- 28 Jan 20
In the run-up to the CAO deadline on February 1, we’re sharing some words of wisdom from students who have been through the process – and lived to tell the tale.
Ruthie Byrne, Visual Communication (Graphic Design), NCAD
There’s nothing easy about the Leaving Cert – it’s the most stressful time of your school career and on top of that, you are faced with the daunting task of filling out your CAO. You’re led to believe that the rest of your future rests on the order in which you fill out those little codes.
I’ve always been a creative person. My mam called me her “papier-mâché” child because I was never far away from a tub of PVA glue and some paint. When it came to school, my favourite subject was quite obviously art. A double art class was my happy place and allowed me some respite from the pressure of studying for the Leaving.
That pressure was only heightened by the fact that I had made the decision to move to The Institute of Education after Fourth Year. Here, every second student wanted to study either Medicine or Law in college, which I certainly didn’t...
During Sixth Year, I attended an open day in IADT and one course caught my eye: Make-up Design for Stage and Screen. I decided to start working on a portfolio to submit to IADT for that coming March.
I knew I couldn’t rely solely on getting into just one course, so when it came time to fill out my forms, I popped down Classical Studies and Art History as well – but in my heart of hearts, I knew that I wanted to be in art college.
The submission crept up for my portfolio, and when the results came out two weeks later that I didn’t pass the assessment, I was disheartened. However, I knew there were other avenues I could go down to get into art college, so it didn’t put me off.
Those few weeks sitting the Leaving Cert came and went, as I regurgitated everything I had learned in the past six years of school. During the summer, I then decided to apply for an Art and Design Portfolio Preparation course in Colaiste Dhulaigh College of Further Education. I knew I could devote all of my time (between nights out) to preparing a portfolio that I could submit to a range of art colleges across the country.
By the time I started my PLC, I had my heart fully set on going to the National College of Art and Design for my BA. It was where all the ‘cool’ kids went and I just knew I could see myself studying there. All of my focus was put into creating a deadly portfolio that might get me in the door there.
Now, I know I said I found the Leaving Cert stressful, but nothing could prepare me for those all-nighters the weeks leading up to portfolio submission for NCAD. I don’t know how many Pritt Sticks I went through gluing weeks of work and research into my notebooks to show why I decided to paint a rainbow umbrella onto my hand and hold it under my kitchen sink and video the outcome… (Art is subjective, ok?)
I ended up being accepted into all three art colleges in Dublin. I got full marks in my portfolio for IADT and DIT, having failed the year before.
I chose NCAD in the end, and after the first semester trying out different disciplines across art and design, I chose to specialise in Visual Communications (Graphic Design) for the remaining two years. The three years spent in NCAD were some of the best of my life, but the course itself let me down. It felt like students were just renting a desk space, and were left to Google “How to graphic design”.
Despite this, I am delighted that I stuck to my gut and studied design. I’ve met some great people and had some fantastic experiences.
The years following college, I decided to freelance, so that I could “be my own boss”, and while this can be nice, it’s also tough, and you need to be very strict with yourself and stay organised. I am now interning at Hot Press, where my love for music and graphic design can be married, and I couldn’t be happier!
The advice I would give someone facing the leaving cert and the CAO? Trust your gut, fill out a CAO that you want – not your parents, not your teachers, not your friends.
Go to the college open days, and although it might seem daunting, talk to the students! Visit their studios, and get an idea about a course that you could see yourself in.
This might fall on deaf ears, but try not to worry too much, the CAO is not the be-all and end-all when deciding on which course to do. There are always other options and in time, you will figure out what suits you best. G'luck!