- 14 Jan 19
The rush to achieve the best possible points tally often dominates Leaving Cert students’ thinking – to the extent that they put down preferences on the CAO that are ill-thought out at best. While you cannot know what the future holds, finding the direction that suits you can only be a good thing. By Abby Molloy
The Leaving Cert was my Everest in 2013. It was my “duty” to get the highest points possible – in order to impress my parents, my teachers and, most importantly, me. I thought I had something to prove. Of course, I was the only one that thought this was the be-all and end-all. Everyone else just wanted what was best for me. I had forgotten that there is life beyond the final exam in June: nothing else mattered except getting over that critical 500-point barrier.
I was so focused on this objective that I completely forgot about the CAO. I put thinking about it on the back-burner as the year progressed: it wasn’t my priority. In hindsight, it should have been at the top of my list. Along came January 2013, and I really hadn’t a clue what I wanted to study: Psychology, Science, Music, even Law? At that moment, the only faculty I wanted into was the one which would ensure that people knew I had gotten excellent points in the ‘LC’, thus – I thought – confirming that I was super-smart.
And so, I put down the courses in order of points-preference, with very little sense of where these potential career choices might lead me. Friends and family tried to help me organise it all, but I had convinced myself that it was a trivial list that wouldn’t matter in the greater scheme of things.
Fast forward to August 2013. I didn’t get the points I wanted. I wasn’t going to do Psychology or Science in UCD. I was devastated: it felt like the world had well and truly ended. Thankfully, someone in my circle had had the foresight to get me to include Music in UCD as an option, or I’d have been job-hunting in September.
At first, I was unhappy about the course, on which I was I was embarking, and felt a deep foreboding that I was almost certainly on the wrong path. Nevertheless, I pushed on, studied hard and things started to turn. I even got a choral scholarship for the duration of my degree! In all honesty, my extracurricular activity with the choir in UCD – officially the UCD Choral Scholars! – saved me. It gave me a purpose, and also connected with my studies, so much so that I had the option of singing for my peers in lieu of doing a dissertation in my final year.
Looking back, I could have dropped out and started afresh, rejigged my CAO and gone on to do a more focused degree, but I’m glad I didn’t. The truth is that I didn’t know what I wanted to do in 2013 – and in many ways, in 2019 I still haven’t a clue. On the other hand, I’m happy that I have a good quality degree under my belt, having covered such a broad curriculum that it can be applied to so many jobs – hopefully giving me the freedom still to become whatever I want.
My advice to anyone about to undergo the CAO torture is to take the time – quickly now! – to understand the courses; and, also, the colleges you’re applying to. Find out what scholarships there are, if any, and if there are societies that would interest you. And don’t restrict yourself to certain universities or colleges, just because they have a presumed social standing. The CAO is personal and should be approached in a way that works for you – and for you specifically.
Visit college open days. Shadow a cousin in work to see if what they are doing appeals, or email potential future lecturers. Look at all your options and investigate them. Don’t think that it is all down to doing what requires the highest points. It is about finding what best suits your capabilities, your personality and your potential. And, whatever the Leaving Lottery holds in store for you, be kind to yourself.
If you don’t get the points you want, it’s not the end of the world. You have lots of time to shape your future, and there are ways around everything in the land of third-level education.