- 11 Jan 19
As you fill out your CAO, it is worth remembering that accommodation is every student’s nightmare at the moment. But most important of all is choosing something that you know you’ll enjoy… By Shane Brannagh
There are a hundred and one things that still linger with me, things I would have done differently were I starting anew, armed with the experience I now have under my belt. But that, I guess, is life.
College can be an exciting time. Perhaps after the redundant stress of the Leaving Cert, any alternative is preferable. But it is not, by any means, a bed of roses. If I had been told that, of the eighty or so of my secondary school classmates that continued on into third level education, less than half would graduate, I’d have been sceptical to say the least. But that’s what happened.
The falsehood that is repeated again and again, ad nauseam, is that there is simply no future, nor any livelihood for the young people of Ireland, in this day and age, without at least a Bachelor’s degree under their oxters.
There is of course an element of truth to this statement. On over a dozen occasions I’ve found myself interviewing for a position for which my degrees are entirely superfluous – but I understood, all the same, that I would not have got the interview without them. In many cases, far too much importance is given to that single document, which on the face of it validates one’s four-year presence at a centre of higher education. But, honestly, that doesn’t make it essential.
As a student with a colourful C.V., ranging from construction to screenwriting, I’d have to state that some of the most rewarding work I’ve even been part of, was when I would stride through the door after a hard day’s work, my nostrils stained with cement, my fingernails caked with dirt and my joints aching from swinging a sledgehammer.
One thing I’ve come to understand is, really, there’s no such thing as unskilled labour. So, the first piece of advice I’d offer to anyone considering their CAO options is to not allow yourself to be overly influenced by the mainstream representation of success. You enjoy working with your hands? Why not learn a trade? You despise customer service? Avoid the hospitality industry. Too often, I saw my peers led astray, in the courses they chose, by following advice given on the basis of other people’s perceptions of what they should aspire to.
I understand that it’s preposterous to expect totally independent clarity of thought from the average eighteen-year-old, already snowed under by a mountain of arbitrary coursework for subjects they’ll likely never encounter again in their adult lives… yet this, inarguably, is what is needed. You might not know what your true calling is, but surely you should know what to avoid like the plague. That, at least, is a start!
For those of you who believe that College genuinely is the right option for you, it is no harm to also understand that most students are not afforded a second chance. I applaud those who have found the motivation to return to education, to pursue a degree, years, maybe even decades after finishing school, but that simply isn’t a viable option for the majority. So, making the best, most viable choice, now that the form is in front of you, does matter.
Today’s job market is relentlessly competitive, and so the second piece of advice I’d give is to consider your desired endgame. There is absolutely nothing standing in the way of achieving success, once you start on solid ground. So, begin as you intend to go on. Don’t believe in safety nets, second chances or compromises. Too often, I’ve seen my classmates fail the same module, once, twice, three times. What is that all about?
It makes no sense at all when, for the average student, money is beyond scarce. Repeating is a serious drain on resources. You finish your three-year degree in six years? It may still be an achievement, but when job applications go out, more often than not, your C.V. will be passed over, while the students who got through the course in 3 years are seen first. It’s harsh, but it’s not really unfair. So, why not make a resolve? I will pick a course where I am likely to want to attend every lecture, study hard and make my time in college really count.
There are other factors that you need to consider. Nowadays, depending on how far from home you are moving, finding accommodation is every student’s nightmare. Having resided in Galway for the past six years, I’ve seen the going rate for a flat or an apartment skyrocket, with no apparent cause, save the unchecked greed of the average landlord. Not only will most lodgings not accommodate First Years, but those that do, will often charge extortionate rates and seek to extract every penny possible, out of those already struggling to keep themselves fed.
With CAO forms, therefore, a vital component of the process is to keep in mind the sheer expense of living within Ireland’s metropolitan areas. Unfortunately, it’s a familiar sight to see desperate student’s haggling over the price of renting the, ahem, spacious couch, in the common area of an already over-crowded apartment. Six hundred a month, merely to exist in the capital city, is now deemed reasonable! It’s madness.
While Galway and Limerick are far more affordable, they quality of the accommodation often leaves a lot to be desired. Prepare yourself for black-mould, dodgy wiring, clogged pipes and kitchen equipment that no one can ever quite figure out how to work. Don’t expect anything to get fixed: that’s not the way most Irish landlords operate. And keep meticulous records, because you might find your deposit can disappear in the blink of an eye, should the landlord decide that you are responsible, the next time the washing machine goes on the blink.
A final piece of advice that might sound to contradict much of the above. College offers a wonderful opportunity to really discover yourself. The awful truth is that most students might only have a passing interest in their chosen field, whilst many more have only a pragmatic tolerance for it. Fine, but there’s lots more happening on-campus. Societies are a wonderful way to keep things interesting. Find your niche and enjoy it. You want to start a Bee Gees cover band? Go for it! You want to partake in a campus-wide ultimate frisbee tournament? Why not? You want to stage a one-man musical re-telling of Rocky IV? Bingo!
You get the picture. As you sit down to fill in that dratted CAO form, remember that college can be a hugely welcoming and uplifting experience if you allow yourself to take full advantage of it. Education is vital – but finding creative ways of managing stress in one’s downtime can be equally so. There’s nothing wrong with switching off, just as long as you know when to power up again!