- 25 Jan 19
Filling out the CAO form might seem like a daunting challenge. But it isn’t as hard as it looks! The important thing is to do your thinking and planning now. And if going to college isn’t for you – then worry not! It isn’t for everyone… By Anita Wong Meagher
It’s your last year of school. The pressure of the Leaving Cert, and filling out the CAO form, is building. It may seem like the most important thing in the world right now – but I can assure you that when you look back in retrospect, things will be different and you’ll wonder what the fuss was all about.
So what should your approach to the CAO be? First of all, it is important to decide whether University or College is for you or not. Some may feel that the academic route is right for them. On the other hand, there are students who would prefer to get working straight after school. There is no right or wrong here. Do what you feel is going to work for you. And if you decide not to go to college now, you can always consider doing a degree later, when you’re a bit more comfortable and secure in yourself, and know a little bit more clearly what you want to spend the rest of your life doing..
In terms of course choices, it is important to select something that you are passionate about – and ideally that you are good at! There is a broad range of courses in areas such as Arts, Science, Social Science and more. Regarding the points system, it isn’t about starting at the top of the tree and working down. The best approach to the CAO form is to put the courses in the order of what you truly want to do – and very importantly where you want to go to study – not in the order of points or in the order of how prestigious the College is considered.
Now to your CAO choice…
My advice, in order to properly determine which course or University suits you, is to attend open days, research courses, analyse career outcomes, talk to people who work in that sector – and if possible get some work experience in the areas that most interest you.
I am currently in my final year of BCL law and English literature at Maynooth University. I originally wanted to study Psychology; I then changed my mind in 6th year, as I realised it wasn’t really the course for me.
I was encouraged by a career advisor to study English because English was my best subject in school. However, I wanted to study another subject with it.
I attended open days and looked at prospectuses. When I went to the Maynooth open day, I felt as if I had arrived home, due to the beautiful campus, and the friendly people – and the description of the BCL degree intrigued me. I talked to past students and lecturers. This was one of the few Universities to offer a combination of Law and English and it was also the closest University to my home. I put down this course as my first option on the CAO and was lucky enough to get it.
There are certain characteristics and traits which make people more suitable for particular courses and careers. Within the Maynooth Arts structure, there are ‘single major’ pathways, meaning that you focus particularly on one subject; ‘double major’ pathways, meaning you have an equal focus on two subjects; and ‘major minor’ pathways meaning to have a major focus on one subject and a lesser focus on another. When choosing two subjects, it’s important to know that you are balancing two different disciplines, with different requirements in terms of knowledge, writing styles and so on. I chose a major in Law and minor in English as I was passionate about both subjects. I don’t regret the choice one bit.
The time has come to start college…
When I started in college, there was a number of orientation days. These introduced me to the campus, the buildings and my fellow students. I met people who would become my closest friends during orientation.
My very first lectures were quite overwhelming, as the structure of lectures and the size of the classes are very different from school. There were hundreds of students in my first year classes – but, in truth, more or less everyone was on the same boat, so people talked to whoever they encountered or sat beside. Lectures usually consist of a lecturer talking about certain topics with the aid of PowerPoint slides and the sound of students taking down notes via notebooks or laptops.
It takes work and concentration, but over time, I got used to this format. But it is no harm to know what you are letting yourself in for. Some people may prefer smaller classes – and therefore, smaller colleges.
Hints on finance, accommodation, assistance and more…
Doing a University or College degree can be very expensive. If you are worried about having the wherewithal, there’s a number of options and assistances available, including the SUSI grant, for those who meet the requirements. There are also various scholarships on offer. HEAR and DARE, for example, provide assistance to students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and to students with disabilities. The aim is to make University more diverse and accessible. Forms for these are available online, setting out the requirements and the deadlines. Nothing is a ‘gimme’ – but it is worth a careful, considered look. If you do qualify and get support, it can be a huge help, so read the requirements and see if you potentially qualify. Most Universities do have access programmes to assist students. But you need to know where to look, so dig in and find out as much as you can.
There is usually campus accommodation available, as well as student houses or digs. There is also the option of commuting to and from college, depending on just how far the journey might be. Getting accommodation can be expensive, but it may be necessary for those who live far away from their chosen college. It is also a good thing to do, if you want to get the full college experience.
Commuting is more workable for those who live nearer the college – but it is tiring and people often feel that they are missing out on important aspects of college life. On the one hand, there is the greater personal independence that living away from home offers. On the other, there is the socialising with your peers, or attending cultural or sporting activities, which usually take place outside college hours. Either way, it is important to balance your college work and your social life.
There are numerous clubs and societies at every university, and even in smaller colleges, for students to join. If you have hobbies like sport or music, regardless of what your degree is, it makes sense to keep them up. I always had a passion for music and try my best to write songs when I can, as an outlet after long college days. A different form of expression and creativity, it allows me to explore other aspects of my personality and what I might have to offer the world.
Erasmus opportunities are available for some courses, where you can go abroad – usually in 3rd year – to study in Europe or even further afield. There may be work placements available too, depending on the course.
The future is bright – or at least we hope it is!
Maybe this seems like looking too far into the future right now, but if you fill your CAO form, start college, and finally get your degree, you are still faced with the question: what next? Will you do a masters degrees? Start to work full-time? Train in a different or related discipline? The quest for a life path goes on!
Make no mistake: at its best, College is a wonderful experience, potentially enabling students to expand their knowledge, achieve their goals, meet new people and experience a wide variety of different – maybe even challenging – things. It is all part of your personal growth.
We may go down paths we did not intend to by doing different courses or by getting a different type of job than we imagined. Filling in the CAO is just a stepping stone to a future we can never fully predict. I always think that if you work hard enough, and are determined and motivated, you can achieve anything. Now, of course, I have to go and prove it!
Best of luck!
Like this? Support Hot Press by Subscribing here!