- 22 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.
Conor O’Boyle, Arts, University College Dublin
It’s January, and by now, parents, teachers, peers, and publications have told you why the CAO is important, and why you should fill it out. But here’s another one.
Breaking the convoluted process down to its bare bones, it is essentially asking the question, after finishing secondary school: ‘Do you want to continue into third level education?’ The approach I’d recommend for the process is this: if you say yes now, you can always change your mind later. If you say no, however, this won’t be as easily done in the future.
The first step is to simply apply. With the daunting closing date on the near horizon, rest assured that this is to simply have you registered in the system. You do not have to finalise your choice of courses until the weeks after you sit your Leaving Cert exams.
If you find yourself struggling with the initial application, don’t be afraid to ask your teachers or school guidance counselors for help. They’ve seen this form time and again.
Once you’re in the system, the tricky part arises – the soul-searching matter of finding a course. You may have a solid idea of what you’d like to pursue, or very little. The most important thing is to be honest with yourself. If you’re being told you should pursue a discipline, ask yourself if it’s really what you want. Pressure can come from unexpected places, so take the time to make sure your plan is truly your own!
While you are collecting ideas on courses you might like to apply for, keep an eye on those marked as restricted courses! These are courses which require additional entry requirements to just your Leaving Cert results. This includes courses like Medicine which require a HPAT entrance exam, or certain practical courses such as some art, music, or drama courses which may require you to audition or submit a portfolio. Any restricted courses will need to be on your CAO application before their unique entry processes begin, usually around February or March. Once again, you can take these off your application later, but you might not be able to add them in later!
Once you have found interest in a number of courses you’ll have to start ordering them. Once again, you might have been advised before to place the higher points courses higher on your application. My advice is to keep it simple and rank the courses in the order of how much you want to do them! How the offers work is you will receive an offer for the highest ranked course you are eligible (i.e. have enough points) for. The changing points of courses is not something you can control, but your preference of courses is, so utilise it!
You are able to list ten different Level 8 (degree level) courses, and it is well worthwhile filling up the majority of these slots. This way you’ll give yourself plenty of options come August.
Now let me tell you about how I gathered this advice. In sixth year of school, I fell in love with the Trinity College Music Department at an open day. It seemed the perfect mix of theory and practice, and modern and classical styles for me, and could be taken alongside Film Studies. The music course was restricted so I had to apply early to get invited to the entrance exam and interview, both of which I passed. I applied myself in the months leading up to the Leaving Cert, knowing that I would have to work hard to get into this high points course. The results came out and I was over the moon, having cleared the courses points from the previous year comfortably. I slept so well that weekend between Leaving Cert results and CAO offers, only to find out the courses points had gone up significantly, leaving me without an offer. And this is where my backup came in.
A similar course, UCD Arts, through which I could study English and Music, had sat comfortably, and unfazed at number six of my CAO preferences all this time. I had given little thought to it, focusing on what I perceived to be the only course for me, and this August morning I was faced with crushing disappointment. I sulked for an hour before assessing my options, and accepting my place in UCD. I could have rejected it, reapplied for my number one the following year, or re-sat my Leaving Cert, however I quickly realised these weren’t the right options for me. Things had turned out the way they did, and now it was my role to pick my best course of action, and commit to it. Within a week of being in UCD I met close friends I have held onto to this day, and found an entire world in my studies and on my campus.
This Christmas, the same person who told me fill out my CAO all the way down to number ten gave me a notebook with the corny, yet ultimately fitting quote: “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.” Go fill in that damn form.
Keep an eye on Hotpress.ie for more words of wisdom during the countdown to the CAO, and pre-order the new issue of Hot Press to read our full Education Feature: