- 28 Jan 21
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.
Ellen Gough, Journalism, University of Limerick
I absolutely hate filling out forms. Of all the tasks expected of me as an adult, forms are my least favourite – and I’m almost certain that this stems from the day I had to fill out the CAO for the first time.
The CAO application loomed over much of my final years in school. I dreaded it more than the Leaving Cert itself, because I believed that the decisions I made on my CAO would define the rest of my life.
When you’re 17 or 18, there’s a terrifying finality to the CAO. It feels like a huge decision to make so young. I remember the sheer panic that kept me up at night. I was afraid of choosing a course I hated, or a course that I would end up dropping out of – thereby wasting my time and my parents money. In the end, all my worrying was for nothing, because I never even took the place offered to me through the CAO!
My parents knew me well, and they gave me the best piece of advice I’ve ever received: apply for a QQI course.
QQI courses are a brilliant and underrated alternative to the CAO. You can study a Level 5 QQI course to gain access to a degree that you may not have gotten enough points for through the CAO, and some Further Education colleges even have direct links into degrees in institutes of technology and universities. QQI courses are only one year long, and a lot cheaper than a year of a degree – so they are perfect if you want to get an idea of a degree or a career, or if there’s a degree you know for certain you want, but are worried about not getting the points for. You can also apply after the CAO offers have been made, if you end up not getting the points you hoped for.
The other thing about the CAO is that you can always go back and do it again. There’s no rule that says you only get one try at it – you can accept a place and defer it for a year, or you can choose not to accept a place, and try again next year, or the year after. I filled out my second CAO application two years ago, after finally figuring out what I wanted to study. I’m now halfway through my second year of a journalism degree at UL. While I felt briefly envious of my classmates – fresh out of the Leaving Cert, and doing a course they loved the first time round – it felt good knowing I had taken the time to find something I loved.
So, Leaving Cert students of 2021 – you guys have it extra hard this year. Covid-19 restrictions mean you’re probably going to spend most of your last days at school working from home, and we still don’t know if your exams will even happen yet. But don’t let the CAO be something that adds more stress for you
And don’t forget about the Change of Mind option! If you’re sitting there on the morning of February 1, still unsure, just put down the best option you can think of. The Change of Mind is open from May 5th to July 1st, and it gives you more time to ponder your choices.
In the end, the CAO is just a tool for you to use, not something to stress over or fear. It can seem daunting trying to decide your future right now, but remember you have so much future ahead of you, and plenty of time to change your mind.
Keep an eye on hotpress.com for more words of wisdom during the countdown to the CAO.