- 18 Jan 19
When Grace Furlong filled out her CAO form, she chose to stay close to home. While she has had misgivings along the way, for her it has, she believes, turned out to be the right choice. But she also has interesting things about the old debate: does size really matter?
Upon completing my secondary school education, I was in the highly privileged position of holding true friendships with all my peers and with many teachers. I had also received the coveted Student of the Year and Sports Student of the Year awards in school. All of which made it harder for me to let go of that first, very satisfying part of my life – not least the safety of home and the reliability of secondary school. This is largely why I chose the course I did: I was afraid of letting go and of committing to something entirely new and unknown.
So when the final selection day loomed on my CAO change-of-mind, and fearful that in truth I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and that I would miss home hugely if I set off for another town or city, I selected arts CK101 in Cork. This choice was based chiefly on the following: that the course was shorter then most (three years); that it left many options open through its diversity of subject choices; and that the amount of lecture hours was less demanding compared to other degree courses. In all honesty, at that point, I simply did not know enough about the system, or the degrees I might find interesting, to make a correct, informed decision.
There were over 800 people doing the course in first year. As a result, even in second year, I probably only knew five of these people well. How often have I sat beside the same person in a lecture? Very seldom. This situation does improve as the course progresses, but never enough that you feel you are part of a group of peers pursuing a common goal in the way you do if you are studying something like Law or Genetics. Indeed many of the people I knew – including some close friends – have dropped out of the course, citing loneliness and what they thought of as a lack of course structure. At one stage, I myself had the forms filled for a possible transfer to DCU, but in the end my love of Cork as a place to live prevailed.
Doing arts, there is an unspoken understanding that a masters is required for many of the better jobs you might qualify for. I was fully aware of this when entering, but had hoped that three years would allow me enough time to figure out what I really wanted to do. Once you break the initial barrier and build relationships with them, lecturers are more then willing to help you find a direction. There are career advisers and careers days. However gaining acceptance for masters courses in areas such Law or Business is now becoming harder for Arts students. Increasingly, postgraduate courses seem to value niche and specifically focussed degree strains, rather than broad undergraduate courses, making it harder to get into a masters programme.
Would I choose to fill the CAO form differently if I could turn back the clock? Funnily enough, I don't think so. Cork is a wonderful place to live; and UCC is a great university to learn in. While the lectures were daunting, especially at first, I have established great friendships through the clubs and societies on campus. That said, I suspect that 'thinking small' is probably a good idea for most school leavers, as they approach their CAO ordeal. By that I mean selecting a course that is practical in its size, and that is perhaps less broad and more personal in its approach. It didn't get to me in the end, but if you can avoid alienation and loneliness in college, then that has to be a good thing. And big courses can make you feel that way.
If, like so many Leaving Cert students, you are unsure about the career you want to pursue, before you complete the CAO form, make sure to put the research into identifying the aspects of your degree course that are likely to matter to you most in the long run. Are you better in a personal situation or do you thrive with a bit of anonymity? Are you happy to live away from home or do the creature comforts you're familiar with matter too much to you? Are practical skills your forte or are you good at abstract, critical thinking? Part of this is about being honest with and about yourself, your strengths and weaknesses. Figure these things out – and then go from there. Most of all: remember to have a bit of fun amid all the high drama of CAO time! What you choose is not the end of the world either way...
Grace Furlong is a 2nd Year Arts student (Major-Geography, Minor-Sociology) at UCC.