in the Hot Press Write Here, Write Now competition at 2nd Level (2016) and 3rd Level (2018). She studied English Literature at UCC.